Ayurveda Heart Health: the Pitta Factor
The western medical community is slowly reawakening to the idea that the root of heart imbalance begins with pitta as opposed to kapha. The Ayurvedic seers, thousands of years ago, described that the sharp and penetrating nature of pitta damages blood vessel walls. Kapha then comes to seal and soothe over the damage, and as such, kapha’s intention is to protect and not clog channels. Even Rudolf Virchow, a German doctor from the 1800’s known to be “father of modern pathology,” promoted the idea that inflammation is at the root of heart dysfunction.1 Alas, this thought was lost for decades to the once undisputed belief that maintaining a healthy cholesterol level is the only foundation of heart health. We are now reconsidering the original theories as modern research is challenging the cholesterol theory with much revelation.2
The heart and circulatory system house prana (vata), nutrients (kapha), and blood (pitta). As discussed above, in most cases, pitta is the instigator of dysfunction in blood vessels. Since blood (rakta dhatu), by nature a pitta tissue, flows continuously through blood vessels, the walls are constantly exposed to pitta, normally without any issue. The blood vessel wall (lined by a layer of protective endothelial cells) usually acts sufficiently as a buffer against damage by pitta. However, the shielding wall will break down in the face of excessive pitta, a process that is difficult to do by the softness of kapha or the lightness of vata, alone.
The tides are turning as modern research is now agreeing with Ayurveda’s simple logic. Over the past decade, the New England Journal of Medicine has published a series of studies to this effect. The first showed a connection between inflammation and circulatory dysfunction.3 A second article surprised all with the finding that LDL levels were normal or near normal in 77% of women with cardiovascular events.4 In fact, Ayurveda appreciates that some kapha, in the subtle form of ojas, is absolutely necessary for a healthy heart. And so, cholesterol is not the sole and likely not the primary factor. It appears that in order to create dysfunction, cholesterol first needs something to stick to, and the inflammatory damage and oxidation of cholesterol provides that substrate.5
An Ayurvedic Evaluation
This background provides the framework for a solid approach to evaluating this aspect of your client’s heart health. Consider these five simple questions in your assessment.
- How balanced is pitta? Use your assessment of your client with the help of our Vikriti Quiz to determine what your client’s current state of balance is. Pay particular attention to pitta. Other helpful tools to identify high pitta are acidity, loose stools, skin disorders, and excess heat, in general.
- How balanced is kapha? Despite pitta’s role, don’t forget kapha. Your assessment and Vikriti Quiz can help you hone in on the state of kapha, as well. Consider the client’s weight, agni, and signs of excessive kapha elsewhere in the body.
- If pitta is high, what is the cause? There are many causes, especially stress and pitta emotions of anger and jealousy. Other causes could be diet, excessive exercise, tobacco use, and even excessive refined sugar intake.
- How healthy is the client’s liver? The root of rakta dhatu is the liver. The liver cleans the blood of toxins, and thus a healthy liver is critical to a healthy heart. In fact, a key inflammatory marker used in circulatory health assessment, CRP, actually comes from the liver.6 Hyperpigmented spots on the skin, low ojas and poor immunity, and poor cholesterol metabolism can all cue you in to the liver’s healthiness.
- As an energetic center, does the heart chakra have any blockages? The heart is a physical extension of the heart chakra, and being so, it responds greatly to the well-being of this chakra. It is no wonder that the heart and circulatory system is so sensitive to stress, arguably more so than any other system. The heart chakra is the “abode of the mind” 7 and, thus, is a home to our emotions. Freeing this chakra of withheld emotions will translate positively on the physical level.
The heart system is extremely dynamic and sensitive to doshic fluctuations in the body. This article hopefully brought light to pitta and its role in the circulation. For a broader perspective on the heart, please read Vibrant Heart. The next article will share tips on maintaining a healthy heart.
(The second part of this series is provided in the article, Ayurveda Heart Health: Cleansing Circulatory Pitta.)
1 Methe H, and Weis M. Atherogenesis and inflammation--- was Virchow right? Neph Dial Transplant (2007) 22: 1823-1827.
2 Libby P. Inflammation and cardiovascular disease mechanisms. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(suppl):456S-60S
3 Ridker, et al. Inflammation, Aspirin, and the Risk of Cardiovascular in Apparently Healthy Men. New England Journal of Medicine. 1997;336(14):973-979
4 Ridker, et al. C-Reactive Protein and Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels in the Prediction of First Cardiovascular Events. New England Journal of Medicine. 2002;347(20):1557-1565
5 Ross, R. Atherosclerosis – An Inflammatory Disease. New England Journal of Medicine. 1999;340(2):115-126
6 Pearson, et al. Markers of Inflammation and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation. 2003;197:499-511
7 Lad, V. Ayurvedic Perspectives on Selected Pathologies. Ayurvedic Press. Albuquerque, NM. 2012