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Year : 2014  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 19-20

Nutrition, metabolism, endocrinology, and the Bhagavad Gita

1 Department of Endocrinology, Bharti Hospital, Karnal, Haryana, India
2 Department of Medicine, People's Medical College, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India

Date of Web Publication24-Dec-2013

Correspondence Address:
Sanjay Kalra
Department of Endocrinology, Bharti Hospital, Karnal, Haryana
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2278-019X.123439

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Nutrition is an integral part of science, medicine, and life in general. The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient religious scripture of India, discusses nutrition, metabolism, and endocrinology in surprisingly great detail. This paper highlights aspects of these subjects that are covered in this book, trying to achieve concordance between ancient wisdom and modern science. It proposes an overlap between the metabolic classification mentioned in the Gita [sattvika, rajsika, tamsika] and endocrine or metabolic diseases recognized today

Keywords: Diabetes, hypothyroidism, India, metabolic syndrome, obesity

How to cite this article:
Kalra S, Jindal S. Nutrition, metabolism, endocrinology, and the Bhagavad Gita. J Med Nutr Nutraceut 2014;3:19-20

How to cite this URL:
Kalra S, Jindal S. Nutrition, metabolism, endocrinology, and the Bhagavad Gita. J Med Nutr Nutraceut [serial online] 2014 [cited 2022 Aug 10];3:19-20. Available from: https://www.jmnn.org/text.asp?2014/3/1/19/123439

  Introduction Top

An extensive, never-ending debate has been published regarding the relationship between religion and science, between theology and medicine. Much of the debate concerns the endocrine concepts, as theologists and physicians grapple with ideas concerning the origin, purpose, maintenance, and extinction of life. In a similar vein, endocrinology and metabolism try to study the balance between various hormonal systems, anabolism, and catabolism, as it explores how life begins, evolves, and finishes. All this discussion, unfortunately, seems to take place with Western religious teaching in mind and does not take into account the rich philosophical tradition of the east.

One of India's most ancient scriptures, full of wisdom, is the Bhagavad Gita. Considered the epitome of all scriptures, it has been called the 'very storehouse of all scriptural knowledge'. [1]

The Gita comprises all the scriptures.

(Mahabharta: Bhisma Parva 44, 4.)

The Gita through endocrine eyes

This commentary tries to read the Gita through a nutritional, metabolic, and endocrine prism. Does the Gita provide a framework to understand modern science and does it describe some of the clinical syndromes that identify today as endocrine illness?

Even when propounding the yoga of 'discrimination between the field and knower of the field,' (Chapter 13), Lord Krishna terms the human body as the field (Kshetra), and 'he who knows it,' as the knower of the field (Kshetragyan). This simile, or these words, can be extrapolated to the endocrine system and the endocrinologist. Thus, one can use the Bhagavad Gita to understand or analyze the concepts of modern endocrinology and see if they are in concordance with the age-old Indian philosophical wisdom.

Lord Krishna chooses the metaphor of the Pipal tree (Ficus religiosa or the sacred fig) to describe creation. Does this also stand for the endocrine system? Paraphrasing the verse 15:1:

He who knows the pipal tree - with its roots in the hypothalamus (God), whose stem is represented by the pituitary (creator), and whose leaves are the end-organ glands (Vedas), is a knower of the purport of the endocrine glands (Vedas).

If we take this endocrine analogy further, the next verse (15:2) goes on to describe both the positive and negative feedback pathways and the effect of hormones on the entire body:

Fed by the three Gunas and having sense-objects for their tender leaves, the branches of the aforesaid tree (in the shape of the different orders of creation) extend both downwards and upwards: And its roots, which bind the soul according to its actions in the human body, are spread in all regions, higher as well as lower.

The Gita in a metabolic mirror

The Gita describes the three Gunas of Prakriti or qualities of persons created by nature. These are described as Sattvika, Rajasika, and Tamasika. Although it is difficult to find the exact translations of these concepts in English, a close approximation would be balanced, royalty-like, and demon-like, respectively. Their characteristics are mentioned in detail, including the basic nature, phenotype, mental thought processes, dietary preferences, sacrifices that they make, and gifts that they pro-offer [Table 1]. The qualities of knowledge, intellect, and renunciation achieved by these three categories of persons are also highlighted in the scripture.
Table 1: The three Gunas of Prakriti

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The Gita does not forget to note that all these qualities can co-exist, with varying degrees, in the same individual (14:10). These three qualities can be used from a medical, nutrition, or metabolic perspective, as a pedagogic aid, as well as a motivational or decision-making tool.

Although the Sattvika description clearly corresponds to a euhormonal, eumetabolic state of health, can we read endocrine meanings in the Rajasika and Tamasika psycho-phenotypes? Perhaps the Rajasika personality depicts an insulin-resistant, hyper-adrenergic, hyper-dopaminergic, and hyper-thyroid state; and perhaps the Tamasika phenotype is a clinical description of hypothyroidism and/or exogenous obesity and/or the metabolic syndrome?

The Gita: A dietary depiction

If we focus upon the nutritional likes and dislikes listed in the Gita, we get a clear message of what a healthy diet should be. The Sattvika diet reads as a balanced, moderate diet, while the Rajasika diet pre-disposes to insulin resistance and hypertension (salt, 17:9). The Tamasika plate, on the other hand, may be a forerunner of gastrointestinal dysfunction and multiple diseases (17:10).

  Conclusion Top

Does this discussion have any clinical or therapeutic implication? Does it merit publication in the JMNN? These descriptions of selected verses from the Gita may be used as pedagogic tools, and may stimulate students to view this field in a different and a more holistic manner. [2] They may serve as motivational tools for those patients (or doctors and other healthcare professionals) who find it difficult to change their lifestyle.

The easiest way of fighting the current pandemic of nutritional, metabolic, and endocrine disease, including diabetes and obesity, is to follow a Sattvika lifestyle and diet pattern. If, through this analogy, with a universally accepted and respected scripture, we are able to promote the prevention and cure of endocrine disease through lifestyle modification, this article will earn a well-deserved place in the JMNN.

Arjuna, this most esoteric teaching has thus been imparted by Me; grasping it in essence man becomes wise and his mission in life is accomplished.

(Bhagavad Gita 15:20)

We acknowledge, with humility, that grasping this "most esotericteaching" is not easy, and that our mission in life (and endocrinology) has just begin. We do hope that this commentary will help others accomplish their mission as well.

  References Top

1.Srimad Bhagvad Gita (with English translation and translation). 1584. Gorakhpur: Gita Press; 2009.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Kalra B, Agrawal N, Unnikrishnan AG. Nutrition and the Bhagavad Gita. J Med Nutr Nutraceut 2013;2:3-4.  Back to cited text no. 2
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  [Table 1]


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