Ayurveda Spices for a Healthy Heart and Optimal Brain Functioning


According to Wikipedia “bioenhancers” is a new term that marks a “new chapter in medical science.” The term scientifically established in 1979 after the discovery of the world’s “first” bioenhancer, Peririne. Peririne, by the way, is a compound naturally occurring in black pepper.

By definition, Bioenhances are substances that increase the “bioavailability and bioefficacy” of other substances. Peririne, along with cucumine (found in turmeric), and gingerols (found in ginger) are now being isolated and sold by numerous pharmacutical companies.

This “new” science is in fact age-old wisdom that has long been offered by Ayurveda, the 5000 year old health science of India. Spicing has always been key part of both Ayurvedic cooking and health recommendations. Not only do spices make our meals taste delicious, they help our bodies stay balanced and healthy. Spices help us better absorb nutrients in our food and have been found to be antioxidants, prevent cancer, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, improve memory, flush out toxins, enhance digestion, all while adding a tasty spark to our daily meal. During consultations at The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa, spice are normally a part of the individualized recommendations given to help restore balanced health.

Let’s look at these “new” bioenhancers:


Perinine is found in cracked black pepper. Pepper has been found to help carry nutrition across the blood brain barrier. The blood brain barrier is a layer of tightly packed cells that make up the walls of brain capillaries and prevent substances in the blood from entering the brain. This protects the brain from “foreign substances”, helps maintain a constant environment for the brain and protects the brain from hormones and neurotransmitters in the rest of the body. Because our brain is made up of almost 60% fat, it needs high quality fats to keep the lining of the brain cells flexible so that memory and other brain messages can easily pass between cells. Getting fat to cross the blood brain barrier can be a challenge. If we are using healthy oils in our diet, adding freshly ground pepper helps us make the most both oils and other nutrients. Bioenhancers increase the absorption of oils and nutrients for our body, as well as our brain, supporting cell growth, protecting our organs and helping manufacture hormones in our body.

Perinine also helps strengthens the functioning of the heart and kidneys. It effective against colon cancer and inflammation and generally enhances immunity. Pepper it is very stimulating to the digestive system. It is also inherently heating and should be used cautiously by those with a Pitta imbalance.


Cucumin is found in turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow color. Ayurveda considers turmeric a medicinal herb as well as a cooking spice. Recent research has identified the medicinal compounds in turmeric as “curcuminoids”, the most important of which is curcumin.

Curcumin is said to have powerful anti-oxidizing effects. Because of its chemical structure, curcumin can neutralize free radicals. In addition, it supports and boosts the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. Curcumin, however, is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. To get the most out of turmeric it is recommended that you add freshly ground black pepper to your spice mixture. The piperine in black pepper has been shown to enhance the absorption of curcumin by 2000%.

Curcumin is also anti-inflammatory. Because inflammation and oxidative damage are contributors to many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis and various cancers, turmeric is gaining world wide interest in the world of science. It has been noted that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and certain cancers in India is among the world’s lowest. Turmeric has been shown to have an effect in blocking the growth skin cancer, and inhibiting the spread of breast cancer into the lungs.

Curcumin has recently been shown to strengthen and order cell membranes, making cells more resistant to infection and malignancy. There is new evidence that curcumin can help keep away neurogenerative disease through its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and act as an antioxidant.


Ginger is another spice that Ayurveda recommends for its medicinal properties. The active ingredient in ginger is gingerol, a compound that is thought to relax blood vessels, stimulate blood flow and relieve pain. Traditionally ginger has been used as a remedy for poor circulation, colds, flue, arthritis, heart disease, and poor digestion, as well as nausea and motion sickness. Gingerol is a is also potent anti-inflammatory agent, which means it may be useful in fighting heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis. Antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anticancer activity have also been reported. Gingerol has been reported to not only reduce pain levels in individuals suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, but also to improve mobility.

Ginger is also heating by nature. If you have Pitta imbalances such as ulcers or heartburn, check first with an Ayurveda expert to see how best to use ginger in cooking.

Purchasing Spices

Turmeric, black pepper and ginger are all sold in the supermarkets in ground form. While these products may add  flavor to your food, they are mostly deficient in their health benefits.

Ideally black pepper and ginger should be bought in their whole form and then ground or chopped at the time of cooking. To purchase high quality herbs, visit a local organic grocery or spice shop, or order them from a spice retailer online. Always use organic herbs that have their full range of nutrients and are not irradiated or sprayed with pesticide.


The Ayurveda Approach to Cholesterol: Natural Ways to Keep Your Heart and Brain Healthy


2015 saw a big shift in the official medical views on cholesterol. The US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reversed their 30-year stand to say that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

It turns out that 30 years’ worth of research failed to find a correlation between eating foods with high cholesterol and heart health. And some studies actually found a correlation between longer life and higher cholesterol. A Norwegian study showed that as cholesterol increased, so did life-span. A 2015 Japanese study came up with the same conclusion: the higher the cholesterol levels, the longer the longevity factor.

Cholesterol is an important fatty acid produced in the liver. It is essential to many bodily functions. Without cholesterol the body could not build cell membranes or synthesize vitamin D or hormones. Cholesterol is also vital for our brain, playing a key role in the formation of memories.

What does Western Medicine’s new take on cholesterol mean for those trying to improve their heart health and/or support healthy brain functioning? It means that the findings are now more in line with the 5000 year old science of Ayurveda. It is not that foods with a high cholesterol content are, in and of themselves, “bad”. The important consideration is how your body processes those foods.

Understanding Cholesterol

Western medicine teaches us that cholesterol is available in two forms: high-density cholesterol (HDL) (“good” cholesterol) and low-density cholesterol (LDL) (“bad” cholesterol).

HDL (Good) Cholesterol

HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. It is believed that HDL acts as a scavenger, carrying LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is broken down and eliminated from the body. Low levels of HDL cholesterol have been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been linked to higher risks of depression and stroke.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. High levels of “bad” cholesterol has been linked to brain deposits that cause Alzheimer’s Disease.

What Western Medicine continues to consider important is the ratio of “good” to “bad” cholesterol. 3.5 to 1 is the standard. A healthy ratio of good vs. bad cholesterol is associated with lower levels of the plaque in the brain and heart health.

Ayurveda Approach to Cholersterol

Ayurveda has always taken the view that cholesterol is only “bad” when it is out of balance. It is “good” when it is balanced, supporting and lubricating the body’s numerous circulatory channels, known as the shrotas.

The health of the circulatory channels, or shrotas, is essential to a well-functioning physiology. There are micro-shrotas, which carry nutrients to the cells and waste from the cells. There are larger shrotas, such as the arteries and veins, which carry blood to and from the heart. And there are delicate shrotas that lead to our brain. All of these shrotas must be flexible and elastic if we are to remain healthy. And cholesterol, when it is balanced, plays a critical role in lubricating and maintaining all these channels of circulation. With this perspective, one can see why high amounts of good cholesterol would be associated with longer life-span.

“Good” cholesterol becomes “bad” cholesterol when we have large amounts of ama in our system. Ama is the sticky waste product of poor digestion, absorption and metabolism. It accumulates as a toxin in the fat tissues. When it continues to accumulate over time, ama  spreads into other parts of the body, including the important channels of circulation, nourishment and detoxification.

According to Ayurveda, the production of cholesterol does not necessarily need to be lessened, but instead needs to be balanced. Which comes down to maintaining a healthy and well-functioning power of digestion. In Ayurveda, digestion is king. When our digestion is balanced and healthy, the body will produce the right amount of cholesterol, in the right proportion to nourish the body.

Natural Ways to Lower “Bad” Cholesterol Through Diet and Improved Digestion

To lower “bad” cholesterol Ayurveda recommends a two-pronged approach: Improve digestion and follow a Kapha-balancing diet to enhance fat metabolism.


A Kapha-pacifying diet favors bitter, astringent and pungent foods. Astringent foods include dried beans such as lentils, split mung dhal, and garbanzo beans. Astringent tastes also include many vegetables, such as the cruciferous family (brussels’ sprouts,broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) and fruits such as apples and pears. Bitter foods include greens such as spinach, chard, kale and mustard greens. The Kapha-pacifying grains include barely, quinoa, amaranth and oats (whole oats, not processed oats.) Avoid sweet tastes, including rice, wheat, pasta, breads, and sweet milk products. Avoid sour foods such as sour fruit (lemons), yogurt, cheese, tomatoes, vinegar, salad dressings, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Oddly enough, while it is recommended to avoid yogurt, digestive lassi, made of yogurt and water, turns out to be good for balancing cholesterol. Avoid sweet lassi and mango lassi and opt for the digestive lassi. Favor warm foods cooked with small amounts of ghee or olive oil.


Ayurveda offers many tips on improving digestion:

Eat your main meal at noon and a smaller, freshly cooked meal (that is easy to digest) in the evening.

Allow 3 to 6 hours between meals. Do not eat before the previous meal is digested.

Sip hot water between meals. This enlivens digestion and helps the food to be better dissolved and absorbed.

Do not drink cold liquids or foods with a meal, as they suppress digestion.

Chew your food well.

Do not drink milk with vegetables, meat, fish, sour foods, salt or eggs. Milk should be taken alone (preferably having been boiled first) or with other sweet tastes (like cereal, bread or sweets). Do not drink cold milk.

Sit comfortably for 10 to 15 minutes after finishing your meal. This allows the digestive process to get well underway. If you immediately jump up from a meal, digestion will be disrupted and the food will be improperly processed.


Detoxification is a natural body process. Our natural ability to detoxify, however, can become compromised when our system becomes overloaded from stress, poor diet, a compromised digestion, and environmental toxins. What can we do to support the body’s natural process of detoxification? Panchakarma, the traditional purification treatments of Ayurveda, help remove ama from deep within the tissue beds and also from the innumerable shrotas, or circulatory channels. Cleansing and detoxifying the body also helps build up our natural digestive fire, which can then do its job of naturally burning up any ama that accumulates in the body.

For more information on Panchakarma, the traditional purification and detoxification treatments of Ayurveda, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa and Treatment Center:


Reducing Vata for Better Sleep, Mental Health, and Physical Well-Being


By the end of January and beginning of February those of us who live in northern climates have peaked in terms of the accumulation of Vata in our physiology. Months of cold, dry, windy weather results in an increase of those same qualities in our bodies: dryness, coolness, movement and quickness. When Vata becomes imbalanced we can experience symptoms such as trouble sleeping, aching joints and muscles, arthritis, emotional instability, high blood pressure, dry skin, increased sensitivity to the cold weather, and depression.

With months of cold weather still ahead of us, this is the time to adopt a diet and daily routine that will help settle Vata. One of the most basic approaches to balancing Vata is to follow a regular routine—eating and going to sleep at the same time each day. In fact, going to bed early on a regular basis is one of the most powerful tools available for balancing Vata.

In terms of diet, the key word is “warm”. Eat foods that are warming and fresh. The same goes for any liquid that we drink (and we need to be drinking lots of liquid to offset the drying influence of winter heating.) Be sure to drink a number of cups of warm water and herbal teas throughout the day. Never have iced drinks or food.

Vata imbalances often lead to constipation. This is another reason to drink plenty of warm fluids during the day. Drinking two glasses of warm water when you wake up can help stimulate bowel functioning. Hot water with black salt can also be helpful in this area.

During the winter you may find yourself thinking more about food than you did during the summer. This is because when the cold, dry weather of winter starts to aggravate Vata dosha, our bodies naturally begin to crave heavier more unctuous Kapha-type foods to help counter this effect. In addition, cold weather tends to cause our internal digestive fire to increase, thus creating an increase in our appetite. As long as you don’t eat more than you can comfortably digest, larger portions at meals can help keep Vata in balance. While we don’t want to gain weight and accumulate ama over the winter months, it is not recommended to try to lose weight during the winter.

Eat more foods that increase Kapha: those with sweet, sour, and salty tastes. Eat fewer foods with bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes. Avocados, bananas, mangoes, peaches, lemons, pumpkins, asparagus, carrots, beets, almonds, sesame seeds, quinoa, rice, mung beans, and ghee are all excellent Vata-pacifying foods.

Oil is our friend in the winter. Using olive oil and ghee in our meals will help counter the drying effects of Vata

Along this same line of thinking, daily oil massage with sesame oil is particularly helpful in the winter. The warm, unctuous quality of the oil is the perfect antidote to the cold, dry qualities of Vata. If you are Pitta by nature, you may prefer coconut oil or olive oil, as sesame oil is naturally heating. Ideally you’ll want to heat your oil before applying it. Letting your bottle of oil float in hot water for a few minutes will bring the oil to a nice, soothing temperature. Try to keep the oil on your skin for 5 or 10 minutes before your shower or bath.

Stay warm. Cover your ears and head when you leave the house. Because ears are one of the main seats of Vata, it is best not to expose them to cold and winds. Two of the main qualities of Vata are cold and dryness. Make sure the temperature in your home and work place is comfortable. If you have central heating, consider a humidifier to counter the dryness it creates. Because Vata-types are sensitive to moving air it is best to avoid drafts or fans.

It can be easy to become a little lazy during the snowy, colder months. Try to incorporate Yoga or some kind of gentle stretching exercise into your routine, as well as other comfortable and easy exercise. Don’t strain or over-do with your winter exercise routine. Vata tends to dry up the lubricating qualities of Kapha in the body. This is why more athletes experience pulled muscles or other injuries during the winter. This is especially true for those over 50 (those in the Vata time of life). Spring is a much better season for vigorous exercise, as the influence of Kapha is at its peak and we will naturally have more strength and stamina.

If you find that diet, lifestyle and self-massage are not helping to control symptoms of Vata imbalance, it may be that your Vata imbalance has gone deep into the tissues. In this case Panchakarma, the traditional rejuvenation treatments of Ayurveda, are recommended. Panchakarma removes Vata from the tissues by using various herbal decoctions and oil preparations in combination with specialized treatments to treat the root of the Vata imbalance.

For more information on Ayurveda consultations and Panchakarma treatments, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa web site:


Late Night Snacking Affects Brain Functioning: How Going to Bed on Time Supports Short and Long-Term Memory

I am always interested in research that gives a fuller understanding to the basic principles of Ayurveda. Recently I read about a study from the University of California that concluded that late-night snacks could negatively impact brain functioning. In the study, mice that were fed during their normal sleeping times experienced a decline in both short-term and long-term memory. The study suggested that digesting food at a time we are supposed to be asleep causes distress in the hippocampus, the area of the brain where memories are formed.


There is already evidence that eating when we normally should be sleeping can cause an increase in blood sugar levels — which can lead to diabetes and heart problems. Now we find that irregular eating habits can impact mental cognition. The University of California study revealed that the mice that were given food when they should have been sleeping had lowered levels of a protein called CREB, which plays an important role in supporting the body’s internal clock and in the brain’s ability to form memories.

“Since many people find themselves working or playing during times when they’d normally be asleep, it is important to know that this could dull some of the functions of the brain,” observed lead researcher Dawn Loh.

This dovetails with an earlier study funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in 2013. The study showed that the space between the brain cells can increase during sleep. This allows the brain to cleanse itself of toxic molecules during sleep. Previous studies have associated the toxic molecules that accumulate in the space between brain cells with numerous neurodegenerative disorders. These toxins diminish during sleep.

The leader of the 2013 study, Milken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M., observed, “Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It (the brain) appears to be in a completely different state.” (There is some indication that Shirodhara, one of the classic treatments used in the Panchakarma or detoxification therapies of Ayurveda, also put the brain into this state of detoxification.)

If we are up and active or eating during our most important sleep hours, the natural cycle of purification and detoxification in the brain can not take place.

According to Ayurveda, the ideal hours of sleep are from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. This is the time when Pitta dosha (the principle of transformation) is supporting the body’s self-repair mechanisms. The strongest Pitta cycle of the day is from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. During this time the Pitta quality of transformation is best directed towards digestion. For this reason, Ayurveda says the biggest meal of the day should be eaten at noon. The transformational qualities of Pitta at night are directed to a more subtle kind of work. This is when the body switches into its powerful healing and self-repair mode.

Last week we talked about how the biological clocks located in our joints (that allow for regeneration of the joints) need a regular routine of eating, exercising and sleep to be most effective. Now we see more evidence that the ideal daily routine upheld by Ayurveda does indeed lead to better health and increased well-being. We are a part of nature and living in tune with the underlying cycles of nature supports our entire mind/body system. As modern science continues to validate the age-old principles of Ayurveda, we can see how this ancient science is as relevant today as it was 4000 years ago.

When we live without regard for the natural cycles of eating, exercising and sleeping, the natural healing modalities that are build into our physiologies can not do their job and impurities can build up in the body. Removing these deep-seated impurities is the speciality of Panchakarma, the traditional purification therapies of Ayurveda.

For more information on Ayurveda and Ayurveda detoxification programs, visit The Raj website:


Joint Pain and Regular Lifestyle: New Research Upholds Ayurveda Approach to Arthritis


Ayurveda has always connected joint pain to Vata dosha. While there may be other contributing factors to the disorder, such as the accumulation of ama, an imbalance in Vata dosha is always associated with arthritis and joint pain. One of the most important Ayurvedic recommendations for balancing Vata is regularity in routine: eating at the same, exercising at the same time, and going to bed at the same time every day.

Now modern science lends strength to this seemingly simple Ayurvedic “fix”.

A new study from Manchester University concludes that regular mealtimes, exercise times and bed times could help keep arthritis at bay. Apparently there are tiny biological clocks inside our cartilage cells that control thousands of genes that are involved in keeping in keeping our cartilage healthy and strong.

The most common form of arthritis is caused by wear and tear of the cartilage that helps our joints withstand the strain of lifting, kneeling, bending, gripping, etc. When the little biological clocks in the joints are working properly, the genes are timed to be more or less active at different times of the day and night. This allows daily repair to happen in progressive and sequential steps.

As we age, our biological clocks in our joints can stop working properly and the repair process no longer gets carried out properly. The lead scientist on the Manchester University study, Dr. Quin-Jung Meng, found that the simple act of keeping a regular daily routine actually helped keep the cartilage clocks working properly, allowing them to do their job in supporting self-repair of the cartilage.

And the study concluded that not only can a regular routine delay the onset of arthritis, it could also help relieve pain in those already suffering from arthritis.

The researchers noted the importance of understanding the role that the body’s circadian rhythm (our in-built body clock) has in maintaining healthy joint tissue and how disruptions to this process could contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.

In many cases, the wear and tear in the joints is aggravated by the accumulation of ama. When ama, the toxic residue from poorly digested food, enters the blood stream, it can build up in weak areas of the body, including the joints. To remove ama once it has settled into the joints and tissues, the traditional purification and detoxification treatments, called Panchakarma, can be very helpful. These treatments help bring the aggravated doshas and accumulated ama back into the digestive tract for elimination. Once ama has been cleared, a program of prevention can be recommended. This will include life-style, diet and herbal recommendations that will help keep Vata in balance while supporting proper digestion so that ama no longer accumulated in the body.

For more information on programs for arthritis at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, visit the web site: