Thanks to certain short-sighted researches and popular media threatening its audience citing these research outcomes, people have simply come to hate cholesterol. They look at cholesterol as a toxin or something that should be absolutely kept away from the body. 

But did you know that almost all steroid hormones that are pivotal in our healthy body functions are synthesized in our body using cholesterol? You may have learned that fat is a key macro nutrient. But did you know that fat works as a very good transport for certain materials which needs to cross cellular borders such as the 'blood-brain barrier' separating blood vessels and brain tissues?

This fear of cholesterol, coupled with the fear of gaining weight have trickled down to the very wrong practice of staying away from all kinds of fats and oils as much as possible. In clinical practice, Ayurveda physicians have this daily dilemma of their patients rejecting any fat or oil based preparations out of this fear. Seldom do they realize that this is most essential for their condition. The most rejected among the fat based medicines are a category called "ghṛta" which are formulations with ghee or clarified butter, often from cow milk, as its base.

This article is an attempt to throw some light into the importance of ghee and how it should be taken.

Yes, much like all other fats, ghee is also found to raise cholesterol levels. But contrary to the existing popular believes, ghee is a lot safer when compared to refined oils. 

Ghee can be consumed daily in small quality as source of saturated fat. Children can afford to have larger quantity every day when compared to elderly. Studies have shown that ghee is good for lowering bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol.

Ghee is having higher smoking point (485 °F). This means that ghee is a perfect medium for high-heat cooking. It does not break down into free-radicals easily when compared to other oils. A main part in South Indian cooking is seasoning or spluttering mustard. Ghee is a good alternative for cooking oil to do this. 

While at this point, it is felt needed to mention a few things about conventional oil use in cooking. A better and healthier option other than spluttering mustard is to simply pour small quantity of oil over the top of the curry which is the much healthier way. We have many healthy Kerala dishes in which heating of oil is not required. For example, aviyal, olan, vegetable stew and so on. Using reheated oil for cooking is just like wearing dirty clothes after bathing. It may save us some effort and money while costing us our dearer health and dignity. People started using olive oil for cooking considering it is healthier. But we never know that most of those cuisines never use olive oil for spluttering and they just use it for dressing only. But many of us are not bothered about all these. Somehow it is very hard to convince the very same people to use a ghee based formulations.

Benefits of Ghee as per Ayurveda

In Ayurveda, we use ghee commonly for the types of medicines called ghṛta. Ghee has a unique feature called "saṃskārasya anuvarttanaṃ". This is a quality of ghee which makes it assimilate the properties of the medicines added to it, without losing its innate beneficial properties. 

Apart from this, there are several other features which makes ghee the king among fats. Here are some of them:

  • Improves intelligence, memory, ingenuity and stability.
  • Increases longevity
  • Maintains digestion- both at gut level and tissue level.
  • Improves sexual vigor.
  • Provides good eyesight.
  • Retains youth.
  • Maintains cell integrity by ensuring structural and biochemical balance.
  • Ideal for growing children.
  • Brings down increased vāta and pitta activities.

Use of Ghee in pañcakarma

Pañcakarma in Ayurveda offers systemic treatment for dislodging and eliminating toxins from every cell of the body. There is a preparatory procedure for pañcakarma called pūrvakarma, which involves an unction or oleation process (snehanam) followed by a sudation process (svedanam). Pūrvakarma is a mandatory process as it ensures the proper functioning of the cleansing process and bestows the full benefits of it. 

One type of snehanam is internal administration of fat in incremental quantities (snehapānam). There are specific methods and dosage to do this. The idea is to saturate our tissues with medicated fat until even the skin becomes oily. This fat essentially binds with all the impurities that have accumulated in tissues as part of faulty metabolism. A subsequent sudation process makes this bound impurities dislodge from its locality, enter the blood stream and eventually reach the gut. From the gut, it is expelled via a cleansing process such as medicated enema (vasti), therapeutic purgation (virecanam) or medicated emesis (vamanam). It is observed clinically that medicated ghee is the best type of fat for effective and efficient snehanam. The ideal medicated ghee for a person is selected based on several factors like the person's constitution (prakṛti), disease condition (vikṛti), season (ṛtu) and so on.

Ghee and digestion

Pure ghee is the lightest lipid. It is lighter than any other fat or oil. In small amounts, it helps to kindle digestive fire and enhance digestion. It clears out all the chronic troubles of indigestion and bloating. For a healthy person, around 5 ml of ghee will not do any harm. No matter how nourishing is the food that we take, it will not give you the expected benefits unless it gets fully digested and absorbed into the body. 

Remember, "you are what you digest and not what you eat.”

There is a class of friendly bacteria in the intestines which convert fiber into butyric acid, that in turn is used by the body for energy and for supporting intestinal wall. Ghee is rich in butyric oil which is a kind of short chain fatty acid. Consuming ghee regularly supplements this butyric acid production and helps the body meet its daily requirement. In a nut-shell, taking ghee is actually bestowing the combined benefits of taking pro-biotics, pre-biotics and fiber to an extend.

Seasoning with ghee helps in proper and full digestion. It also ensures the maximum nutrient uptake to every cell of the body. 

Ghee also is found to reduce inflammation and often used in treating diseases like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis etc. Ayurveda has a big arsenal of ghee-based preparations to treat intestinal problems.

Ghee, a perfect transport

Ghee helps in transportation and easy absorption of nutrients and medicinal compounds in the body and is therefore widely used in the Ayurveda system of medicine to prepare several herbal medicinal formulations.

Human cell membrane is made up of lipo-proteins and it is easier for lipid soluble particles to get absorbed into the cell. Medicinal substances with ghee as the medium (ghṛta) have the liberty to pass the blood-brain barrier and placental barrier. So the benefits of ghee based formulations reach the target sites sooner and more effectively. The effect of ghee formulation is eventually distributed throughout the body. 

Some points to remember while using ghee

  • While giving medicated ghee to dislipidemic patients, special care should be exercised. 
  • The most ideal time to take ghee based formulations is found to be early in the morning time and that too in empty stomach. But it may vary from person to person. So it is insisted that an Ayurveda physician is to be consulted to select the ideal formulation, dosage and timing.
  • Food should be taken only when the person becomes hungry after complete digestion of the ghee-formulation taken beforehand. Or else it may lead to digestive problems. The food to be taken should be easy to digest.
  • It is recommended to monitor the lipid profile while taking ghee-based formulations, especially when it is for a long term administration. 
  • Studies based on modern parameters on formulations like Guggulu-Tiktakaṃ ghṛtam have already proved that the cholesterol levels are not deranged but on the other hand improved with raised HDL and lowered LDL and VLDL levels. 
  • Unfortunately, in the open market, ghee is one of the most adulterated products. Always remember that all these benefits are applicable only if the ghee used is genuine ghee. Use of adulterated ghee may not only make the formulation useless but can even make it harmful. So all physicians and manufacturers are taking stringent quality assurance measures to ensure that only pure ghee is used in Ayurveda formulations.

To conclude, it is high time we come out of this fear of fats, especially ghee. If you look at the latest research outcomes, all of them are admitting that the 'say-no-to-cholesterol' convention advocated by some modern medical systems was wrong and healthy levels of cholesterol is in fact, a quintessential requirement of our very survival. So, stop worrying and say.."Welcome Back, Ghee!! Let's be friends".

About author

Dr. Nimisha K. C.

BAMS, CRAV scholar under Dr Pangala Muralidhara Ramachandra Bhatt, Bangalore

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