The 7 dhatus (body tissues)
In Ayurveda, your body isn’t broken down into systems as we’re taught here in the West.
Rather your body is seen as layers or tissues, 7 layers to be exact, and when you eat food, it moves through each one of these layers providing nourishment first to the plasma, the most superficial layer, and lastly to all of your reproductive functions, the deepest layer.
So, when you’re not getting enough of a necessary nutrient, you know this first through a disturbance in your reproductive patterns and this typically presents with painful periods, irregular cycles, and even infertility.
We talked in a previous episode about how Ayurveda sees your metabolism of food. When you’re eating foods that are good for you and digesting those foods optimally, there’s very little waste build-up during the conversion of those foods into energy within your body and the natural waste that is generated is easily moved back from your body’s tissues into your GI tract for elimination.
However, when your digestion is struggling for any reason, whether you’re stressed from work or life events or whether there’s some sort of environmental stressor whether that’s a meal you didn’t digest well or smog or workplace pollutants, then the removal of metabolic wastes from those deeper layers is diminished, and this too impacts your reproductive functions first.
So, what are the 7 layers (dhatus) of your body according to Ayurveda?
Here are the seven layers/tissues (Sanskrit: dhatus pronounced dot-twos) of your body according to Ayurveda:
- Red blood cells
The first Ayurvedic layer (dhatu): plasma (Sanskrit: rasha)
Your plasma is the very first layer of your body according to Ayurveda. Plasma is the medium that red blood cells travel in throughout your circulatory system. Composed of lymphatic fluid (including white blood cells) and serum, plasma receives nourishment first when you begin to digest a meal and is a key part of your immune system.
Each layer of your body also has a byproduct when it is healthily abundant. The byproduct of plasma is a substance that supports proper immune function. It’s also this layer that provides substance for the flow of menstruation and another healthy byproduct of the plasma layer is the formation of breast milk in lactating women.
In addition to the byproduct, which generally builds onto your body, adding mass and substance to your body, there’s also a natural waste product generated from each layer that helps to cleanse the body. Here, it’s important to note that waste isn’t necessarily waste. Instead, it’s simply material that exists for a brief time within your body as it is flushed out through natural elimination pathways. For plasma, the waste product is phlegm.
The second Ayurvedic layer (dhatu): blood / red blood cells (Sanskrit: rakta)
Once your plasma takes the nutrients it needs, the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from your food replenish the red blood cells of your body.
When this tissue or this layer is healthy, your body is easily able to maintain healthy blood vessels and tendons. The waste product of rakta is bile, which helps to remove fat and cholesterol and steroidal hormones from your body by binding to them in your GI tract.
The third Ayurvedic layer (dhatu): muscle (Sanskrit: mamsa)
Traveling deeper still, the remaining nutrients nourish muscle tissue next. The healthy byproduct of the muscle layer is healthy ligaments and skin. The metabolic waste from the muscle tissue is expressed as earwax and navel build-up.
The fourth Ayurvedic layer (dhatu): fat (Sanskrit: meda)
Your fat tissue is nourished next, the fourth tissue receiving nourishment from your food.
When there are problems with cleansing fat, conditions like cellulite result. While peritoneal fat, the fat that lines your abdomen is considered a healthy byproduct of fat metabolism and nourishing this layer of your body, excess fat also accumulates as peritoneal fat. The metabolic waste from this layer presents as sweat.
In Ayurveda, sweating, both through physical exercise and also through use of saunas and steam baths is encouraged.
The fifth Ayurvedic layer (dhatu): bone (Sanskrit: asthi)
Next your bone tissue is nourished. Your teeth are the byproduct of this layer of your bodyyou’re your nails and hair are the metabolic waste generated as your food moves through and nourishes this layer.
Improper nourishment of the bone tissue shows up as cracked, brittle, and thin nails and as lackluster and dry, brittle hair. The health of your nails and hair give an outward indication of the health of your bones.
The sixth Ayurvedic layer (dhatu): nerves (Sanskrit: mejja)
Then your nerves are nourished. For majja, tears are the natural byproduct keeping your eyes lubricated. Eye secretions like those morning crusties are the metabolic waste product of this layer.
The seventh Ayurvedic layer (dhatu): reproductive function (Sanskrit: shukhra)
Last in line to receive nourishment is your reproductive function. The natural byproduct of your reproductive layer is something in Sanskrit known as ojas. We don’t have a good single English word to describe ojas. It’s the essence of vitality and happiness and strength. Ultimately, ojas is your immunity, your body’s ability to identify all of the cells of itself as “self” and it’s more than that, it’s the joy of life.
When you have abundant ojas, this byproduct bathes all the layers of your body. And, the “waste” product or transient material/transient fluid of your reproductive layer? That’d be reproductive fluids, semen for men and cervical fluid and vaginal secretions for women. For women, it’s also the egg itself.
Why is reproductive function nourished last according to Ayurveda?
Your reproductive functions are nourished last, and the reason for this is that the body prioritizes survival of itself over reproduction. If there’s not enough nourishment for all of your body, then why would it waste resources on reproduction when reproduction isn’t essential for survival?
For women, we have the added blessing of a menstrual cycle, which offers profound insight into our health. Far from being a burden, your menstrual cycle cues you into disturbances either with what you’re eating or in how you’re metabolizing your food and eliminating the waste products created during those metabolic processes.
It took me a long time, nearly 3 decades to recognize the power of my cycle. I’d used hormonal birth control to suppress that natural cycle for nearly 25 years rather than understanding this is as a way my body was communicating with me that my diet and lifestyle choices weren’t supporting healthy reproductive function.
The effect of diet on your reproductive function according to Ayurveda
For proper reproductive health, your digestion must be good. This means your body must metabolize what you eat in a manner that nourishes your body tissues and does not allow for waste accumulation.
When your body’s channels, and here we’re talking about the physical channels like your circulatory system, the arteries, veins, and tiny capillaries and also channels of lymph flow throughout your body, lymph nodes, lymph ducts, and the lymphatic channels in your body and also the subtle channels, the pathways of energy.
These are most easily seen as nerve synapses, the space between nerve endings.
Ayurveda and TCM both believe in even more physical and energetic channels within your body, and in fact, acupuncture treats these channels known as meridians in Chinese medicine and nadis in Sanskrit. Soul wells is the English term.
Ayurveda believes that cooked foods are easiest for your body to digest.
Ayurveda also believes that warm foods, and here we’re talking about temperature wise, are easier for your body to digest. This view is in direct contrast to raw food diets and other diets that focus heavily on smoothies and salads.
Ayurveda also sees certain foods as easier to digest than others. For instance, white rice is the most easily digestible grain and supports healthy digestive function.
Wheat on the other hand being a very heavy grain is too challenging for the digestive system when digestive function is weakened.
Based on this, you may begin wondering about all the wheat sensitivities and conditions like Celiac disease, and according to Ayurveda, those are experienced because the digestive function is weak.
Foods that are difficult to digest like heavy grains and uncooked vegetables (we’ll talk about fruit in a minute), aren’t metabolized very efficiently in a body that struggles with digestion and so the metabolic wastes of these foods clog the subtle channels of the body making it difficult for nourishment to reach the deeper layers of your body and likewise difficult for the metabolic wastes generated within these layers to get out of your body.
Fruit is considered very quick to digest, whether cooked or uncooked, in Ayurveda. For this reason, Ayurveda recommends that fruit be consumed alone at least 1 hour before a meal and 2 hours following a meal. Ayurveda sees fruit that’s consumed with a meal as very likely to ferment within the digestive tract leading to gas and bloating and interfering with optimal digestion.
Simply by eating warm cooked foods that are easy for your body to digest and eating in the right way:
- not too much at one time
- allowing at least 3 hours between meals so that your previous meal has time to digest (and here a meal includes any snack unless that snack consists only of fruit)
- eating when you’re hungry and not starving your body
you’re supporting your body’s ability to properly digest food at all layers of your body, supporting optimal and efficient metabolism that generates the good byproducts of cellular metabolism mentioned above.
By chewing well and not eating too much in one sitting, you’re further supporting these pathways of nourishment and elimination from your body.
Find more on Ayurveda's view of digestion in the post/episode it's not what you eat, it's how you eat it
Ayurveda’s view of the energy of foods
We’ve talked before about the 3 energies that comprise everything in the universe, including your body, and food itself is also comprised of these 3 energies. I’ll link to a few other episodes where we talk about those energies in depth, here, we’ll just go over them briefly.
Every food has an energetic profile.
Chilies are hot, spicy food that increase heat within your body constricting digestive and subtle channels and resulting oftentimes in quick elimination
Sweet potatoes are grounding and nourishing food that support the building of ojas within your body
Mango and cucumber are cooling to your body, and Ayurveda recommends eating in season as foods ripe at a given time of year typically support your body into balance during that season
- Uncooked greens are cold, dry, and crisp. They support the space & movement energy and this particular energy isn’t conducive to follicular development and the release of an egg
How food is prepared also impacts its energetics.
Consider summer squash like zucchini.
When steamed or boiled, zucchini is a light, easily digestible, balanced food, neither particularly heating nor cooling to your body.
When raw, zucchini is still light, but now it’s crunchy and much more drying than when steamed or boiled. It’s also cold.
These characteristics of dry and cold in particular diminish your digestive fire making it more difficult for you to break down the food.
One could bring in the key point about raw food diets, “yes, but when it’s cooked, you’re destroying all of the native enzymes.”
Your body has digestive enzymes. These are naturally produced in your saliva, your stomach, your pancreas, your liver, and other organs associated with digestion.
How digestion is disrupted according to Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, one of the main ways for disrupting the flow of nutrients and wastes through these channels is by drying out the channels.
Another main way this flow is disrupted is by constricting or narrowing these channel and this occurs by overstimulating the channels with foods that are too spicy, particularly foods like chili peppers.
Either of these scenarios works to block flow of nutrients from the more superficial layers into the deeper layers and block flow of wastes from the deeper layers into the more superficial layers where they can be eliminated from your body through your digestive tract or through urine or sweat.
Why your digestion impacts your reproductive health
And, this brings us to the purpose of today’s episode. Your reproductive health is a reflection of both your digestive health and your overall health.
When you have symptoms like:
- Pain during menstruation
- Moodiness during a certain time of your cycle
- Hypothalamic amenorrhea
- Even infertility for an undiagnosed reason
Re-evaluating your diet and your eating habits are the first step to reclaiming a healthy, pain-free cycle.
Whether you’re hearing this for the first time or the 900th time and thinking, “this sounds too easy”, that’s the thing about health and wellness. We’re usually overthinking it.
Your body’s natural state is to be healthy. Your body doesn’t have to think about how to do this, it was made to be well. It was made to operate in perfect harmony with every hormone, every system, every organ, every fluid contained within you.
The first step to moving towards a healthy cycle is simply to get out of your own way and nourish your body with foods it can easily digest.
I’m tempted to launch into the deeper piece of this conversation, which involves circling back to those substantive and transient byproducts created during proper digestion by each layer. Because those pieces hold a key to your reproductive health too, especially if you’re on hormonal birth control.
This piece of the story really illustrates how connected every single system of your body is to each other. What’s holding me back is that I don’t want to overshadow what we’ve talked about today, and if I were to continue, you’ll almost assuredly walk away from this conversation with that info in mind rather than this oh so important piece about your digestive health.
So, I’ll leave you with just this teaser… next time on the show, we’re talking about how hormonal birth control affects all 7 of your body’s layers, not just your reproductive health.
And, with that, let’s wrap up today’s episode with this key takeaway. Because your reproductive function is the very last layer to be nourished and the very deepest layer of your body, it’s the layer most susceptible to going out of whack first when there’ a blockage or constriction in any of the channels in your body that are responsible for moving nourishment through your body and waste back out of your body.
It's not normal to have insane mood swings during your cycle.
It’s not normal to have cramps so bad you have to take pain meds or days off work (or school).
It’s not normal to have irregular cycles.
It’s not normal to have PCOS.
It’s not normal not to bleed.
It’s not normal to have brown blood during your period.
All of these are signs of imbalance.
AND, when you restore balance within your body, when you support your digestive channels and support optimal digestion, the reward can be healthy, pain-free periods no hormonal birth control required.
And, that’s not trivial.
Is diet alone enough to achieve a healthy, pain-free period? Diet alone can be. More often than not, when we’re eating a diet that doesn’t support healthy menstruation, we’re also leading a lifestyle that doesn’t support healthy menstruation.
We’ve been conditioned to look beyond ourselves for a cure when we have a problem within our body.
And, the longer I practice Ayurveda, the more I realize the profound impact that diet and lifestyle have on my well-being.
If you’re struggling with any of the above: painful periods, mood swings, PCOS, irregular cycles, brown blood during your period, amenorrhea for any reason, there are 3 things that are within your power to implement in order to help your body restore balance.
Making your room as dark as possible at night. Today in the shownotes, I link to two fantastic episodes on Fertility Friday discussing the role of light in ovulation. Oh, wait, this is the shownotes! Here are those episodes:
- How light effects your menstrual cycle, ovulation, and fertility with Joy DeFelice
- Night lighting and cycle regulation with Katie Singer
Cycling with the moon with Dr. Katherine Dale
Consistently get at least 7 hours of sleep every night and keep a consistent bedtime.
I’ve talked before about how adopting a bedtime of 10 pm has been one of the most profound remedies for reducing Hashimoto’s symptoms for myself, and if you’re still rolling your eyes at this suggestion, here’s the challenge:
do this for one full cycle and see how you feel. If you’re in the middle of your cycle, start today and keep going until you bleed twice.
Adopt the dietary changes we talked about in today’s episode.
- If you want more than 3 ways, go back and listen to the episode, It’s not what you eat, it’s how you eat it and implement those strategies as well.
And, if all of that sounds too hard and you’re thinking “I’ll just use hormonal birth control to regulate my cycle”, you don’t want to miss the next episode.
In the meantime, get the free download 5 ways hormonal contraception shows up in your blood test results here
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About the Author
Brandy's a formulation scientist and self-proclaimed health geek who loves hiking, gardening, bird-watching, and body boarding.
Her struggle with acne during her teens and 20s led to a holistic and healthy approach to skincare, embracing skin as an organ to be loved and cared for rather than a canvas to wage war on.
Since 2008, she's been developing all-in-one products for a simple routine at home, & Rain Organica started when her backpacking friends asked for a portable skincare routine to keep their skin healthy & happy on and off the trails.
You can try Rain Organica for yourself with The Essentials Kit, a complete skincare routine in just 3 steps.
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