In the last blog of the root cause series, we discussed that how sweet, sour, salty, astringent and pungent foods act on our mind and body by playing with vata, pitta and kapha. In this blog, we shall discuss about the bitter taste.
Now, unlike other tastes, foods having bitter taste have the most divergent and complex effects on human body. Bitter foods unscrupulous consumption is the biggest reason for most of the incurable diseases of the modern world and that is why they demand maximum attention and research. Bitter foods get their bitterness due to chemicals called alkaloids present in them. Different alkaloids work differently sometimes even opposite to each other for example the alkaloids in coffee increase our excitement. On the other hand those present in the herb ashwagandha, reduce the master pitta and calm down the person. Mint, aloe-vera, bitter gourd, night shade vegetables like potato, tomato, brinjal, and capsicum are all the classic examples of the commonly used foods containing bitter tastes which are generally safe for consumption except to those who are allergic to them. In fact since most of the bitter foods reduce pitta, they become essential during hot weather to keep Pitta in control. Which is why traditional summer drinks essentially contain cooling spices/foods like mint, cumin seeds, coriander, rose petals, khus seeds (of course their indiscreet consumption can reduce excess of Pitta thereby weakening circulation and increasing Vata which is what allopathic anti-hypertension meds do especially when used during winters too). Apart from food, these alkaloids are also found in nature in different avatars for example they are found in certain plants to ward away the enemies. They can be seen in animals too, to keep their predators at bay while acting as poisons or to attract their prey. Some of the alkaloids act as poisons to the microbes invading our body and therefore they are used as medicines like quinine, turmeric, neem.
***This post is an extract from the book THE ROOT CAUSE- Ayurveda, Astrology and beyond for a blissful life”. To pick up a copy of the book, please click the link/s mentioned at the end of this post ⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓
FOR VISUALIZATION OF HOW BITTER TASTE WORKS INSIDE OUR BODY PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO…
VASODILATION- THE MOST IMPORTANT PROPERTY OF BITTER FOODS
Now, here comes the most important part of the bitter foods. Some of the bitter foods are those which dilate or widen our blood vessels by relaxing our nervous system and muscles lining the blood vessels and are therefore called as vasodilators. Foods like garlic, onion, tobacco, opium, chocolate, alcohol, tea, coffee and even beetroot and broccoli belong to this category of vasodilators. Because of the relaxation of the nervous system, the consumer of these vasodilating bitter foods also experiences a temporary feeling of relaxation. Due to vasodilating effect they also lower the blood pressure as long as their effect remains in the system. And as mentioned in the previous episode, exactly this is the principle which is employed by most of the blood pressure medicines instead of balancing doshas by having astringency and by balancing other tastes.
So, what happens is that every time these bitter foods are consumed, the blood level drops down due to effect of gravity if they are consumed in the daytime when one is sitting or standing straight. Now since the upper part of the body including brain and the entire peripherals are getting lesser blood than what they were getting earlier, vata will go high there including in the brain. And vata brings excitement. Thus brain, to settle the excitement will ask for the same substance which gave it temporary relaxation leading to more vata towards the upper brain. The cycle will go on and every time the person will consume that vasodilating substance, his or her vata towards the brain will increase and therefore desire to have that substance will increase further. This is what addiction is all about. This is the reason that people are addicted not only to alcohol but also to tea, coffee, onion, garlic and even chocolates and one addiction leads to another. Apart from top, the blood also stops reaching the peripherals in the right amount irrespective of the posture of the person. Its like a balloon deflating slowly and gradually with core getting more blood and peripherals less. So what shall happen with the regular, long term and over usage of such foods? These foods will increase vata imbalance.
And remember that even astringency will do the same thing if not simultaneously neutralized by sour taste unless it is being taken to reduce excess sourness in the body as seen in d previous episode. This will mean less blood in the upper body meaning vata and more blood towards the lower body meaning kapha leading to change in blood flow. Thus high vata towards upper body apart from creating a rajasic mind and its associated traits like bouts of aggression, impulse etc, as we discussed in the previous episode, will also manifest itself into several diseases like loss of sleep, parkinsons, alzheimer, dry eyes, sinusitis, tooth infection, dry mouth, mouth burning syndrome, blisters in the mouth, spondylitis, headaches, throat infections, throat and heart burning, painful joints and muscles and hypertension due to hyperactive mind. Overall, hyperactive mind leads to short supply of gaba, the calming neurotransmitter in the body thereby leading to hypertension (yes garlic and onion can even increase hypertension in the long run).
On the other side, more blood meaning high kapha in the lower body may manifest itself into obesity towards lower body parts, fatty liver, constipation, indigestion, PCOD and endometrium thickness in females, prostate enlargement in males but good erectile function. Thus it is the indiscreet consumption of vasodilating and highly astringent foods that is the reason for even sexual crimes when mind is high on impulse in a sexually fit person. On the other hand if vasodilating foods are consumed with pungent and sour foods for example garlic with pickles and spices, they will cause issues like piles (as vasodilating foods will move more sourness towards lower body parts) apart from high vata towards upper body. More kapha towards core as compared to peripherals will also lead to incurable forms of cancer. Of course, such diseases could be inherited too due to faulty genes or wrong eating habits of parents especially mother. By the way aren’t all these major imbalances in today’s world and this is happening only because of indiscreet use of vasodilating foods. As stated earlier even most of the blood pressure medicines are also highly vasodilating and therefore cause exactly these issues after long term usage. However it has to be remembered that while vasodilating foods would further increase vata in an already vata mind, they will help a kapha mind to remove excess kapha from upper body thereby balancing vata or say distribution of blood.
And that is why Ayurveda uses alcohol in mild form along with sweet and astringent tastes, in class of medicines called as Arishtas and Asava for curing vata diseases of the lower body like poor reproductive health, poor kidney functions, piles etc. Of course the time of consumption of such medicines matter a lot. Obviously it should be taken in the morning time so that gravity helps the medicine to reach lower body parts. However this is an important aspect which is forgotten while prescribing such medicines. Goes without saying medicine can’t be consumed forever by even kapha minds since there will come a day when upper body will begin to go higher on vata as compared to lower one and they will go high on vata like a typical vata mind. Thus this statement shouldn’t be used by people to justify their consumption of liquor or other addictive substances. Also to note that if vasodilating bitter taste is taken with astringent and sweet taste (all three are present in famous herb Brahmi), before lying down, they will push more blood towards the interior of the brain (away from peripherals) thereby calming the mind which as a principle is used by ayurveda for curing diseases like anxiety, depression, insomnia, parkinsons, hypertension and even brain seizures like epilepsy. On the other hand even if bitter taste is essential, vata minds don’t need to make special efforts to consume it as vegetables especially green ones and even milk and wheat contain bitterness in very minute quantity. It needs to be reiterated that astringency can be neutralized by simultaneously having nearly equal quantity of sourness in body as mentioned earlier but vata created by excess bitterness due to vasodilation is irreversible unless caught at very nascent stage and is not allowed to deteriorate further by use of vasodilating foods. Yogasanas that push blood towards peripherals and upper body like headstands, harepose do help but they cannot undo extreme imbalances because of complexity. All in all this is to reiterate that it is indiscreet use of vasodilating foods that we discussed in this blog which are the cause of most of the chaos, diseases, miseries in the world.
PRE AND POST DIGESTIVE EFFECT OF DIFFERENT TASTES
From this blog and the previous one, we can easily conclude that as a thumb rule, different tastes produce different effect after getting digested. So Pungent’s post digestive effect (PDE) is pungent and sour (as pungency produces acidity which is sour). Same ways, sour’s PDE is sour and usually pungent and hot as sourness increases heat. Sweet’s is usually sweet. Astringent’s is cooling pre digestive but post digestion, it will have varying effect on different parts of the body. So at one place it may reduce vata and thus pitta and would be cooling but in the other place it may create more pungency due to high Vata. Exactly same goes with bitter. However, this is not always true. For example all citrus fruits are very sour but their post digestive effect is highly alkaline and cooling. In fact most of the seasonal vegetables and fruits become highly alkaline post digestion. This phenomenon when post digestive effect is not in line with the usual logic is called as “Prabhav” in Ayurvedic language. Also to note that all grains, dairy and lentils which are high on proteins have acidic PDE. This is because proteins after breakdown create acidic ash as side product. This gives another reason for us to consume sufficient amount of vegetables and fruits in our diet apart from Proteins.
*** Recommended to check this link to know tastes in different foods⇒ ayurvedic tastes of different foods
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