By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Endocrine system comprises of endocrine glands whose secretions contribute towards many functions of body. These secretions are called hormones. Therefore endocrine system is also called as hormone system.
Table of Contents
Secretions are in the form of chemical messengers. These glands do not have ducts to discharge their hormones. Therefore endocrine glands are called as ductless glands. They secrete hormones directly into bloodstream.
Hormones regulate metabolism, growth and development, functions of tissues, sexual functions and reproduction, different moods and many other functions in body. When these hormones are produced in excess or in less quantity, they cause many diseases.
Read – Perimenopause Symptoms, Ayurvedic Treatment, Lifestyle Tips
There is no direct explanation of endocrine system in Ayurveda. But symptoms related to increase and decrease of hormones produced by some endocrine glands has been given in various contexts.
Note – I am not going to discuss comparative study of endocrine system with Ayurvedic explanation of same in this context. I will be confined to topic ‘Relationship of doshas with functions of endocrine glands’. I will do much of explanation depending on inference and with help of few closely related references available in classical literature related to same.
Dosha – endocrinology
Relationship of doshas with endocrine system and functions, a hypothetical comparison
Pituitary gland – located in brain, in sella turcica of sphenoid bone, attached to hypothalamus
Other names – Hypophysis, Master gland
It is called as master gland because it controls functions of many endocrine glands through its hormones.
Anterior lobe hormones –
1. Human Growth Hormone (HCG, GH) / Somatotrophic hormone / Somatotropin – controls growth of skeleton and skeletal muscles. Excessive secretion of this hormone causes gigantism and acromegaly. Deficit secretion causes pituitary dwarfism.
2. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSHA) – stimulates thyroid gland to produce its hormones
3. Adreno Cortico Trophic Hormones (ACTH) – stimulates adrenal cortex to secrete its hormones
4. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) – stimulates ovarian follicles to secrete estrogen and in men, it stimulates testes for spermatogenesis
5. Luteinizing Hormone (LH) – stimulates corpus luteum of ovary to secrete progesterone. In men, it is Interstitial Cell Stimulating Hormone (ICSH), stimulates testes to secrete testosterone.
6. Lactogenic Hormone – stimulates breasts in female to secrete milk. It works in synchronization with oxytocin secreted by posterior pituitary.
7. Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone – stimulates melanocytes
Posterior Lobe Hormones
1. Oxytocin (OT) – responsible for forceful contractions of uterus to expel fetus and placenta in delivery.
2. Vasopressin / Anti Diuretic Hormone (ADH) – helps in reabsorption of water by kidney. When this hormone is absent, urine output is more and causes diabetes incipidus. Patient may die of dehydration if not treated early.
Thyroid Gland – located in front of trachea, below larynx. It is made up of right and left lobes connected by a central isthmus. This gland makes two hormones.
Thyroxine – controls and regulates metabolism, growth, development, and activity of nervous system.
Deficit production causes hypothyroidism.
With this, all activities happen slowly. There will be weight gain, constipation, slowing of heart rate, mal-development of nervous system, mental retardation, skeletal retardation etc.
Severely advanced hypothyroidism is called myxedema. It presents with respiratory depression, hoarse voice, lethargy, puffiness of face, non pitting edema, low body temperature, confusion, and shock etc symptoms.
Severe hypothyroidism in a child or infant is called cretinism. It is defined as untreated congenital hypothyroidism with or without goiter. There will be severe stunting of physical and mental growth.
Read – Home Remedy For Goiter Using Kanchanar
Excessive production causes hyperthyroidism.
With this, all activities speed up. There will be weight loss, diarrhoea, increase in heart rate, nervousness, irritability, tremors, excessive sweating, burning sensation all over body etc.
Enlargement of thyroid gland is called goiter.
Read – Kanchanara – Bauhinia variegata – Uses, Dosage, Ayurveda Details
Parathyroid Glands – they are in two pairs. They are embedded on posterior surface of thyroid gland, one in each corner.
They secrete a hormone called Parathyroid Hormone (PTH).
This hormone, along with Vitamin D helps in absorption of calcium, phosphate and magnesium from gastrointestinal tract into blood. It increases osteoclast activity and helps in breakdown of bone tissue.
Deficiency causes tetany.
Excessive production causes hypercalcemia and destruction of bone.
Read – Low Bone Density Causes, Ayurvedic Treatment, Diet
Adrenal / Suprarenal Glands – they are located one on each kidney.
Hormones of adrenal cortex
Adrenal cortex has three zones.
Outer zone secretes mineralo-corticoids i.e. aldosterone. It enables sodium re-absorption by kidneys. It prevents sodium loss and increases potassium excretion. Thus, it prevents acidosis. Excessive secretion causes hypertension, muscular paralysis, retention of sodium and water and cardiac overload.
Read – High Potassium, Kidney Disease and Leaching of Vegetables
Middle zone secretes glucocorticoids or cortisones. They help in protein synthesis and gluconeogenesis. This in turn makes body alert and energetic. With this, person can combat stress, fright, temperature, infections, and trauma.
Inner zone secretes gonadocorticoids or sex hormones i.e. estrogen in females and androgens in males.
Hormones of adrenal medulla
They secrete two hormones and are under direct control of autonomic nervous system. These two hormones are called symatho-mimetic hormones. Functions of sympathetic division and effects of adrenaline are almost same i.e. fight or flight response. These hormones are –
Epinephrine / adrenaline – increases heart rate, blood pressure, rate of respiration and muscular contraction and blood sugar, impairs digestion, stimulates cell metabolism
Nor-epinephrine / nor-adrenaline – functions almost similar to adrenaline, epinephrine has more effect on heart and nor-epinephrine has more effect on blood vessels.
Pancreas – It is both an endocrine and exocrine gland. Exocrine glands have ducts to discharge their secretions. It is located in abdomen behind and little below stomach.
Exocrine pancreas secretes pancreatic juice which is comprised of important enzymes like amylase, lipase and proteinase. This juice is conveyed to second part of duodenum through pancreatic duct.
Endocrine pancreas has clusters of cells called Islets of langerhans. Three kinds of hormones are secreted from them. They are –
Glucagon – secreted by alpha cells, enables conversion of glycogen stored in cells into glucose and its subsequent release into blood stream when body needs sugar, raises blood sugar levels.
Insulin – secreted by beta cells, enables absorption of excessive glucose into muscle cells and lowers blood sugar levels. Deficit production of insulin or insulin resistance will cause diabetes mellitus.
Read – Diabetes: Ayurvedic Treatment, Remedies, Prevention Tips
Testes – they are two oval shaped organs located in scrotum, forms parts of male reproductive system. They form and store sperms. They become semen after secretions of other parts of male reproductive system are added to them. They are also called testis or testicles.
Testicular hormones are –
Testosterone – maintains male sexual characters, monitors spermatogenesis and causes testicular descent before birth of child.
Inhibin – controls sperm production.
Ovaries – They are two in number and are located in pelvis, one on left and one on right of uterus. They are connected to ovaries through uterine tubes. They are organs of female reproductive system. They produce ovum and discharge it into uterus through uterine tubes once in a month. They also produce hormones including oestrogen.
Ovarian hormones are –
Estrogens and Progesterones – responsible for development and maintenance of female sexual characteristics, they regulate menstrual cycle and production of ovum, helps to maintain pregnancy and in preparing breasts for lactation.
Relaxin – relaxes pubic symphysis and dilates uterine cervix during delivery of fetus
Inhibin – inhibits FSH so that there is sudden withdrawal of estrogens and progesterones if fertilization has not taken place.
Read – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: Ayurvedic Treatment, Remedies, Diet
Thymus Gland – It is a gland located behind sternum and between lungs. It is only active until puberty. After puberty, this gland shrinks and is replaced by fat.
Thymosin hormone – is hormone produced by thymus gland. It stimulates development of disease fighting T cells.
Endocrine glands, hormones
Dosha relation with endocrine glands and their hormones from anatomical and physicological perspective
Pituitary gland is located in head. Prana vata, sadhaka pitta and tarpaka kapha are also located in head. Coordinated functions of these three dosha sub-types can be compared to functions of pituitary gland. Alternatively we can tell that pituitary gland and its functions are influenced and monitored by mentioned dosha sub-types.
Similarly thyroid and parathyroid glands are located in throat region. Throat is seat of kapha. Therefore these two glands fall in territory of kapha. Throat is also an organ for movement of prana vata and udana vata. Therefore these two glands are related to these two vata sub-types. We can tell that functions of thyroid and parathyroid glands are influenced and monitored by kapha, prana vata and udana vata.
Read – Kapha Dosha Dominant Places in Our Body
Adrenal glands and pancreas are located in abdomen. This is also a seat of pachaka pitta, ranjaka pitta, kledaka kapha and samana vata. Therefore these glands fall into territory of these dosha sub-types. Functions of these glands are influenced and monitored by balance of these dosha sub-types. Udana vata too has its influence on this territory of body.
Testes and ovaries are located below navel, in pelvis, in vata zone. This is predominantly apana vata zone. Functions of these glands are monitored by balance of apana vata. Among functions of balanced apana vata, ejaculation of semen, ovulation and menstruation are included as important functions.
Considering doshas and their sub-types in bracket of endocrine system?
From perspective of modern physiology, vata and its sub-types cannot be strictly considered as hormones since they do not have form. Pitta, kapha and their sub-types can be taken as one or other form of hormones or components of body doing hormone like function.
But when we look at hormones, they move from one place to other and influence many activities. They also influence other endocrine glands and hormones. Example, pituitary gland and its hormones have influence on thyroid gland, adrenals and gonads.
But pitta and kapha are pangu i.e. lame components and cannot move from one place to other. They need to be mobilized by vata. Thus, we can consider vata as carrier of hormone like acting pitta and kapha sub-types. Pitta and Kapha move from one place to other driven by vata and have their influence on tissues and organs where they go.
But isn’t pitta and kapha going to other places a pathological process?
Seeing that each dosha and sub-type of each dosha has been allotted certain places of stay in body and also some places of operation, movement of doshas may be considered as pathological. But it is not fair enough to tell that because doshas do move all through body because they are present in all places of body.
Read – Functions Of Doshas In Balance In The Body – Prakrita Dosha Karma
Doshas have two kinds of movement –
- A normal movement when doshas are in a state of balance, a physiological movement
- A pathological movement when they are in a state of imbalance, when they are vitiated
When normal doshas move from one place to other they help in maintaining functions of the body, just like hormones in a state of balance. When vitiated doshas move from one place to other they cause disorders, just like increased or decreased hormones.
Doshas, whether normal or imbalanced, apart from having a systemic influence in good or bad way, they also influence each other in a good or bad way respectively. Same is case with hormones, they too impact and influence on each others functions in a good or bad way, depending on their state of balance or imbalance and coordination they have with each other.
Read – Role Of Doshas In Blood Circulation, Nutrition And Aeration Of Body
It is wise to put doshas in bracket of hormones because impact they have on entire body and influence they have over each other is same.
Even considering pitta and kapha or their sub-types as hormones and considering pitta and kapha as immune system would be hypothesis as I already said at the beginning of discussion. But most of the functions of endocrine glands would fall within scope of tridosha functions. Endocrine disorders too resemble diseases or symptoms caused by dosha aggravation or tissue damage caused by vitiated doshas.
Looking at endocrine system and hormones from dosha vision
From perspective of similarity with certain diseases and symptoms explained in Ayurveda
From perspective of Ashtau Nindita Purusha –
8 Physical Deformities As Per Ayurveda
Madhumeha v/s Diabetes Mellitus, link with kapha and pitta
A condition called madhumeha is often compared to diabetes mellitus. A pathological condition named prameha which describes 20 different kinds of urinary disorders are said to eventually result into madhumeha when not treated at proper time. Prameha as a whole is considered as earlier picture of diabetes mellitus.
- There are 10 types of prameha caused by vitiated kapha which are easier to treat.
- There are 6 kinds of prameha caused by vitiated pitta which are difficult to treat or manageable with difficulty.
- There are 4 types of prameha caused by vata vitiation which are difficult and impossible to treat.
All pramehas are caused by predominant vitiation of kapha. In later picture pitta and vata gets involved to make clinical picture difficult, if earlier conditions are not treated. A pitta constitution person is directly susceptible to get pitta type of prameha. Similarly, a vata body type person can be susceptible to suffer directly from vata type of prameha. But origin of either prameha will be from preliminary vitiation of kapha itself.
Pancreas is an organ chiefly involved in causation of diabetes mellitus. Later disease will involve multiple organs. Pancreas is called agni-ashaya or seat of metabolic fire in Ayurveda.
Pancreas is also seated in between digestive apparatus, middle portion of body which happens to be pitta zone. In this context, insulin may be considered as pitta required to reduce sweetness i.e. glucose and push it into muscle cells and fat cells. Glucose has qualities of kapha or kapha increasing tendency. If large quantities of glucose are left over in circulation, it increases kapha and this causes prameha. Pitta is antagonistic to kapha and is required for its breakdown, just like insulin is needed to breakdown glucose.
Kshaudra meha, one of types of prameha is correlated with hyperglycemia, which is high kapha condition.
Read – Pre Diabetes: Symptoms, Ayurvedic Treatment, Home Remedies
Soma Roga and Diabetes Insipidus, link with kapha
We have a condition called soma roga mentioned in Madhava Nidana wherein entire water component of body is contaminated and drawn towards urinary passages.
Urine is frequently eliminated. Urine is devoid of odor and pain, is cold on touch, white color, clear, and in more quantity. There lack of control over urination due to extreme debility.
He may also faint due to dehydration. This condition can be compared to diabetes insipidus. It is caused due to insufficient production of ADH i.e. Anti Diuretic Hormone which is made by hypothalamus and stored in posterior pituitary. All symptoms of this condition are similar to kapha increase. Kapha is also a representation of water in the body.
Read – Diabetes: Ayurvedic Treatment, Remedies, Prevention TipsD
One of the root of water controlling stations is said to be talu i.e. palate. We can observe that anatomically thalamus and pituitary are located above the level of palate and first signs of thirst caused by dehydration are also found in palate. Head is also one of seats of kapha. Kapha also represents water. Kapha controls water carrying channels.
Other conditions named mutratisara wherein there is excessive urination and appears like diarrhea occurring from urinary tract is also compared to diabetes insipidus. Similarly one of the types of prameha caused by vitiated kapha i.e. udaka meha wherein urine appears like water can also be compared to this type of diabetes.
This explanation establishes kapha link with pituitary and hypothalamus functions.
Bhasmaka rog – hyperthyroidism
Bhasmaka Roga – Hyperthyroidism, link with hyperactive pitta
Bhasma means ash. Disease in which consumed food gets converted into ash instead of being transformed into nutritive juices is called Bhasmaka disease.
Here, food is not digested but is burnt due to severe intensity of digestive fire. When nutritive juices are formed in less quantity or not formed at all, body tissues do not get nutrition.
There is severe crave for food and frequent urge to eat. There is insatiable hunger. On other side, there is continuous depletion of tissues and weight loss. All activities in body are at severe intensity.
This condition resembles high metabolism and consequent symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Therefore hyperthyroidism can be closely compared to hyper activity of pitta and aggressive metabolism as seen in case of bhasmaka roga.
Since gut fire and tissue fires are intense, reflecting high metabolism in bhasmaka disease, involvement of pitta should be considered because pitta and fire are same elements.
Fire is represented in body in form of pitta, body fire resides in pitta and both terms are used as synonyms of each other. Along with pitta, vata may also be vitiated in hyperthyroidism. Combination of air and fire is lethal. Vata symptoms like weight loss, loss of tissues etc is seen in hyperthyroidism. On other side, body protective mechanism i.e. kapha is at its lowest point.
This establishes relationship of hyperactive pitta with hyperthyroidism.
Likewise in terms of high metabolism, hyperthyroidism can be included in high pitta conditions and in terms of low metabolism; hypothyroidism can be included in high kapha conditions.
Read – Vata Increase Caused Due to Tissue Depletion: Dhatu kshaya
Galaganda – goiter
Galaganda – Goiter, vata-kapha linkup
Goiter is an abnormal enlargement of thyroid gland. They are usually painless. A large goiter may cause cough and make difficult for you to swallow or breathe. It is usually caused due to lack of iodine in diet.
Though not always, it is more often due to over or underproduction of thyroid hormones or due to nodules that develop in gland. Overgrowth of gland may impart pressure on endocrine cells of gland which produces thyroid hormones and cause their excessive production.
Goiter is also associated with normal thyroid hormone levels. It may occur due to too much thyroid hormone i.e. hyperthyroidism / Graves’ disease, due to an underactive thyroid i.e. Hashimoto’s disease leading to production of less thyroid hormones, multinodular goiter and excessive stimulation of thyroid by TSH.
According to pathogenesis explained in Ayurveda, vitiated kapha, vata and fat cause swelling in throat region and cause galaganda. When vata is high, there is hyperactivity of gland. When kapha is high, there is under-activity of gland, both are found in goiter as explained above.
Read – Main Cause For Diseases As Per Ayurveda
Sadhaka Pitta – Adrenaline
Sadhaka Pitta v/s Adrenaline, pitta linkup
One of sub-types of pitta is associated with manifestation of emotions like fear, courage, anger and elation. It enables us in achieving our dreams, aspirations and goals. It induces intellect, zeal and discriminating power and wards off pacifying and depressing effect of kapha and tamas quality on brain activities. It energizes individual.
Adrenaline, a hormone produced by adrenal gland does similar functions. But Sadhaka Pitta is located in hridaya. Hridaya means heart. It also means brain. If we take heart as seat of sadhaka pitta, then we can consider that heart, through circulation circulates adrenaline throughout body, because hormones move through circulation of blood.
Read – Anger: Relation With Body Types, Ways To Control Anger
Here, seat of sadhaka pitta being heart should be taken as distributing center rather than manufacturing center. Thus, adrenaline produced by adrenal glands reaches heart and spreads all over body through blood circulation and can be correlated to sadhaka pitta.
Read – Pitta Dosha Dominance In Different Body Parts – 8 Things To Know
But all above said functions of sadhaka pitta are related to functions of brain and nervous system. In this case explanation can be extended to brain. We will redefine sadhaka pitta in terms of adrenaline.
Adrenalin is produced in adrenal gland, circulated through heart and functions at level of brain and renders above said functions. Here, hridaya may be considered as brain instead of heart.
A neurotranmitter named acetylcholine is antagonistic to adrenaline and has depressing effect on above said activities. Since it slows down processes, it can be compared to kapha. Adrenaline mitigates effect of acetylcholine on brain. Similarly, being antagonistic to functions of kapha, sadhaka pitta wards off depressing effect of kapha and keeps one energetic and enthusiastic.
Read – Control Anger, Get Rid Of Inflammation And Arthritis
Halimaka – Addison’s disease
Addison’s disease – Halimaka – vata-pitta linkup
Author Ranjit Rai Desai quoting opinion of other experts tells that Addison’s disease may be correlated with Halimaka explained in Ayurveda.
Halimaka is caused due to involvement of vitiated vata and pitta and presents with symptoms like –
loss of strength, weakness
lack of enthusiasm,
low metabolism and loss of appetite,
loss of libido,
body pains, dyspnoea, thirst, tastelessness and giddiness.
Most of these symptoms resemble those of Addison’s disease.
Asthi Kshaya – Hyperparathyroidism
Asthi Kshaya – Hyperparathyroidism, vata vitiation
Asthi kshaya is not a disease but a pathological manifestation of decrease of bone tissue. This can be compared to hyperparathyroidism in which parathyroid hormone is increased in blood levels. One of main symptoms of this condition is fragile bones that can easily fracture i.e. osteoporosis. This condition can be considered to be caused by increased vata in bones.
This condition points towards involvement of vitiated vata in causation of clinical picture similar to hyperparathyroidism.
Read – Bone Mineral Density In Women: Staying Healthy With Strong Bones
Aakshepaka – Hypoparathyroidism
Aakshepaka – Hypoparathyroidism, vitiated vata link
Akshepaka is one of the special vata disorders included in vata vyadhi. In pathogenesis it is said that vitiated vata afflicts nerves all over body and causes severe convulsions which occur repeatedly.
This condition can be closely compared to seizures occurring in hypoparathyroidism. This is called tetany or tetanic seizure. It is a medical sign consisting of involuntary contractions of muscles. We can see vata vitiation causing akshepaka, a condition similar to tetanic seizures of hypoparathyroidism.
Read – Epilepsy – Ayurvedic Understanding And Its Treatment
Hypogonadism, low testosterone
Shandhya – Effeminacy, Hypogonadism in men, Low testosterone levels, increased vata and decreased kapha in semen and male hormones
A condition named Shandya explained in Ayurvedic texts resembles effeminacy. Effeminacy is manifestation of traits in male that are more often associated with feminine nature, behaviour, mannerism, style, or gender roles.
This condition has been explained in context of klaibya which resembles impotence which can occur due to hypogonadism and low testosterone levels in men.
Testosterone is included in term shukra. Decrease of shukra is caused by increased vata or pitta, usually vitiated vata. Here we can see involvement of pathological vata or pitta in endocrine disorders related to imbalance of male hormones.
Shukra agni i.e. tissue fire of semen can be correlated to testosterone, which is again a form of pitta.
Read – Gynecological Disorders Causes, Types As Per Ayurveda
Yoni vyapat – disorders of sex hormones in females, vitiated tridosha involvement
Yoni Vyapat is a set of 20 disorders afflicting female genital system including vagina, uterus and ovaries. Few conditions among them can be correlated to imbalance of female sex hormones.
Vatiki Yoni Vyapad explained by Sushruta can be closely correlated with symptoms of estrogen deficiency. This condition manifests with roughness, stiffness, acute pain and pricking pain in genital tract.
Read – Vatala Yoni Vyapad – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment
Asrja, raktayoni – which is marked by excessive bleeding per vaginum, sometimes even after conception depict ovulatory or non-ovulatory dysfunctional uterine bleeding caused due to functional abnormalities of hypothalamus, pituitary and ovaries. This condition is said to have caused by blood contaminated with vitiated pitta. Lohitakshara explained by Sushruta too is an identical condition.
Shushka – it is a condition in which there is extreme dryness of vagina along with other symptoms. This can be correlated with marked estrogen deficiency. This is caused due to increased vata.
Shandi – is a condition marked by absence or slight development of breasts and absence of menstruation. This is caused when there is abnormality of ovum responsible for development of uterus. In such condition, uterus of female fetus is afflicted by vitiated vata and causes this condition. This condition is correlated with congenital absence of gonodotropic hormones of anterior pituitary.
Above said references establish role of doshas in causing hormone related disorders in women, especially those of reproductive system.
Read – Charaka Chikitsa Sthana 30th Chapter – Yoni Vyapat
Artava agni i.e. tissue fire of menstrual blood / ovum can be correlated to female hormones, which is again a form of pitta. They represent shukra agni of males and are responsible for causation of ovulation and menstruation in women.
Application of Dosha theory
Application of dosha theory to understand endocrine and hormonal functions
In whole discussion, we have tried to correlate functions of various endocrine glands and their hormones with those of doshas, their balance and their imbalances.
Dosha theory is applicable to each and every concept and an Ayurvedic physician needs to understand given diseases or pathological symptoms through an Ayurvedic lens.
All diseases explained in modern day medicine are not explained in Ayurveda. Exact correlation of a modern disease with an Ayurvedic disease cannot be done. Importantly they are different schools of thoughts and pathology of diseases explained in both systems is entirely different.
In such conditions we need to take help of strongest theory of Ayurveda, dosha theory and study modern diseases.
An Ayurvedic physician can treat almost all endocrine diseases with help of dosha knowledge. Example, when no clue is available to treat hyperthyroidism, pitta alleviating measures including treatments, medicines, diet, lifestyle practices and medicines can be applied. Treatment concepts of ati agni, bhasmaka disease, vidagdha ajirna etc can be implemented. Similarly kapha remedies will work for diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism.