The food consumed by us is oxidized. When there is improper oxidation of food, free radicals are emitted into the body. These free radicals have a high affinity to combine with stable molecules, abstracting the electron to get stabilized. Thus, due to this combination, the stable molecules are either destabilized or destroyed . The probability of turning a stable molecule to unstable is 10% while that of destruction of the molecule is 90%. This process eventually leads to increase in the catabolic activity and thus, speeds up the process of aging.
In Ayurveda, Ama is the entity which is formed due to improper oxidation. Oxidation is denoted by the term Paka in Ayurvedic text. Paka is the function of Agni. Thus, Ama is the product of paka due to impared Agni. Ama tends to be poisonous as it may mix with other Doshas, Dhatus or Malas.
The entire process of production of Ama can be classified into two phases:
1.In the first phase, the ingested food does not get digested properly due to lack of Agni. This leads to improper formation of chyme. This chyme stays back in the stomach and works like a poison, named amavisha. The amavisha is an emergency condition in which it seeks an emergency elimination from the body with emergency emesis. If it is not eliminated duly, it causes diseases like Viscoochika and Alasaka in the body. If Amavisha is accumulated in the body for a longer period of time, it starts mixing with Dhatus, Doshas and Mala by taking tiryag gati i.e. second phase of ama called Leena ama.
2.Leena ama is the phase in which there is excessive emission of free radicals to the body. Under such conditions, preliminary stages of treatment are not advisable, rather treatment like Pachana, Deepana, and Rasayana are advised.
Free radical damage may involve many Cellular contents like mitochondria, lysosomes, endoplasmic reticulum, plasma membrane, and peroxisome. This leads to denaturation or inactivation of cellular contents. The ionization caused due to free radicals may damage the
genetic expression by inducing DNA mutations. To stop these from happening, the body has a defence mechanism – Anti oxidants. The role of antioxidants is either of the two:
1.Preventive – These will inhibit free radical production in initial phase
2.Chain breaking – These will inhibit free radicals in the propagative phase.
The union or separation of Paramanus and the production happens by the virtue of Agni to attain different rupa, sparsha, gandha; and the Agni responsible for this is Bhutagni. When we have food, it is broken down into minute particles. This process is known as Paka. Paka takes place everywhere and in both – gross and adrushya state. This is done by Agni. When it comes in contact with the same, it attains motion by vayu and gets divided into minute particles by vijathiya teja. Further, these minute particles get converted into Parmanu by the action of digestive enzymes. Later, Paramanu attains different forms like Sparsha, rupa, Rasa, gandha. When there is any derangement in any of the processes, it leads to production of improper Parmanu known as ama or free radicals.
Free radicals are said to be produced in abundance in the body when the equilibrium between its generation and body’s primary defense are disturbed. The primary defense of the body are activity of enzymes like superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. Due to this, there is production of Ama and results in malfunctioning of Agni.
Free radicals are the oxygen carrying components in the body, which bring in metabolic processes and leave waste or ama as it’s byproduct. In the mitochondria of the cell, the energy is generated in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Here, mitochondria combines with oxygen and glucose, and forms carbon dioxide, water and ATP. Free radicals are formed as by- products from these metabolic processes.
Antioxidants are also produced by the body. When the oxidants (free radicals) increase as compared to anti-oxidants, it leads to oxidative stress in the body. “Oxidative stress is caused by imbalance in production and accumulation of oxygen reactive species in cells and the ability of a biological system to detoxify these reactive products.” This may cause several diseases like cancer, neurogenic disease, cardiovascular disorders, and also include aging. In response to oxidative stress, the body produces antioxidants as a defense mechanism. But once the limit is reached, excess free radicals are formed which disrupts cells and causes cell death.
In Ayurveda, there are several plants which act as antioxidants. They are specifically rich in polyphenols which play an important role in absorption and neutralization of free radicals and their decomposition. Some plants with antioxidant activity are : garlic, aloe vera, green tea, cinnamon, malabar leaf, turmeric, ginger, Fenugreek, etc. Besides these, Rasayana drugs are used to neutralize excess oxidants in the body.
Thus, our intake of food affects the oxidative power of the body. More the oxidation, more is the accumulation of Ama and fast is the process of aging. Thus, it needs to be balanced and neutralized before causing any disease in future.