Obesity is often seen as a modern-day problem, affecting an estimated 135 million Indians. The prevalence of obesity and central obesity is as high as 31 to 36 percent in India. This is extremely concerning because of the wide range of health risks that it poses. Although the problem is pervasive today, it was also widely recognized in ancient Ayurvedic texts, with obesity described as Sthaulya. This is perhaps the earliest classification of obesity as a health condition with symptoms and complications clearly described in Charaka Samhita.
What’s notable about Ayurveda, is that it also offers holistic treatments for such health conditions that address the root cause of diseases. In the context of obesity, imbalances and the accumulation of Ama or toxins is believed to play a significant contributing role. This is why Panchakarma therapy, which we simply regard as a detox treatment, is highly recommended for weight loss.
The most obvious application of Panchkarma therapy is to detoxify and purify the body, helping restore the natural balance. This is achieved through the use of herbal oils, body treatments like massage therapy, steam therapy, purgation, enema therapy, and diet therapy, among others. In addition to reducing stress on the liver and digestive organs, this detox process allows the body to eliminate accumulated wastes and burn fat deposits more efficiently. This is because clearing blockages in the body improves circulatory, nervous system, and digestive functions, reducing impairments that lead to the accumulation and formation of fat deposits in the body.
The use of Panchakarma as an Ayurvedic treatment for weight loss is also supported by research that shows direct weight loss benefits because of its action on the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome basically refers to the balance of gut flora or gut bacteria, which plays a critical role in digestion, as well as other bodily processes because of the brain-gut connection. While the gut microbiome concept may be rather complex to understand, it is worth noting that research has shown Panchakarma therapies like Virechana can reduce colonization of aerobic bacteria in the gut, restoring a healthy balance, which in turn leads to improved weight loss.
Although weight loss may not be the primary goal of the therapy, panchakarma treatment for weight loss is also effective because of dietary modifications that are part of the therapy. The procedure requires periods of fasting and the adoption of an Ayurvedic diet that eliminates processed foods, instead of focusing on whole foods. These foods are rich in nutrition, while low in calories, providing you with nutrients and dietary fibre that support appetite regulation, digestion, and better weight management. The emphasis on mindfulness when eating has also been shown to aid weight loss through reduced calorie intake as you are more attuned to the body’s natural cues.
As is the case with any sustainable weight management program, Ayurvedic weight loss therapy is thought to be effective not just because of its direct effects on fat, but because of its holistic approach. Researchers who have assessed the long-term effects of Panchakarma therapy have observed significant improvements in terms of behavioural changes even three months after undergoing the Ayurvedic treatment. This shift in behaviour towards healthier choices and greater self-care is critical for sustainable weight loss, as opposed to many other weight loss programs in which individuals quickly regain weight after the treatment ends. Panchakarma was shown to cultivate the necessary self-discipline and adherence to healthy behaviours thereby aiding permanent weight loss.
Chronic stress and anxiety have become pervasive today because of our fast-paced lifestyles and it is known that high levels of stress hormones like cortisol increase the risk of fat cell accumulation in the body, especially in the abdominal region. In this context, it should be noted that clinical trials have shown how Panchakarma therapy can alleviate stress and anxiety, addressing a huge risk factor for obesity. This is thought to be due to a combined effect of stress reduction from preparatory procedures like massage therapy and steam therapy, as well as the restricted use of digital devices when undergoing therapy at an Ayurvedic retreat or clinic.
Although obesity is one of the biggest concerns today, Panchakarma therapy is not just a weight loss treatment. It offers wide ranging health benefits and is recommended for all individuals as it can also lower the risk and aid in managing metabolic and lifestyle disorders like diabetes and heart disease.