Introduction to Ayurvedic Guna Karma – Metabolic Properties

intro to Ayurvedic guna karma

Ayurvedic Guna Karma

As discussed in the previous blogs, the basic gurvadi guna (heavy, light, hot, cool, etc.) present inside a substance (dravya) come together to produce a complex metabolic impact. For example – cognition enhancement, sedation, anti-inflammatory activity, etc.

Ayurveda lists several metabolic effects that medicine can produce. These metabolic effects are called the guna-karma of medicine. In this context, the word “guna” means the healing properties of the medicine/herb. And the word “karma” refers to its mode of action.

The combination Guna Karma refers to the deep relation between the properties and the mode of action of a medicine. It is akin to the cause-and-effect relation. Its properties cause the medicine to act in a particular manner.

Guna is quite close to the concept of pharmacokinetics. Pharmacokinetics is a branch of pharmacology that defines how the body reacts to a substance. For example, if a substance is guru (heavy) according to Ayurveda, it may have a low bioavailability. The body needs to exert itself to get nutrition from heavy food. If a food produces heat during digestion, it is ushna (hot) in nature.

Karma is akin to pharmacodynamics, a branch that deals with the mode of action of a drug. These metabolic actions resemble medicinal properties in modern medicine. For example – Medhya is a term quite close to cognitive enhancer; Madkari is an intoxicant, vamak is an emetic (vomiting-inducing drug), and virechak is a purgative.

However, Ayurvedic metabolic impact has an incredible depth. They are more specific than their modern counterparts. For example, modern medicine has two modes of action for medicines acting on the large intestine – purgatives and laxatives.

Purgatives and laxatives have a single difference. Purgatives have a stronger and instant action, whereas laxatives exert a milder and slower action on the large intestine.

But Ayurveda offers three distinct categories –

Rechan – similar to purgatives, they have strong action. These substances cause loose motions. The motion is characterized by liquid stool, that stimulates the peristaltic pressure.

Bhedan – these substances penetrate the fecal matter and increase its bulk. This bulkiness builds pressure, stimulates the intestinal lining, and causes motion.

Sansrana – these substances have the special property to tear away the waste matter stuck to the intestinal walls and remove it through loose motion. They directly stimulate the intestinal walls and cause motion.

Besides, each herb offers a distinct package of these properties. For example –

Bhedan with Aloe Vera

According to Ayurveda, aloe vera is “bhedani.” At the same time, it is a Rasayana (adaptogen) that helps to gain weight, enhance strength and fertility. So, aloe vera may be a great choice for a thin patient suffering from constipation; but not for an obese person.

However, aloe vera causes strong purgative action, therefore it is not an ideal choice for extremely weak, sick, or recuperating people.

Sansran with Senna (Cassia augustifolia)

Senna is a leaf with “sansran” properties. It stimulates the intestinal nervous system and creates strong peristaltic motion. At the same time, it is a vatanuloman (carminative) and helps to relieve flatulence.

Senna has a special anti-worm action due to its strong peristatic stimulating effect. It also activates the liver and enhances bile secretion. This unique package of medicinal properties makes Senna the drug of choice for obstructive jaundice caused by roundworms.

Pharmacological Classification in Ayurveda

The concept of guna-karma defines this incredible correlation of medicinal properties with disorders. In this blog series on guna karma, let us explore the distinct metabolic effects listed in various classical Ayurvedic texts.

Charak Samhita, Sushrut Samhita, Ashtang Hridya, and other major classical texts describe herbs in multiple categories according to their action on the body. For easy understanding, these modes of action are divided into the following categories.

  1. Action on the nervous system
  2. Action on sense organs
  3. Action on the circulatory system
  4. Action on the respiratory system
  5. Action on the digestive system
  6. Action on reproductive organs
  7. Action on the urinary system
  8. General metabolic action
  9. Action on dosha

Each of these categories contains subcategories. For example, “Action on nervous system” consists of the following sub-divisions –

  1. Medhya – Cognitive Enhancers
  2. Madkari – Narcotic
  3. Sanghya-Sthapana – Consciousness Inducing
  4. Nindra Janan – Sedatives
  5. Nindra Shaman – Anti-Sedatives
  6. Vedana Sthapana – Analgesic
  7. Akshepjanan – Convulsants

Similarly, each category contains multiple sub-divisions. Acharya Charak says that these divisions are for beginners. Ayurvedic herbs have numerous qualities and they can have endless categories.

Besides, these categories mainly focus on the medicinal effects of the herbs. There are multiple herbs with negative effects like toxicity etc. These categories ignore such herbs for the sake of simplification.

Each category will also have a description of its signature herbs in near future. For example, the “Medhya – Cognitive Enhancers” category will have a detailed description of herbs like Brahmi, Shankhapushpi, Jatamansi, etc.

guna karma metabolic properties

How to Use Guna Karma Information

These categories can be very helpful when you are choosing an Ayurvedic medicine or home remedy. You can look up the ingredients in the list of herbal categories and confirm the classically defined herbal action.

In this blog series, you can learn the following information about the herb –

  1. Medicinal Properties
  2. Mode of action
  3. Traditional Usage/Home Remedies
  4. Classical Preparations
  5. Dosage
  6. Side Effects
  7. Precautions

I hope that these blogs help you make the best health choices.

Take Away

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Dr. Kanika Verma
Dr. Kanika Verma is an Ayurvedic physician in India. She studied Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery at Govt Ayurveda College in Jabalpur and graduated in 2009. She earned additional degrees in management and worked for Abbott Healthcare from 2011-2014. During that period, Dr. Verma used her knowledge of Ayurveda to serve charitable organizations as a healthcare volunteer.


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