Dhatu

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Dhatus are body constituents which build the basic structure and carry various physiological functions. They work as body tissues, stabilize and sustain body. (Code:SAT-B.425)[1] The structural and functional integrity of body depends upon dhatu. Therefore, it is important to understand the concept of dhatu.

In physics and chemistry, the term dhatu is applied to denote metals like iron, copper etc. In Sanskrit grammar, the term is applied to denote root verb and derivation.

Contributors
Section/Chapter/topic Sharira / Dhatu
Authors Anagha S., Deole Y.S.
Reviewer and Editor Basisht G.
Affiliations Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.P.G.T.& R.A., Jamnagar
Correspondence email carakasamhita@gmail.com
Date of first publication: April 16, 2020

Etymology and derivation

The word ‘dhatu’ is derived from the word root “Dha” by adding suffix “Tun”. The derivation of the word is as follows-

“डु धाञ धारणपोषणयोः”- meaning that which sustains and nourishes.

In general, the Sanskrit word conveys the meaning of a component, constituent, elementary substance, verbal, grammatical root or a metal.[2]

Synonyms

When these physiological constituents are affected by dosha and lead to abnormalities, they are termed as dushya. [A.Hr. Sutra Sthana 1/13]

Meanings in different contexts

In Charak Samhita, the word dhatu is used in different contexts as follows.

  • Seven structural components(Sapta dhatu)[Table1]
  • Denoting any bodily element/anatomical structure[Cha. Sa. Sharira Sthana 5/12]
  • Denoting the components of garbha(Shad dhatu) [Table1]
  • metals(Loha) [Table1]

Special Considerations

  • Beejarupa dhatu- denoting sperm- containing the essence of all seven dhatu of man(shukra) [Cha. Sa. Sharira Sthana 4/7,10]
  • Apdhatu- denoting watery elements in body [Cha. Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 22/11,13,21]
  • Dhatu term denoting any product (karyadravya)[Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 12/8]

Seven dhatu

The term generally refers to the seven structural components of the body.

They are as below:

  1. Rasa dhatu: plasma and lymph
  1. Rakta dhatu: blood tissue
  1. Mamsa dhatu: muscle tissue
  1. Meda dhatu: adipose tissue
  1. Asthi dhatu: bone tissue
  1. Majja dhatu: bone marrow
  1. Shukra dhatu: reproductive fluids; semen

Three dhatu

Three dosha are termed as dhatu as they are responsible for maintaining body functions.

  1. Vata
  2. Pitta
  3. Kapha [Cha. Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 3/73]

Six dhatu

These are the components of embryo(garbha) including panchamahabhuta and atma. [Cha. Sa. Sharira Sthana 1/16]

It denotes the combination of akasha, vayu, Agni, jala, prithvi(i.e. the five elements) and soul(atma).

Eight dhatu

These are components of prakriti. [Cha. Sa. Sharira Sthana 1/17]

It consists of five mahabhuta (in their subtle form), ego (ahamkara), intellect(mahat), and primordial element(avyakta).

Twenty four dhatu

These are 24 components of purusha. [Cha. Sa. Sharira Sthana 1/17]

Purusha comprises of twenty-four dhatu, i.e. mind, ten sensory and motor organs (indriya), five objects of sense organs, and prakriti (consisting of eight dhatu).

Formation and nourishment of dhatu

The dhatu are formed from first transformed food into nutrient fluid called ahara-rasa (prasada). This nutrient fluid nourishes body components in a sequential pattern. It first nourishes the rasa dhatu, then rakta, then mamsa etc. The nutrients present in the food nourish respective dhatu qualitatively and quantitatively. [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 28/4]

Furthermore, during the process of metabolism, dhatus undergo a specific pathway through their own characteristic digestive enzymes termed as ‘dhatvagni. In this process, each dhatu gets converted into two parts: poshya(which nourishes itself) and poshaka (which nourishes others). The poshya fraction is responsible for dhatu’s own nourishment and functions. The poshaka fraction nourishes further other dhatus.

By-products(Upadhatu) and waste products(mala) are also formed in this dhatu metabolic process.

Thus, each dhatu nourishes its next sequential dhatu.[Cha. Sa.Chikitsa Sthana 8/39]

Functions of Dhatu

The major functions of seven dhatus are listed as nourishment(preenana), vitalizing(jeevana), covering(lepa), moistening(snehana), supporting(dharana),filling(poorana), and reproduction(garbhoptpadana) respectively.[A.Hr. sutra sthana 9/4]

Sr. No. Dhatu qualities (Guna) functions(Karma)
1 Rasa dhatu Drava, snigdha, sara, manda satiety (Tushti), nourishment(Preenan), nourishing blood (Raktapushti)
2 Rakta dhatu Drava, sara, visra, laghu vitality (Jeevana), complexion(Varnaprasadana), nourishing muscles (Mamsapushti)
3 Mamsa dhatu Sthira, guru, snigdha, pichila nourishing body (Dehapushti), body mass (Lepa) ,nourishing adipose tissue(medapushti)
4 Meda dhatu Snigdha, guru,shlakshna, mrudu, Sandra oleation (Snehana) of eyes and body,firmness(drudhatwa), nourishing bones (asthipushti)
5 Asthi dhatu Sthira,guru, kathina, khara holding body frame(Dharana), nourishing bone marrow (Majjapushti)
6 Majja dhatu Sandra, drava, snigdha,shlakshna oleation (Snehana), strength(Balakara), filling up bones(Asthipoorana), nourishing reproductive tissues (Shukrapushti)
7 Shukra dhatu Drava, sheeta, snigdha pleasure (Harsha), strength (Bala), reproduction(Garbhotpadana)

Concept of Upadhatu and Dhatumala

Upadhatu and mala are by-products formed during the process of metabolism. The by-products are categorized into these two groups according to their functional importance. Dhatu supports the body and nourishes the subsequent dhatu. However,upadhatus do not nourish any further element. They only carry physiological functions and only support the body.

The other by-products are dhatu-mala or excretory products. They can get easily vitiated by pathogenic factors; hence they are termed as mala. The following table gives information about upadhatu and mala. [Cha. Sa.Chikitsa Sthana 15/17], [Cha.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 15/20]

Sr. No. Dhatu Upadhatu Mala
1. Rasa breast milk (Stanya), menstrual blood(Rakta) Kapha
2. Rakta artery (Kandara), blood vessels (sira), menstrual blood(artava)* Pitta
3. Mamsa muscle fat (Vasa), six layers of skin excreta in ear, nose etc.(Kha-mala )
4. Meda tendons (Snayu) sweat (Sweda)
5. Asthi teeth(Danta)*nails(nakha)# scalp hair(Kesha) and body hair(loma)
6. Majja hair(Kesha)* oiliness in eyes, skin and stools(Akshi-twacha-vit sneha)
7. Shukra Ojas* --
  • *As opined by Sharangadhara[Sha.Sa. Purvakhanda chapter 5], # As opined by Sushruta [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 46/529]

Importance of knowledge of dhatu in clinical diagnosis and treatment

Assessment of sara (excellent quality of dhatu)

Sara means the excellent quality of dhatu. It is highly related with the health of tissue and endurance to pathogens. The excellent quality depends upon metabolism(dhatvagni). It is one of the assessment parameters to determine strength of an individual in ten-fold examination. The individuals are categorized on the basis of predominance of a particular dhatu as twaksara, raktasara, mamsasara, medosara, asthisara, majjasara and shukrasara. [Cha.Sa. Vimana Sthana 8/102]

Importance in diagnosis

Dhatu have their respective systems(srotas). These srotas get affected due to the vitiation of dosha and lead to diseases. Thus, dhatu are the site of lesion in view of diagnosis and target receptors in view of treatment.

The increase or decrease of dhatu is also assessed for diagnosis of specific disease. The vitiated dosha reside in dhatu and produce specific clinical features as observed in the conditions of jwara and kushtha.

In view of prognosis, the involvement of a particular dhatu has importance in prognosis also.

In jwara, if doshas are located in rasa, rakta,mamsa and medas dhatu, the conditionsare curable; while if those are located in the asthi and majja dhatu, then conditions are difficult to treat. If vitiated dosha are located in shukra dhatu, the condition is incurable. [Cha.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 3/75-83]

In the pathogenesis of obstinate urinary disorders(prameha) dosha ( kapha, pitta and vata) along with the ten factors called dushya i.e, medas, rakta, shukra, body fluid(ambu), muscle fat(vasa), lymph(lasika),majja, rasa, ojas and mamsa play the role.[Cha.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 6/8].While considering the prognosis, “Tulyadushyata” (similarity between the characteristics of dosha and dushya) is a good sign of prognosis[A.S.Sutra Sthana7/218]

Pathology of skin diseases(kushtha) is related to the deranged physiology of seven factors. They are vata, pitta and kapha doshas in aggravated state and dhatus, namely, tvak (since the skin is the organ in which rasa dhatu is present, tvak word is used instead of rasa dhatu),mamsa, shonita and lasika that get deranged due to aggravated dosha. The involvement of higher dhatu makes the disease more complicated. [Cha.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 7/9-10]

Acute spreading erysepelas (Visarpa)also has the involvement of seven dhatu which determine the prognosis of the condition. [Cha.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 21/12]

According to Acharya Sushruta, poison(visha) situated in a particular dhatu produces the dhatupradoshajavikara of that particular dhatu.[Su.sa. Kalpa Sthana 2/30]

Dhatukshaya (degeneration of tissues)

Dhatukshaya means degeneration or decrement of quality and/or quality of body tissues. It is considered an important event in many disease pathologies.

In wasting diseases (Rajayakshma) there is direct relation to the defect in the nourishment of body tissues. The diagnosis and treatment depend upon qualitative and quantitative assessment of dhatu. [Cha.Sa. Nidana Sthana 6/ 8-9]

Moreover, dhatukshaya is mentioned as the etiology or consequence of different diseases like

  • Marmabhighata- in Kalantarapranahara and Vaikalyakara Marma[Su.Sa. Sharira sthana 6/37-38]

Importance in preservation of health and prevention

Disequilibrium of dhatu is disease and their equilibrium is health. Health is termed as happiness, while disorder as unhappiness.[Cha.Sa. Sutra Sthana 9/4]

In a state of equilibrium of dhatu, diseases are prevented, tissue elements develop properly and ageing process slows down [Cha.Sa. Sutra Sthana 7/49].

Importance in management of disease

  • While treating the conditions like dhatukshaya or dhatuvrudhi, the principles of “samanya and vishesha” are applied.For example, the mamsa dhatu get increased predominantly with the consumption of meat,rakta by rakta, meda by fat, vasa by muscle fat, asthi by cartilage(tarunasthi), shukra by semen(shukra) and fetus(garbha) by ama garbha, like egg. [Cha. Sa.Sharira Sthana 6/10]
  • Acharya Sushruta says that dosha get stability(sthiratwa) and severity(mahatwa) when they invade the successive dhatu. It becomes difficult to manage them, when they have invaded the deeper dhatu as in case of a tree with deeper roots. [Su.sa. Sutra sthana 23/15-16]
  • While planning the treatment of a particular disease, the stage of the disease in terms of involvement of dhatu is important. The concept of koshtha and shakha is important here. In some contexts, the term koshtha is used for rasa dhatu and shakha refers to the succeeding dhatu(rakta,mamsa etc.).

Panchakarma procedures are indicated for the elimination of morbid dosha situated in shakha after bringing them back to koshtha. [Su.sa. Chikitsa Sthana 32/21]

  • Among the benefits of snehana, rejuvenation of dhatu (pratyagradhatu)is mentioned.[Su.sa. chikitasa Sthana 31/56]
  • Among the benefits of shodhana chikitsa, strength in terms of proper formation(dhatusthiratwam)is emphasized. [Su.sa. Chikitsa Sthana 33/27]

Contemporary approach

Dhatu and body tissues

In current perspective of human physiology, the seven dhatu correspond to seven kinds of basic tissues as below:

Rasa dhatu: plasma including interstitial fluid and lymph

Rakta dhatu: elements of blood and electrolytes

Mamsa dhatu: muscle tissue

Meda dhatu: adipose tissue

Asthi dhatu: bone tissue

Majja dhatu: bone marrow

Shukra dhatu: elements of reproductive tissues [3]

However, the concept of dhatu is much broader than tissues. It includes the components that nourish successor dhatu, metabolic byproducts (upadhatu) and wastes(mala). All three components have importance in maintaining equilibrium in body. Therefore the types of tissues mentioned above can be included in category of dhatu, but it can't be considered as whole dhatu.

Dhatvagni and tissue metabolism

The tissue metabolism corresponds to functions of dhatvagni at various levels as below:[4]

  1. Rasadhatwagni: Glucose metabolism, circulation in portal vein, formation of WBC
  2. Raktadhatwagni:Hemopoeisis, iron metabolism, protein metabolism
  3. Mamsadhatwagni: Protein metabolism
  4. Medodhatwagni: Lipid metabolism
  5. Asthidhatwagni: Calcium and phosphorous metabolism, thyroid & parathyroid control
  6. Majjadhatwagni:Protein metabolism, iron metabolism, hemopoietic and erythroclastic activity
  7. Sukradhatwagni: Glucose metabolism, protein metabolism, vitamin E metabolism

Current researches

Stem cells and poshaka dhatu

In Ayurveda research field, the concept of rasayana with respect to dhatu and stem cells is initially introduced by Prasad BS [5] .On the basis of stem cell type potency, this development is continued throughout life. It is found that the bone marrow contains at least two kinds of stem cells. One population, called hematopoietic stem cells, forms all types of blood cells in the body. A second small population called non-hematopoietic stem cell can generate bone, cartilage, fat and cells that support the formation of blood and fibrous connective tissue (skeletal stem cells).

In some organs, such as the gut and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to repair and replace worn out or damaged tissues. In other organs, however, such as the pancreas and the heart, stem cells only divide under special conditions.[6] Mesodermal progenitor cells are found throughout the body, they can differentiate to form multiple cell types (e.g. osteocytes, adipocytes, chondrocytes, fibroblasts, and smooth muscle cells) and they have a limited ability to self-renew.[7]

Rasa Dhatu may have all types of cell differentiate lineage responsible for the development of all saptadhatu, may be known as pluripotent.[8]

Recent studies suggest that the spermatogonial stem cells can be reprogrammed to become ES-like cells to acquire pluripotency.[9] Wholesome shukradhatu may be considered as pluripotent, because it is responsible for the transmission of genetic information from an individual to the next generation.

Thus, each dhatu carry the potency to regenerate further dhatu, because each avayava (organ) is formed by composition of many dhatus.[8]

List of theses done

1. Upadhyay Vashudev J (2001) :Medo-Dhatvagni ka Sthaulya Roga ke Sandharbha mein Saidhantika evam Prayogika Adhyayana, Department of Basic principles, IPGT&RA,Jamnagar.

2.Kishor G Satani(2011) : An Applied Study of Interrelationship of Jatharagni and Dhatvagni in Context to Dhatuvrddhi, Department of Basic principles, IPGT&RA,Jamnagar.

More information

Vividhashitapitiya Adhyaya

Rogabhishagjitiya Vimana

Shosha Nidana

Grahani Chikitsa

Related articles

Abbreviations

  • SAT = Standard Ayurveda Terminology
  • Cha. = Charak
  • Su. = Sushruta
  • Ka. = Kashyapa
  • Sha. =Sharangadhara
  • Sa. = Samhita
  • A. = Ashtanga
  • Hr. = Hridaya
  • S. = Sangraha

List of references in Charak Samhita

The list of references of dhatu observed in Charak Samhita can be downloaded here.

References

  1. National AYUSH Morbidity and Standardized Terminologies Electronic Portal by Ministry of AYUSH Available on http://namstp.ayush.gov.in/#/sat
  2. https://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/2014/web/webtc/indexcaller.php
  3. Dwarkanath C. Introduction to Kayachikitsa. Chaukhambha Orientalia. Varanasi; 1996. Third edition.pg.318
  4. Amardeep Kour, Gupta Vikas, Sodhi Danisha. Importance of Nyayas on Body’s Well-Being – A Conceptual Study. Int J Ayu Pharm Chem 2015 Vol. 4 Issue 1.pg.95-106 available from www.ijapc.com
  5. National Seminar on ‘Rasayana’ opened-The New Indian Express, News article published on Monday, June 11. 2012. Available from: http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/article539215.ece
  6. Ghaffari S. Cancer, stem cells and cancer stem cells: Old ideas, new developments. F1000 Med Rep. 2011;3:23
  7. Melero-Martin JM, Dudley AC. Concise review: Vascular stem cells and tumor angiogenesis. Stem Cells. 2011;29:163–8
  8. 8.0 8.1 Sharma V, Chaudhary AK. Concepts of Dhatu Siddhanta (theory of tissues formation and differentiation) and Rasayana; probable predecessor of stem cell therapy. Ayu. 2014;35(3):231–236. doi:10.4103/0974-8520.153731
  9. Singh SR, Burnicka-Turek O, Chauhan C, Hou SX. Spermatogonial stem cells, infertility and testicular cancer. J Cell Mol Med. 2011;3(15):468–83