Ayurvedic Perspective of Liver

Visceral organs are generally explained in terms of anatomy and physio-pathological derangements. However, Ayurveda Samhitas treat these aspects under one heading of “Sharir”.

Liver is a vital organ for chayapachaya चयापचय (metabolism) of consumed food. Acharyas have opined about the genesis of Yakrit from RaktaDhatu as Ayurveda narrates the basic principles including Panchamahabhoota, Tridosha, Saptadhatu, etc., in view of embryology and organogenesis. The various organs generate from different combinations of mauabhuta and specially Raktadhatu (Blood tissue) in the context of liver.

Even conventional anatomy states that an abundant quantity of blood is responsible for the formation of sinusoids of the liver. This huge quantity of blood comes from broken vitelline and umbilical veins in the septum transversum. On the other hand, the raw material for the formation of blood cells and liver (septum transversum) is the same, being mesenchymal cells from the mesoderm.

The liver is a well-known organ for Ayurveda. In Vedas, it is named as “Takima” or “Yakna”. Synonyms like Kalakhanda, Jyotisthana, Yakritkhanda, Yakritpinda, Raktadhara and Raktashaya are found in the ancient literature for liver.

Sushruta explains that foetal nutrition usually depends on Ahara Rasa, categorized under maternal factors and Vayu present in Jyotisthana, responsible for cell division. The Ahara Rasa is first received by Jyotisthana, which further nourishes the whole body. Therefore, Jyotisthana is perceived as “liver”.

In AshtangaHridaya, Acharya Vagbhata has used the word Yakritkhanda with regards to the description of diseases which is indication for the lobes of liver.

Yakrit is a site of RaktaDhatu, where Blood is stored therefore, Raktadhara or Raktashaya words are perceived as synonym of liver and used in Ayurveda Samhitas.

Varna (Color)
In the classics, various references regarding the color of Yakrit can be seen during the elucidation of signs and symptoms of diseases. The color of Vidradhiis similar to the color of Yakrit,i.e. Krishnalohitam (reddish brown).

Acharya Vagbhata has compared the color of PittajaArsha with Shukajihva, i.e. tongue of parrot, Yakritkhanda and Jalouka. In ShariraSthana, he has stated the critical condition of the patient in Atisara (diarrhea). - “If the color of stool is like the Yakritpinda or Mansadhovana, the patient will not survive”.

Svarupa (Appearance)
According to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the appearance of Yakrit and Pleeha are solid structures like mountains.

Sthaana (Site)
Acharya Arundattahas stated that the site of the liver is below and right to the heart.

Karya (Physiology of liver)
Many Acharyas have stated that the main function of Yakrit is to offer red color to Rasa Dhatu, i.e. Ranjana of Rasa Dhatu. However, according to Acharya Vagbhata, this function is carried out in Amashaya, ( stomach). According to Sushruta, the function of Pitta, which has its seats in the liver and spleen, consists of imparting its characteristic pigment (Ragakrit) to the Rasa Dhatu (lymph chyle) and hence it is known as Ranjakagni. Acharya Sharangadhara also has a similar opinion about the formation of blood.

In relation to the development of body parts, Yakrit is developed or generated from Matrijabhava, as stated by Acharya Sushruta and Charaka in ShariraSthana.

Acharya Sushrut, in Sharirsthan states that Yakrit is also engendered from RaktaDhatu. According to Acharya Arunadatta, the three Bhavapadarthas, i.e. Samana Vayu, Dehoshma, and RaktaDhatu take part in the formation of Yakrit, Pleeha, and Kloma. While considering these verses, it has been cleared that all the Acharyas were sure about the major role of RaktaDhatu in the development of Yakrit (liver).

Development of liver and the bile duct as per the modern medicine
The liver begins as a hollow endodermal bud from the foregut during the 3rd week of the gestation. The bud separates into two parts, viz. hepatic and biliary. The hepatic part contains bi-potential progenitor cells that differentiate into hepatocytes or ductal cells that form the early primitive bile duct. This collection of rapidly growing cells penetrates in the adjacent mesodermal tissue (septum transversum), and it is met with an ingrowing capillary plexus from the vetelline and umbilical veins, which ultimately form sinusoids. The biliary part of the endodermal bud will form the gall bladder and extra hepatic bile duct. Due to the connection between these growing masses of cells and foregut, bile comes into gastro-intestinal tract and it begins to flow at about the 12th week of intrauterine life. Hemopoietic cells, Kupffer's cells and connective tissue cells are derived from the mesoderm of septum transeversum.

The fetal liver has major hemopoitic function up to the first and second trimesters. This subsides during the last 2 months of intrauterine life. According to Ayurveda Samhitas, the liver develops from RaktaDhatu.

On one hand, the mesoderm produces septum transversum and the liver develops from the same. On the other hand, the mesoderm also produces mesenchymal cells, which in turn produce myoblast, chondroblast, lymphoblast, hemocytoblast, etc. The blood cells develop from hemocytoblast and lymphoblast. Last but not the least, it is seen that the raw material for liver and blood is the same, i.e. mesoderm.

Septum transversum is the first site of maternal blood. The umbilical and vitelline veins open at the septum transversum; due to this, the septum transversum is rich in blood supply. Hepatic bud grows in the septum transversum and, due to this, the umbilical and vitelline veins are broken up forming the liver sinusoids.  It indicates that blood plays an important role in the development of liver. In this manner, the references in Ayurveda can be correlated with modern science regarding the development of Yakrit.

Ayurveda concept
According to Ayurveda, the Rasa Dhatu, which comes to Yakrit and Pleeha, gets colored by Ranjakagni. But, this is too difficult to correlate with modern science. In the term of modern science, it can be matched with hematopoiesis. Hematopoiesis is carried out by Yakrit only in intrauterine life. However, after birth, this is carried out by red bone marrow. In some pathological conditions, the liver may help in forming blood cells with red bone marrow. Actually, the function of Yakrit is metabolism of fats, proteins, etc., or storage of certain vitamins, nutrients or glycogen and not coloring the chyle. On the whole, the term of Ranjakagni related to the liver is too difficult to match with any of the components present in the liver.

Scope for therapeutic Research
From the above it is clear that embryological origin of liver is blood tissue as per Ayurveda as well as modern science. Hence, in case of any liver disorder, the baseline treatment for blood disorders may be adopted. However, the present description and correlation of ancient thought opens a new window on the applicability of this concept in management of hepatic disorders for modern medicine and for the 20th century Ayurveda physicians to evaluate the efficacy of drugs acting on Raktavahasrotasa, like Sariva, Manjishtha, Triphala, on the parameters of modern science for evidence based claim.

General physiological functions of liver
Liver is called engine of the body, it has many important roles to play in digesting, metabolizing and manufacturing essential compounds for keeping the body healthy. This organ is responsible for converting Rasa Dhatu (clear plasma) to RaktaDhatu (blood), scan and identify toxins in the Rasa Dhatu and store them so they don't enter the blood. This maintains the purity of the blood by keeping ama, (impurities), from mixing with it. The liver produces and secretes bile, using it to break down and digest fatty acids; it produces blood-clotting factors and at the same time creates protective elements that keep blood clots from blocking the circulatory system. It converts sugar into glycogen and stores it for use by the muscles in the form of glucose energy; it synthesizes proteins and cholesterol. Apart from storing valuable trace elements like iron, copper and Vitamins A, D and B12.

Problems of Liver
Because the liver is the seat of Pitta dosha, Pitta-based problems of skin inflammation can be a direct result of liver imbalance.  The liver is composed of five bhutaagnis( digestive fires) that correspond to the five elements of: earth (prithvi), fire (tejas), water (apu), air (vayu) and space (akasha), each specializing in digesting that particular element in the food and  transform Rasa Dhatu  (clear part of plasma) to blood tissue. If their flame burns too high, or too low, or burns unevenly, then the Rasa Dhatu will not be properly converted into blood tissue, and toxins will enter the blood. All of these functions are governed by Ranjaka Pitta, and if it loses its balance, it can affect the blood and skin and result in inflammatory problems such as skin breakouts, acne, cold sores, includingpsoriasis. Also, toxins stored in liver can lead to allergic sonditions, Hypercholesterelemia, hypoglycemia, constipation, digestive problems, or fatigue. If the imbalance continues for a longer duration, serious diseases of the liver, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice and cancer, may develop.

Natural Balancing of liver through-Diet

Eat organic, freshly-cooked foods and avoid toxins. Foods that are laced with preservatives and chemicals or processed or left over, should be avoided becauses, liver has to work overtime to filter out the toxins which, eventually affect the health of liver. Alcohol is well-proven to be the cause of cirrhosis and need to be avoided even in small doses by the Pitta constitution in summer season. Cigarette smoking aggravates pitta and capable of damaging health of liver in no time.   Air pollution and exposure to chemicals of daily house hold and other toxic substances are injurious to liver health. Drinking plenty of pure water to flush out toxins is beneficial.

The best way to prevent liver imbalance is to keep Pitta dosha in balance. Eat a Pitta-pacifying diet in summer for example, sweet, juicy fruits, summer squashes, cooked greens, sweet milk products, lassi, and grains. Sour or fermented foods like vinegar, pungent like chilies, and salty foods are harmful especially for the persons having lot of Pitta in basic constitution. Start the day with a stewed apple or pear, to set the metabolism and cleanse the liver. Just eating a sweet, juicy pear every day can go a long way to soothing Pitta dosha and cleansing the liver.

Natural Balancing of liver through- Life style

Do not skip or delay your meals, which help in balancing Pitta. In evening, it is preferable to dine early and sleep before 10:00 PM.  Pitta time of evening starts from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., and   awakening during this time, will increase Pitta dosha and prevent the liver from performing its essential functions. Also, lack of sleep has been shown to disturb metabolism of glucose, resulting in weight gain. It also has been linked to an increase in anger. Both of these symptoms are indicative of liver imbalance due to insomnia.

 Avoid the situations leading to conflict or anger due to work pressure. Regular practice of yoga specially Meditation reduces mental ama, prevents stress and helps in optimum liver function. Negative emotions create hormones that flood to the liver with toxins. Take proper care to balance your liver function which helps in generating more energy, developing glossy skin and stronger immunity.

Hepato-protective medicinal plants of Ayurveda (Evidence based)


  • PUBLISHED DATE : May 07, 2015
  • LAST UPDATED ON : May 07, 2015


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