Ayurveda Q & A PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Melanie Sachs   

Melanie Sachs

Q. I’ve heard a lot about sesame oil and its benefits in Ayurveda. Why is it used so much and how can I incorporate sesame oil in my daily life?

A. Sesame oil comes from the tiny oval shaped sesame seed (Sesamun indicum); we all are familiar with this seed that sits on top of the all too familiar sesame seed bun.

Known to have been grown for thousands of years, myth suggests these precious seeds existed even in the time before time. According to Assyrian legend, when the gods met to create the world, they drank wine made from this precious seed.

Sesame seeds also appear in Hindu legend where they symbolize immortality. Whether you believe in these stories or not we do know that sesame seeds may be the oldest condiment known to man dating back to as early as 1,600 BC and was one of the first oils made.

Sesame oil, which is also known as gingelly oil and til oil, is used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine. It is an excellent cooking oil since it is exceptionally resistant to rancidity and has the benefit of not easily oxidizing at high tempera-tures while giving a subtle nutty taste to the food.

Externally, it is one of the main oils used for Ayurvedic massage and other rejuvenative treatments such as shirodhara (the pouring of a continuous stream of warm oil onto the forehead). It is also used in the body in Ayurvedic treatments such as karna purana (warm oil in the ears), basti (enema), nasya (nasal drops), eye drops, and as a mouth wash.

Ayurveda teaches us that many different oils are good for promoting a long and healthy life by taming vata (the dosha, or energy of the air and ether elements), thus keeping all the doshas in balance.

Ghee, sunflower, coconut, and mustard seed oils are all used both in cooking and for body treatments but among these, oils sesame is most highly prized. It is so commonly accepted as the oil of choice we often forget to ask why. The simple answer is to just accept we use it because it has worked so well for thousands of years. Or, we can look to modern science to support up these Ayurvedic claims.

Research tells us that sesame oil is a rich source of polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and several oil soluble vitamins and minerals which help maintain a normal, healthy body in balance.

Remember the skin is an organ of digestion. Our skin actually “eats” whatever we put on it. So whether we are using sesame oil in our stir fry or for abhyanga (full body oil massage), the nutrients in the sesame oil are being absorbed by our tissues.

Sesame oil is an excellent source of polyunsaturated fatty acids including Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9 oils. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are necessary for normal healthy growth. They have also been linked with the prevention of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis. Sesame oil has been shown to help lower blood pressure, increase good cholesterol (HDL), decrease bad cholesterol levels (LDL), and help maintain normal blood pressure levels. Polyunsaturated fatty acids may also help to prevent osteoporosis caused by estrogen deficiency, although the exact mechanism remains unknown.

Sesame oil is rich in antioxidants which help clear the body of harmful bacteria, viruses, and inflammation. Inflammation is now thought to be the root cause of premature aging and chronic degenerative diseases.

Sesame oil is also a good source of the antioxidant Vitamin E; it contains 75% of the recommended daily allowance in merely one ounce of oil. Vitamin E is an excellent cardio-protective that has been shown to reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Vitamin E is also now thought to possibly reduce cancer risk, Alzheimer's disease, and the formation of cataracts on the eyes. Sesame oil is also high in Vitamin A that supports the skin and eyes.

Sesame oil contains lecithin, a molecule that plays a role in the prevention of vascular diseases; it improves blood vessel elasticity, and hinders cholesterol buildup in the arteries.

In addition to lecithin and Vitamins A and E, Sesame oil also contains small amounts of magnesium, copper, calcium, zinc, iron, and phosphorus.

Magnesium helps support both vascular and respiratory health by modulating blood pressure and tissue spasms. It also has been found helpful in restoring normal sleep patterns especially in menopausal women.

Copper is known reducing some of the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis. Copper also plays an important role in maintenance of collagen and elastin; these are the substances that not only maintain the youthful appearance of our skin, but also provide structure, strength, and elasticity in blood vessels, bones, and joints.

Calcium, of course, is vital to long-term bone health but it is also thought to help prevent colon cancer, and reduce the incidences of migraines and PMS. Zinc and phosphorus are also necessary for healthy bones.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that regular use of sesame oil—internal, external—or both—reduces anxiety, enhances circulation, prevents disorders of the nerves and bones, boosts the immune system, and prevents bowel problems. Additional claims associated with sesame oil use include increased vitality, alertness, better sleep, reductions in chronic pain and muscle spasms, and even slowing of the aging process.

Sesame oil calms and nourishes the nervous system so we are less easily overwhelmed.

My teacher, Dr Vasant Lad, says “Love is Oily.” Indeed, it is the oil that connects the hands giving the massage and the body receiving the massage; it is the very medium through which loving intention is transmitted. But oil can also be like liquid fire, pure calorific energy that can banish cold and damp transforming body and mind and keeping alive that inner spark.

The following are a list of the benefits of using sesame oil for massage that comes from Ayurveda. Some of these benefit comes from loving touch, but now that you know more about the micronutrients found in sesame oil, you can understand why the ancient science of Ayurveda has always made these loving claims about the power of sesame oil:

  • Improves the circulation of blood and lymph tissues. (The entire body is better nourished and cleansed so it looks and feels more youthful.)
  • Relieves pain and swelling in the body by warming the subtle energy channels which then expand allowing obstructions to clear and the toxins which can cause diseases to be eliminated.
  • Softens the skin, preventing dryness, maintaining a youthful look and feel while creating a healthy radiance and inner glow.
  • Maintains a suppleness and ease of motion in muscles and connective tissue.
  • Helps the body feel light, vital, and strong so activity remains a joy and the body does not just rest and rust.
  • Heightens the sharpness of the senses, which facilitates communication and participation in the world around us.
  • Supports the immune system so there are more good days and fewer hard days.
  • Improves physical stamina and virility.
  • Helps relaxation and restorative sleep.
  • AND more subtly, sesame oil makes an invisible film that protects against extremes of climate, sun damage (SPF15) environmental pollution, even sudden changes in air pressure. This is why oil massage before or after air travel is a perfect antidote for jet lag.

For the mind, sesame oil massage is obviously calming and enjoyable process but it can also:

  • Improve intelligence, steadiness, wit, memory, and self-confidence.
  • Banish fatigue and confusion caused by stress.
  • Give us the clarity to make better lifestyle choices.
  • On the most subtle level sesame oil massage helps:
  • Balance all three subtle body energies – vata, pitta and kapha.
  • Move prana (life-force), in both the physical and energetic sheaths of the body.
  • Open the nadis, the channels in which life force flows.
  • Awaken consciousness in the chakras (energy centers) and brain centers.
  • Strengthen the electromagnetic field of the body so we feel more psychically protected.

In the modern Western world, we tend to measure success by the amount and quality of our possessions. Rather than material wealth or even political power, another traditional measurement of the quality of life is an individual’s level of contentment. In these changing times, it may serve all of us to remember we need good health and a stable mind if contentment is our goal. Ayurveda teaches that there is nothing more simple or luxurious a path to contentment than the liberal use of the humble sesame oil.

Ayurveda has been practiced in the U.S. for only about 30 years, yet it is one of the systems of medicine native to India and is thousands of years old. Readers are invited to submit questions for “Ayurveda Q & A” to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

MELANIE SACHS has worked steadily over the last 25 years pioneering the integrating of Tibetan and Indian Ayurvedic wellness techniques into the spa and beauty industry. She is the author of Ayurvedic Beauty Care and coauthor of Ayurvedic Spa. Together with her husband, Robert, she runs Diamond Way Ayurveda which provides education and spa products to both the general public and spa professionals: diamondwayayurveda.com

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