Ayurveda, the traditional healthcare system of India, originated 5000 years ago. The five element theory is fundamental basis of Ayurvedic philosophy. In Ayurveda, the five elements are precisely known as Panchmahabhuta which includes space, air, fire, water and earth (these may be referred to as five basic elements). The five elements are building blocks of human life just as amino-acids are building blocks of proteins. The five elements have significant role in Sharira Rachna (Human Anatomy) and Sharira Kriya (Human Physiology).
Significance of Five Elements
Each and every constituent of the universe is outcome of specific ratio of the five elements. By determining the dominance of element inside human body, one can estimate the nature of the physical or mental aspects of the disease. The remedial act is to enhance the opposing elements in order to achieve equilibrium.
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Functions of Five Elements
  1. Space (Akasha): Space is omnipresent. It acts as ground substance or basis for the functioning of other elements.
  2. Air (Vayu): Air is moving force of the body as it ensures movements of the biological humours, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Air element is largely responsible for oxygen supply to cells and tissues.
  3. Fire (Agni): Fire element fulfils heat requirement of human body and produces radiant energy. Fire element is vital for biochemical and metabolic (anabolic or catabolic) pathways operating inside the human body.
  4. Water (Jala): Water is essential constituent of the universe (macrocosm) and human body (microcosm). Water constitutes 70% of human body and is essential for carrying out physiological functions.
  5. Earth or ether (Prithavi): Earth is nothing but solid state of matter and acquires stable equilibrium. Earth element plays significant role in make-up of human body. Human nutrition is also dependent upon food from the Earth.

Five Elements and Three Biological Humours (Tridosha)
Just like the five element theory, Tridosha theory of Ayurveda is mainstay of Ayurveda way of practice. Tridosha, commonly referred to as three biological humours are the primary life-forces in the human body. Vata, Pitta and Kapha correspond to the elements of air, fire and water. Primarily, ageing and senescence (decay) are under the influence of three biological humours.
  • Vata is derived when air and ether interact.
  • Pitta is derived when fire and water interact.
  • Kapha is derived when earth and water interact.

The three biological humours remain in dynamic equilibrium which represents health. Imbalance among three biological humours is disease. With medicines, either derived out of herbs or minerals, we enhance the opposing elements in order to achieve equilibrium among three biological humours.
Five Elements and Seven Tissues (Sapt dhatu)
Seven tissues (Sapt dhatu) are building blocks of human body. The five elements, in turn are building blocks of seven tissues viz; Plasma (Rasa), Blood (Rakta), Muscle (Mamsa), Adipose tissue (Meda), Bone (Asthi), Bone–marrow (Majja) and Seminal fluid (Shukra).
Five Elements and Gurvadi Guna (Twenty Opposing Qualities)
Guna represents physical property or quality of a drug. Ayurveda recognises forty-one guna including 20 Gurvadi guna. Five elements act as building of the 20 Gurvadi guna which in turn are responsible for pharmacological actions of drugs.
Five Elements and Six Taste (Rasa)
Taste has significant place in Ayurvedic medicine. A diagnosis of a disease is based on disturbance in equilibrium among three biological humours or Tridosha (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) and treatment is based on six tastes (sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter and astringent). Evolution of six taste is based on five elements and is tabulated below

The five elements are the driving force behind Ayurvedic philosophy. They have impact on the origin of disease and to cure. Sharira Rachna (Human Anatomy), Sharira Kriya (Human Physiology), Vikriti Vigyana (Pathology) and Kaya-Chikitsa (Medicine) all are based on five elements.