Healing your digestion
“The body is the outcome of food. Even so, disease is the outcome of food. The distinction between ease and disease arises on account of wholesome nutrition or the lack of it respectively.”
“It is obvious that that the body tissues cannot be nourished and developed when food is not properly digested by the digestive fire.”
Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 28:45 &
Chikitsa Sthana 15:5
Ayurveda is a medical system that deifies the digestion. The state of digestion is the major factor in health and disease. It sees the root cause of all disease as a weak digestive fire. It focuses all of its main treatment strategies on optimising the integrity of the digestive system.
In my practice I think that at least 75% of my patients complain of some form of digestive disturbance such as bloating, acidity, constipation or diarrhoea with the most serious problems stemming to severe bleeding, malabsorption and chronic painful digestion. The remaining 25% soon realise that their illness is directly related to digestive disturbances!
Just as it is easy to upset digestion by eating the wrong foods, eating too much or becoming aggravated by stress or an external bacteria it is also easy to heal our digestion by eating with awareness. The head of the yoga school that I studied with, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, always said “the only rule is that there are no rules.” This means that we must find what is right for us on a day by day, moment to moment basis.
The way to digestive health is by learning what you need.
Here are a few ideas to help heal your digestion:
Shamana: Palliation- the best way to enkindle the digestion
These are some Ayurvedic categories of treatment that can help you to be mindful of what may be best for you.
1. Dipana; enkindling the digestive fire by using pungent, hot, drying herbs to stimulate the agni. Try eating some fresh ginger before a meal. Use digestion stimulating spices in your cooking, cumin, coriander, fennel, basil, oregano.
2. Pachana; digesting ama toxins and undigested residues. Take Trikatu after a meal to help reduce sluggish digestion.
3. Vrat or kshud nigraha ; fasting . We do this every day between supper and ‘break-fast’. If you have to work then a mono-fast may be the best practice; try eating kicharee or brown rice or one type of vegetable for a few days. Vata should do a short fast, pitta medium length whilst kapha types can fast for longer.
4. Trshna or trut nigraha; fasting from water. This can be very useful if you suffer from oedema or water type diseases. Please remember that this type of fasting should be carried out under the guidance of an experienced practitioner.
5. Vyayama; exercise and yoga. See my earlier article on this for the best yoga moves to keep your digestion healthy.
6. Atapa; lightening, drying and reducing the doshas by sitting in the sun and raising the metabolism.
7. Maruta; lightening and drying the body by sitting in the wind and by breathing practices.
Healthy eating habits
• Eat according to your constitution
• Eat fresh food that is organically grown.
• Eat satvic foods; light, fresh, rejuvenative.
• Minimize the use of leftovers, canned, frozen or preserved foods.
• Do not eat lots of raw and cooked food together.
• Do not eat contraindicated foods: Dairy and fruit, melon after other food, fruits with other food, fish and milk, eggs with milk, lemons with milk or yoghurt, yoghurt after dark, equal parts of ghee and honey (3:1 by weight), cooked honey.
• Eat seasonal foods.
• Avoid excessive fasting or excessive eating.
• Only eat when hungry and drink when thirsty. Leave 4-6 hours between meals.
• When you travel adjust your diet slowly as the change in water, food and climate can all adversely affect your digestion.
• Antidote extreme qualities of food with digestive spices.
Other problems with digestion
• A major cause of digestive imbalance is external bacteria and pathogens in the digestive tract picked up off unhealthy food, whilst travelling or from unresolved illness.; giardia, worms, imbalanced bacteria, Candida. These must be removed using effective anti-parasitical herbs such as Neem.
• Only use anti-biotics when absolutely necessary as these deplete the integrity of the balance of intestinal flora and can result in pathogenic outbreaks of unhealthy bacteria.
• Only use pain killers and NSAID drugs when absolutely necessary. In my opinion, the use of pain killers and anti-biotics are two of the most common causes of imbalaced digestion.
• Eating a high volume of refined sugar feeds pathogenic bacteria, so don’t!
Some herbal formulas that may help:
Cumin, Ajwan, Nigella , Long Pepper, Black Pepper, Ginger, Asafoetida, Fenugreek
Uses: BLOATING, MALABSORPTION, CANDIDA
An excellent combination of herbs for digestive bloating, flatulence and constipation from nervous indigestion, imbalanced intestinal flora and pre-menstrual constipation. Also helps to assist assimilation of nutrients.
Duration: Long term 3-12 mts+ or symptomatically with gas and constipation for 1-4 wks.
Don’t use it: If you have an ulcer
AMLA & PEPPERMINT FORMULA
Ingredients: Amalaki, Guduchi, Shatavari, Cumin, Coriander, Licorice, Peppermint, Ginger, Fennel.
Uses: ACIDITY, DIARRHOEA
This formula combines soothing and anti-inflammatory herbs to treat acidity, heartburn and diarrhoea from excessive gastric secretions caused by stress and spicy foods.
Duration: Long term for 3-12 mts+ or symptomatically with acidity and diarrhoea for 1-4 wks.
Long pepper, Ginger, Black pepper
USES: SLUGGISH DIGESTION, COLDS, ALLERGIES, POOR CIRCULATION
Trikatu means the Three Pungents and it is used to help maintain a healthy respiratory system. Ginger, Black Pepper and Long Pepper are mixed together to stimulate the system, warm the digestion and improve assimilation of nutrients. It is traditionally used for lung and nasal problems. It is specific for allergic rhinitis, hayfever and colds. It is used in Ayurveda as part of a weight loss regime to increase metabolism, digest fats and balance appetite. It is traditionally taken with honey.
Duration: Use short term for colds and nasal congestion, use long-term for coldness and sluggishness.
Don’t use it: If you have hyperacidity or ulcers. Caution in pregnancy
Amla, Haritaki, Bibhitaki
USES: CONSTIPATION, DETOXIFICATION, DIGESTIVE DISORDERS
Triphala is the most famous Ayurvedic formula. A mixture of three fruits, it is used to cleanse the whole system by regulating the bowels. Amla has one of the highest Vitamin C contents in the plant kingdom and helps to regulate the liver. Haritaki literally means the remover of diseases. It helps to promote bowel movements as well as toning the muscles of the intestines. The third fruit, Bibhitaki, helps to maintain healthy mucus membranes. This is the best remedy for chronic constipation.
Duration: Use long term from 1-6 months
Cautions: None known. Caution in pregnancy.
NEEM LEAF- Azadiracta indica
USES: BLOOD PURIFIER, SKIN INFLAMMATIONS, ECZEMA, PSORIASIS, ACNE, CANDIDA, FUNGAL INFECTIONS.
The Neem tree is sacred in India because of its powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It is an extremely bitter herb hence the Indian saying ‘bitter is better for you!’. Its green leaves are full of cleansing chlorophyll. The alkaloids in Neem- azadiractine and nimbin- are powerful herbal active ingredients. It is an invaluable skin and blood cleanser as well as being very effective for normalising gut bacteria and reducing Candida that may cause cause bloating and discomfort.
Duration: Use for up to two weeks for intestinal bugs and for up to two months for inflammed skin.
Don’t use it: If you are pregnant