Expert Advice on Digestion
Publication: Ayurveda - The Science of Traditional Medicine
Author: Vaidya Bhagwan Dash / Suhasini Ramaswamy
In Ayurvedic medicine, the gastro-intestinal tract (GI) is the most important part of the body, as it is thought to be the seat of doshas. Vata is formed in the colon, pitta in the small intestine and kapha in the stomach.
Vata and the Gastro-Intestinal Tract
Regular daily bowel movements are a sign of a healthy GI. Typical vata conditions of the GI include constipation, gas / flatulence, and tension - cramps or spasms, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Drink warm liquids; hot water is acceptable, but not chilled water. Herbs for constipation are triphala and satisabgol (psyllium husks). (Do not use triphala if you are pregnant or suffering from ulcers of the GI.) Triphala is a combination of three herbal fruits, each of which has a rejuvenating effect in relation to one of the doshas. Satisabgol is a demulcent laxative. It is gentle and soothing and holds moisture in the colon, thus helping vata, which is dry and cold. Satisabgol can be used with triphala, as they complement one another.
Gas, Bloating, Colic
These symptoms are usually related to constipation. Ideally food should pass through the system in 24 hours. If left for much longer there is fermentation, which causes a build-up of gas. The herbal remedy for this is hingvastak, a mix of asafoetida, pipali, ginger, black pepper, cumin, wild celery seeds and rock salt.
A massage with brahmi oil – a medicated oil that is used to restore and relax the nervous system – is another traditional Ayurvedic remedy.
Acidity / Heartburn
Sip Aloe Vera juice (without any citric acid added). Add fresh and dried coriander (cilantro), turmeric, saffron, coconut, fennel or peppermint to your diet. Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), licorice (not to be used with high blood pressure or oedema) and amalaki are used in Ayurvedic to balance acidity.
Pitta and the Gastro-Intestinal Tract
Pitta digestion tends to be fast and “burns” food. This is made worse by anger or frustration. Begin a pitta reducing diet and eat in a calm and relaxed way. Typical pitta conditions of the gastro-intestinal tract include acidity and heartburn, symptomized by belching and acid indigestion; diarrhea of frequent loose bowel movements, and constant hunger, accompanied by consequent irritability.
Pitta diarrhea is generally hot, and often yellowish and foul-smelling. Diarrhea is mainly related to pitta but can sometimes be caused by other factors, such as high toxicity (ama), stress or emotional factors. Persistent symptoms must be dealt with by a physician.
If you have diarrhea, avoid hot spices and follow the pitta plan. Eat abstemiously if at all, drinking plenty of fluids and adding coriander (cilantro), saffron and a little cardamom, fresh ginger and nutmeg to your diet. A simple diet of rice, split mung dhal and vegetables is most suitable for the pitta dosha, while symptoms last.
Persistent Hunger / Increased Appetite
In general, follow the pitta plan and use aloe Vera juice as above. Increase relaxation, meditation and yoga. Have a massage with brahmi oil. If strong symptoms persist, consult your physician.
Kapha and the Gastro-Intestinal Tract
Typical Kapha conditions of the GI include poor appetite-kapha tends to be low in agni (digestive fire), which can create a slow metabolism and weight gain; nausea; a build-up of mucus, leading to cold, sinus problems, coughs and flu; and poor circulation, resulting in a build-up of toxicity (ama). Follow the kapha plan and eat plenty of hot spices, such as chilli peppers, garlic, ginger and black pepper, until the condition clears, after which you should reduce your intake of hot spices. Herbs for kapha conditions of the GI include trikatu (“three hot things”), to be taken or added to meals. This contains pippali, ginger and black pepper. You should also have plenty of vigorous exercise.
Ginger and cardamom tea will often calm nausea. To make it, peel and thinly slice a piece of fresh ginger, add five cardamom pods and pour boiled spring water over them. Leave to stand for five minutes and drink while still hot.
Ginger is a carminative and a stimulant. This means that it has the ability to combat intestinal bloating and to speed processes in the GI so that balance is restored. During the winter and spring, when kapha is seasonally high, dried ginger can be blended with some boiled spring water and a little honey to help keep the digestive system active and moving, so helping to reduce the risk of colds, coughs and flu. Cardamom (common in Southern India as well as other tropical areas) can be used for kapha and vata digestive conditions, although only in small amounts as it can aggravate pitta or bring about a pitta excess. As with all the recommended foods, herbs and spices, the purer the quality, the more beneficial they will be. Therefore, try to buy organic herbs and spices when possible.