. If our digestive system is not in good shape, indigested food will collect in the intestine, leading to an array of digestive problems and auto-immune disorders.
Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes proper digestion of food as a key to good health. Digestion encompasses the basic concepts of tridosha (Vata, Pitta and Kapha), saptdhatu (the seven tissues), and mala (exercise) – all fundamental tenets of Ayurvedic medicine. An efficient digestive system is vital to achieving and sustaining a healthful balance.
Digestion power is called Agni, meaning digestive fire. Ayurveda has an elaborate discussion on Agni and its different types which is beyond the scope of this article, but for convenience, the entire gastrointestinal system with hydrochloric acid, enzymes, pH and friendly bacteria can all be considered part of Agni.
According to Ayurveda, foods and herbs are all divided into three categories: Sattvic, meaning pure, Rajasic, meaning energy and Tamasic, meaning inertia-inducing. Sattvic foods such as fruits, some vegetables, ghee and milk promote spiritual awakening and enlightenment. Rajasic foods, like garlic, onions and strong spices create energy and vigor and also increase sexuality and fertility. Tamasic foods produce drowsiness, sleepiness, and dullness. Meat and pesticides in our foods can be considered Tamasic. Ayurvedic medicine counsels us to eat more Sattvic and Rajasic foods, and fewer Tamasic foods.
Several Ayurvedic herbs are helpful in promoting strong digestion. These include, Amla, Haritaki, Bahera, Trifla, Ginger, Long pepper, Black pepper, Turmeric, Cumin, Coriander, Garlic and Onions just to name a few. These spices have a long history of use in India and China, and numerous studies have documented their digestive, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic and antioxidant properties.
Amla (Emblica officinalis)
Amla fruit, also known as the Indian gooseberry, is one of the richest sources of bioflavonoids and Vitamin C. This plum-sized fruit is revered for its anti-aging and immune-enhancing properties. Research has shown that the potency of 8.7mg of natural Vitamin C complex from Amla is equivalent to 100mg of synthetic Vitamin C. In addition to its antioxidant properties, Amla also has antifungal, antihepatotoxic, anti-inflammatory and rejuvenative properties.
Haritaki (Terminalia Chebula)
Haritaki is a rich source of tannins, fructose, amino acids, succinic acid and beta sitosterol. Clinical studies have demonstrated its anti-viral properties against cytomegalovirus and its anti-bacterial properties against E-coli, Salmonella and Cholera. Ayurvedic literature notes Haritaki’s use as a digestive aid and eliminative of toxic accumulation.
One third of the Haritaki fruit is made up of astringent substances such as chebulic acid, chebulinic acid, tannic acid and gallic acid. These substances are all considered powerful anti-oxidants. Haritaki also contains the purgatives: anthroquinone and sennoside in small quantities.
Bahera (Terminalia belerica): Bahera, a rich source of tannins, has shown remarkable results in treating symptoms of asthma and chronic sinusitis. Clinical trials have also shown anti-histaminic, antitussive, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. A recent study conducted in Kerala, India has shown an anti-HIV and anti-malarial action.
Trifla (combination of Emblica officinalis, Terminalia Chebula and Terminalia balerica)
Trifla is an excellent digestive, eliminative and adaptogen, and a rich source of bioflavonoids and phytochemicals. It is especially indicated as a Rasayana, or a rejuvenating formula. Ayurvedic texts have explained its action as digestive, mildly laxative, mildly diuretic and adaptogenic. Trifla has also shown anti-viral properties against Cytomegalovirus, Herpes, Simplex and HIV virus in vitro. Additionally, the antioxidant properties of Trifla appear to be greater than Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Trifla is generally considered safe for use on a long term basis. Ayush Herbs Inc.’s Trifal™ contains all of the herbs mentioned above.
Ginger (Zinziber officinalis): A folk remedy for arthritis, dyspepsia, flatulence, colic, painful stomach conditions and nausea; ginger is a wonderful digestive, anti-inflammatory and blood thinner. It contains protease, a plan enzyme. Enzymes are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger also has anti-oxidant and anti-platelet aggregation activities, and it increases circulation. Chewing ginger before meals helps to digest the food. According to Ayurvedic principles, indigestion is the first cause of inflammatory diseases. Recommended dosage of ginger is 2-10 grams with meals, but those on blood thinning medication should not take more than 2 grams per day.
Pippli (Piper longum): Charak, the master of Ayurveda, has described this plant as an appetite stimulator, anticolic, antitussive, and aids in building resistance to disease. Its alkaloids, piperine, piper longuminine and dihydrostigmasterol, have been shown to increase the absorption of drugs manifold. Various studies have also revealed the whole fruit to have anti-allergenic properties. Piper longum’s irritant action increases gastric juice secretions and its hepatoprotective action has been observed to counter carbon tetre chloride-induced liver damage in rats.
Trikatu: An equal combination of black pepper, long pepper and ginger, Trikatu has been used in a number of various Ayurvedic preparations as a digestive and to enhance the availability of nutrients. It has a stimulating effect on gastric mucosa, and has been shown to enhance the bioavailability of drugs. Trikatu is used to stimulate production of hydrochloric acid, and has shown anti-allergenic activities.
Turmeric (Curcumin) : One of the most prized Ayurvedic herbs, Turmeric is a powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, anti-viral and a cancer protectant. It has also shown anti-bacterial properties against salmonella, and is a strong digestive aid.
TIPS TOWARDS A BETTER DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
While the role of Ayurvedic herbs can often be critical to proper digestion, Ayurvedic medicine also employs certain eating rituals that enable the digestive system to function optimally. It is not uncommon for Americans to eat food in a hurry. But when we eat our breakfast as we drive to work, our attention is less on food and more on the highway. Additionally, many studies have shown that people who eat in front of a television gain more weight. These sorts of distractions take attention away from food and digestion and place it on events or images far from the act of eating.
Ayurvedic medicine counsels us to eat slowly, in a peaceful setting, alone or with people with whom we feel comfortable. It is also important not to eat when you are upset. Eat sitting down, not while you are watching television or driving, and refrain from speaking while you chew food. Do not gulp cold water while eating; this dilutes your digestive juices. Instead, sip warm water or a stimulating tea such as ginger or long pepper tea.
Finally, it is important to eat only when you are hungry, leaving plenty of time between meals, leaving 4-6 hours. Eating at different times each day produces irregular enzyme secretions, thus slowing digestion. The largest meal of the day should be lunch, when digestion is strongest. Many Americans skip breakfast, eat lunch on the run, and eat a large dinner. But mid-day is logically the best time for a large meal, because this is when we most need fuel. I encourage my patients to eat a nice breakfast (after a night time fast of 10-12 hours), healthy lunch and a light dinner.
Ideal food quantity will vary from person to person depending on body type, weight, height and digestive capacity. Vata people and those with Vata disorders need to eat small, frequent, and easily digestible meals in order to keep their blood sugar balanced. Warm foods are also important for the Vata people. Pit personalities and those with Pit disorders have large appetites and also need to eat frequent and easily digested meals, but their food should be cooler in nature. Kapha personality people need to eat only a couple of meals a day as they have a tendency to gain weight.
Before you eat, meditate on the food. It is very important to establish a relationship with food. Taking time to be grateful for nature’s gift of life will put you closer in touch with nature, and thus with yourself. Such attention will allow you to absorb many attributes of the food before you, including its aroma and color, which will also help to stimulate the digestive process.
Sit quietly after each meal, for 3-5 minutes and then take a short walk. This will go a long way in balancing the mental, emotional and physical aspects of the digestive process.
Remember that fresh, in-season, organic foods are the best, and should be eaten whenever possible. Eat foods according to the season and your body type.
For more information about Dr. Virender Sodhi and the Ayurvedic Clinic, please visit www.ayurvedicscience.com. For the herbs listed above, please visit www.ayush.com
Disclaimer: This article is purely informative and should not replace the guidance of your physician. If you suffer from an illness, you should consult a physician before taking any herbs, vitamins, minerals or enzymes. Even at the peak of health, it is best to consult a qualified practitioner before taking any dietary supplement.