Ayurveda For Gut Health By Dr Matthew19/09/2019, Dr Shijoe Matthew, Ananda In The Himalayas
Ananda's practising Ayurvedic doctor, Dr Matthew tells us how we can improve our gut health with Ayurveda.
Ayurveda, as the name indicates in Sanskrit language is “the science of life”. This ancient practice of traditional medicine has sustained the test of time and is still actively practiced all over the Indian-subcontinent and slowly worldwide. The key concept behind this science is that health is defined as an ongoing process of creating a balanced body mind and spirit. Dr Matthew says - "Attaining health is a journey rather than a destination. And good digestion with the right fuel is the only vehicle that will take us there."
In recent years several studies have pointed out that both the gut bacterial flora and the mucosal lining integrity of our gut could be strongly connected with chronic inflammatory conditions. There are also findings that the endotoxins or toxins generated within our gut entering the bloodstream are potentially creating systemic inflammatory conditions.
Digestive system first approach
Ayurveda understands that our digestive system and its ability to metabolize various foods (called as agni in Sanskrit) is a key factor necessary for not just tissue nourishment and repair but also supporting a properly developed immunity function. The process of Agni/digestive fire acting upon food leading to the formation of nutrients/by products and subsequent building up of body tissues is known as “dhatu parinama”. This process of tissue-building helps us understand that the end product of proper digestion is not nourished tissues alone but strong resistance to illness and faster tissue repair. Hence any chronic illness with associated digestive symptoms cannot be effectively treated without addressing the digestive system first.
Recent studies to understand the nervous system that controls our digestive functions and its connection and influence on our mind and emotions has led to a whole new branch of human physiology called the enteric nervous system. Ayurveda considers that all “function of movement” within our body is interconnected. An imbalance caused at the level of Air & Space elements will have an influence on thought, emotions, sleep, bones and joints and nervous system. This is normally caused by a combination of factors such as poor diet, weak digestion, stress and disturbed sleep. Accumulation of Vata imbalance over an extended period of time can result in an extremely sensitive gut and symptoms similar to a common digestive disorder called the irritable bowel syndrome.
The treatment for Irritable bowel in Ayurveda involves a holistic approach addressing the Vata Imbalance. This will include an easy to digest diet predominantly including simply cooked food and warming spices. Spices like asafoetida and Ajwain are recommended to be used in cooking or as a tea to prevent bloatedness and enhance digestion. It will also include methods of addressing the actual causative factors behind the stress and sleep issues like breathing exercises and meditation. External application of castor oil and hot fomentation over the abdomen is also seen as an effective treatment method to calm the sensitive enteric nervous system.
Ayurveda for preventing colon cancer
The colon is one of the most common area where cancer is affecting human beings after skin, lung, prostate and breast. Ayurveda understands the importance of having a proper cleansing mechanism and the ill effects of having irregular bowel habits. Modern researches shows that fecal pH and transit time can be an important factor in identifying chances for colon illnesses including cancer. The recent increase in consumption of processed food, farmed red meat and low-fibre- calorie dense diet has resulted in an increase in cancer incidences.
The ayurvedic principle of having food freshly prepared and mixed with various digestive spices always helps maintain a healthy fecal pH level. The concept of eating locally available and seasonal ingredients also helps in improved digestion and elimination functions. Fresh and seasonal produce not only have excellent flavour, it has better concentration of anti-oxidants, nutrients and life force in them than those which are stored in cold storage. Spices like turmeric, black cumin, ginger , garlic etc which are commonly used in ayurvedic cuisine also are proven as having strong anti-cancerous properties.
Effect of fasting and Ayurvedic recommendations
In Ayurveda fasting is recommended as a method of cleansing or detoxification rather than a method to lose weight. Based on the Agni or digestive fire fasting is usually performed in various ways ranging from avoiding all solid food for a period of time and drinking only hot water to having kitchari (rice and lentil porridge like preparation) for all three meals in a day. Any food that we consume when the appetite is not strong and is too heavy for the digestive system to metabolize usually is converted to a toxin called AMA according to ayurveda. This AMA is understood as having deteriorating effects on physical, mental, behavioural and cognitive functions. One of the major aims of fasting in ayurveda is to eliminate these toxins. Another reason for fasting is to literally give rest to the digestive apparatus. A properly planned fasting will not only cleanse but will also build up the digestive fire and prepare it to metabolize heavy and difficult to digest foods.
An ideal fast in a healthy person is recommended as follows. Prepare kitchari with aged basmati rice, moong dal, turmeric, ghee and spices and have it for all three meals of the day once every fortnight. Hydrate very well using warm ginger infused water and coconut water.
A balanced diet is Ayurvedic concept
Balanced diet according to the ayurvedic concept is not based on the quantity of micro or macro nutrients. 5000 years ago when the concepts of Ayurveda was developed there was no understanding of carbohydrates or proteins or vitamins. Yet they understood the importance of fruits in improving resistance to illness, root vegetables and grains for energy etc. The diet that they followed was based on the natural intuition and the affinity that our body shows to food naturally. Seasonality was naturally followed and the quantity of food was always based on appetite and activity of an individual. Therefore our forefathers could boast of a naturally healthy diet and balanced gut than unfortunately most of us feeding of supermarket foods.
Ayurveda recommends a diet which is balanced in all six tastes. They are sweet, sour, salty spicy, bitter and astringent. A diet which is balanced in all six will naturally include all nutrients necessary and would not make us feel unnecessarily unsatisfied or create a craving for certain taste all the time. The diet that we currently follow is predominantly sweet, sour and salty. The chances of illness are more due to the absence of bitter, astringent and spices which are healing herbs. Below I'll explain easy tweaks for regular breakfast lunch and dinner to include all six flavours.
Breakfast- Add berries, cinnamon, pomegranate, and some pinch of dry ginger and cardamom powder to your morning porridge or cereal mix to counterbalance it's very sweet flavour.
Lunch and Dinner- include leafy greens ( considered bitter), some lentils/beans (considered astringent) along with root vegetables/grains (considered sweet). Also, include seaweed (salty) and tamarind chutney(sour+spicy) as accompaniments. Another easy way to include bitter, astringent and spicy flavour to your meal is to have a variety of herbal and spice teas with your meal to balance it's the flavour.
Tulsi, Ajwain, Ginger & Methi seed tea is a good example for tea to have with meals.
About The Author
Dr Shijoe Mathew is the Ayurvedic Physician at Ananda in the Himalayas. He has practised Ayurveda for over a decade in regions all over the world. During this time, he has practised Ayurvedic toxicology treatments from which he learnt the traditional art of Ayurvedic pulse examination. Dr Matthew now specializes in Chronic Health conditions, diet and lifestyle planning to support recovery and ayurvedic medicinal plants.
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