Part 1 - Your Digestion from an Eastern Perspective
According to naturopathic medicine, our digestive system is the key to balanced health and vitality. Naturopathic medicine is a combination of Western, modern scientific knowledge with Eastern traditions. Eastern traditions include: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which was the first formalized system of healthcare in modern civilization, along with Ayurvedic Medicine, the ancient medical system from India. Both of these traditions understand that in order to extract the nourishment we need from food, there needs to be balance and integrity in both the body and mind.
Agni; Your Digestive Fire
Ayurvedic and TCM principles guide the care of billions of the world’s healthiest people. In the Ayurvedic tradition, they state that digestive and metabolic fire maintains one’s life span and vitality. Agni, which is the Sanskrit term for metabolic fire, is in charge of digestion, absorption, assimilation and transformation of food into energy. Too much or too little agni can result in a number of different physical conditions. If there is too little metabolic fire, it can result in delicate digestion such as low appetite, nausea or constipation. On the other hand if there is too much digestive fire, one can develop heartburn, acid indigestion or diarrhea.
In Ayurvedic Medicine, there are three mind-body constitutions (called Doshas) and with each constitution, a different type of diet is recommended. The three mind-body types include: Vata, Pitta and Kapha and each of these Doshas derive from the Five Elements.
Vata is composed of Space and the qualities of Vata include dry, rough, light, cold, subtle and mobile. Vata types do well with warm food with moderately heavy and soothing textures (salty, sour and sweet tastes).
Pitta is derived from Fire and Water and is associated with oily, sharp, hot, light, moving, liquid and acidic qualities. Pitta individuals do well with a moderately cool and warm diet but should avoid really hot food and heavy foods.
Kapha comes from Earth and Water and qualities are moist, cold, heavy, dull, soft, sticky and static. Kapha individuals do well with a light, dry diet and should avoid cold, heavy, oily foods. To learn more about which Dosha type you are click here.
Part 2 - A Mind-Body Approach to Digestion
Our gastrointestinal system sends many messages to our brain, and vice-versa. Eastern cultures recognize that concentrating awareness on the present moment allows our bodies to fully absorb and extract the available nutrition from the foods we eat. Ayurvedic medicine has Body Intelligence Techniques that promote present-moment awareness and therefore improve our digestion:
Part 3 – A Prescription for your Digestion that includes Mind-Body, Diet and Herbal Treatments
1. Follow the above body intelligent techniques with every meal
2. Follow your mind-body constitution/Dosha's recommended diet (see above)
3. Pay attention to your body’s natural urge to go to the bathroom
4. If your digestion is delicate (weak agni):
7. To enhance elimination, consider Triphala, a classic Ayurveda formula consisting of three fruits. Triphala has been shown to normalize bowel movements in people who tend to slow or loose stools. Triphala is also used a great rejuvenation formula, and is a non-habit forming and safe formula. Try and steer clear of herbal laxatives as these can cause the bowels to develop dependency and further worsen constipation.
Using a prescription that addresses our unique digestive state and constitution, one can restore digestion to a balanced, healthy state and overall, a greater well-being :)
Simon D, Porter V. Chapter 12: Ayurveda and Digestive Health. Integrative Gastroenterology. Oxford University Press. 2011. 123-130.
Eat Taste Heal: An Ayurvedic Guide Book and Cookbook for Modern Living.
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Dr. Lara is a Naturopathic Doctor who is passionate about helping and empowering her patients in their journey towards lifelong health and wellness