Indigestion in Ayurveda

“You are what you eat”, goes the famous saying.  Ayurveda goes a step further and believes that you are what you digest and absorb. Ayurveda considers indigestion as the root cause of most of the chronic diseases. The gastrointestinal(GI) system is responsible for digestion, absorption, and detoxification. It also determines your immunity, efficient functioning of your brain and even your mood!

The process of digestion involves the conversion of food with discrete identity into completely assimilated part of our body. If the food we eat is not completely absorbed by the body, indigestion occurs. Indigestion is caused by the lack of Agni or digestive fires responsible for digestion. Low Agni can be caused by an imbalance in any of the three doshas – Vata, Pitta or Kapha. In case of imbalance, the body sends out messages in the form of symptoms. If we can learn to interpret these messages properly we can ward off most of the chronic conditions.

Symptoms of Indigestion

  1. After eating, you burp out gas with the same odor and taste as the food last consumed.
  2. You don’t feel hungry even after 3-4 hours of eating
  3. You feel heavy and your stomach is bloated.
  4. Every morning you notice a thick coating on your tongue
  5. There are strange growling sounds coming out of your stomach
  6. You suffer from bad breath or bad body odor  
  7. You experience frequent vomiting and nausea
  8. You suffer from frequent constipation or diarrhea
  9. You get acidity and burning sensation in the chest
  10. You pass stool with variable consistency containing undigested food items
  11. You are either unable to sleep well or get sleep full of disturbing dreams
  12. You have low immunity and frequently catch infections
  13. You constantly feel tired and short on energy

You need to take immediate corrective action if you suffer from 2 or more of the above-mentioned symptoms for months together. Prolonged indigestion leads to accumulation of undigested food as toxins or Ama in the body. These toxins cause harm to the lining of the stomach and intestine causing inflammation and leaky gut syndrome. In leaky gut syndrome, the toxins and undigested food particles break the intestinal barrier to enter the bloodstream. The leaky gut syndrome is responsible for Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Some studies show that leaky gut may be also associated with other autoimmune diseases (lupus, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis), chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, allergies, asthma, acne, obesity, and even mental illness.

Indigestion is also responsible for weakening the process of methylation, which is required for flushing out the toxins from the body. The liver uses the process of methylation to convert toxins into water-soluble compounds for excretion.

According to Ayurveda, the accumulation of Ama first takes place in the seat of the aggravated dosha. For example, if the indigestion is caused by the aggravation of Kapha dosha, the accumulation of toxins first takes place in the stomach and then moves into lungs and lymphatic system. In case of Pitta dosha, the seat of toxin accumulation is the small intestine and from intestine, the dosha moves to the liver and blood causing various pitta disorders. Vata dosha accumulates in the colon or large intestine and moves into bones and nerve tissues.

It is important to recognize the root cause of your indigestion before taking any remedial action. Different doshas entail different treatment protocol. For example

  1. A Vata indigestion originates in the colon or large intestine. The symptoms may include bloating, gas, constipation alternating with diarrhea. Since the digestive fire varies from strong to weak, the symptoms also vary from time to time.
  2. Indigestion caused by Pitta imbalance originates in the small intestine. The symptoms include diarrhea, heartburn, inflammation and burning sensation after passing stools.
  3. Kapha dominant indigestion starts from the stomach. A person feels no desire for food, experiences heaviness in the upper abdomen, watering of mouth and heaviness of limbs. Constipation is also common.

Since each individual is different, there cannot be one solution for all cases of indigestion. It is better to see an Ayurvedic doctor who can do root cause analysis to figure out the core of the problem. A combination of right diet, physical exercises, medication, detoxification, and rejuvenation can put you on the path to health and vitality.

Fresh vegetables and fruits

General Principles for GI Health and digestion 

 There are general principles for good GI  health and digestion.

  1. Eat freshly prepared food with high prana, especially consisting of vegetables, whole grains, and pulses, fruits, grass-fed meat. Avoid refined and processed food as they contribute to constipation and food reactions. While essential fatty acids like omega 3 help in reducing inflammation, transfats and a high proportion of food rich in omega 6 fatty acid cause inflammation.
  2. Poor eating habits such as eating too narrow a range of foods or eating too quickly cause indigestion. Variety of food is important to provide all essential nutrition that the body requires. The short spacing between eating overwhelms the digestive processes. It is also important to chew food completely to initiate the digestive process in an effective way. In addition, it is wise to avoid excessive amounts of liquids with meals as they dilute the digestive juices.
  3. Try and not eat when you are excited or stressed as stress response shifts blood away from the organs of digestion, as a part of the fight-or-flight reaction, and thus impairs digestion. Also, take up activities like Yoga and meditation for stress management.
  4. Avoid the intake of antacids as they further weaken the digestive system. Heartburn is the symptom of deficiency of stomach acids and we try to solve it by reducing the acid in the stomach! It is important to maintain the ph of the stomach around 2-3. The valve from the stomach to esophagus opens up when the stomach does not have enough hydrochloric acid. Apple Cider Vinegar can help better than antacids.
  5. Minimize the use of antibiotics and avoid taking dairy and meat from the poultry and cattle treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics destroy healthy bacteria in the gut, and this can lead to yeast overgrowth. Yeast overgrowth causes intestinal permeability. Prebiotics and probiotics need to be part of the diet for efficient digestion. Healthy gut microbes are critical for efficient digestion. Ayurveda regards buttermilk as a powerful probiotic to be taken along with food.
  6. Make detoxification part of your routine. Intermittent fasting of 12 hours every day and a weekly fast can help you to get rid of toxins on a regular basis and give time to your body to repair and rejuvenate. Make Panchakarma or Ayurvedic detox an annual ritual for healthy living.

Indigestion in Ayurveda is tackled comprehensively. In case you suffer from indigestion, take timely action. Recognize the early signs to nip the problem in the bud. It is easiest to stop the disease process at its origin in the digestive tract. Once it moves into the other tissues it becomes increasingly difficult to reverse the process.