People may come from any continent of the earth, may have different ways of life but what connects them all is food! It is the source of energy, essential for survival and our world revolves around it. Even though the importance of food in our daily life is known, a careless approach is seen towards how and how much of it to consume, eventually neglecting the digestive system and its proper function. In this blog, we will discuss how to improve your gut health.
Understanding the Digestive system
The anatomy of the Digestive / Gastrointestinal system is described by modern medicine as a canal-like tract that connects the mouth to the anus, so the food eaten travels through this canal. The essential nutrients are absorbed by the body to create energy, and the non-essential part is converted to stool and is passed out of the body. This process is continuously ongoing for every bite of food that is eaten. There are a series of organs which are in this tract such as, the mouth including the teeth, tongue, and salivary glands for proper mastication, the oesophagus which is the food pipe, the stomach and two intestines, large and small, eventually ending at the rectum. Accessory but essential organs here are the liver, spleen, and pancreas which help by secreting digestive juices
Ayurveda has described 13 channels in the body, among them Annavaha Stratos is considered as Digestive Tract or the G.I. Tract. It is known as Mahastrotas, meaning the largest channel in the body. The organs mentioned by modern medicine and Ayurveda are the same which play a vital role in the process of digestion.
Ayurveda has laid the foundation of the gut-brain relationship 5000 years ago by considering the gut as an independent and intelligent system. As the brain controls all the activities in our body, the gut is a therapeutic target that focuses on controlling the diet for smooth functioning.
Mahastrotas is the main controlling channel through which thousands of microchannels are connected all over the body. Thus, the gut controls and ensures the healthy functioning of all the other organs as well.
Importance of Gut Health
‘We are what we eat is a principle followed by health enthusiasts, but Ayurveda goes a step ahead and modifies the phrase ‘we are what we can digest’. This emphasis is only to signify the importance of a healthy digestive system. Following are few factors which determine the basics of gut health as per Ayurveda:
- Agni – Regulatory factor for all metabolic processes.
- Ama – undigested food material which cannot be excreted normally as stool.
- Koshtha – bowel characteristics and types based on Prakriti and differs from person to person.
- Srotas – channels for metabolic functions
Dosha dominance is used to identify
Dosha dominance is used to identify and determine the type of Gut health a person may have. Understanding a person’s Prakriti (body constitution) gives a better insight into their gut health.
- Vata Constitution – Dry and hard stools, prone to constipation, flatulence and requires occasional laxatives.
- Pitta Constitution – Tendency to have loose, watery stools, especially after having large meals, may have the urge to go more than once in a day.
- Kapha Constitution – Smooth and slimy stools, usually once in a day only.
Common Health conditions related to GI System
- Constipation – hard stools, unable to pass stools daily.
- Diarrhoea – uncontrolled watery stools
- IBS- Irritable bowel syndrome which is usually due to frequent episodes of recurrent diarrhoea.
- GERD – Gastro-intestinal reflux disease
- Loss of appetite
- Increased appetite
Common causes of poor GI health:
- Taking untimely meals
- Eating in excess
- Eating even when not hungry
- Lack of exercise
- Consuming excess raw, uncooked food
- Eating a Calorie rich diet than a nutrient-dense diet
- Suppressing natural urges
- Improper quantity and quality of sleep
- Overconsumption of fried, junk foods
Restoring the GI health with Ayurveda
Ayurveda emphasises proper digestion, as poor Agni or the digestive fire is the root cause of all diseases. If the accurate assessment of the Agni is done and steps are taken to restore its functions, the metabolism automatically improves.
Proper digestion requires the removal of Ama from the body, which is essentially the process of detoxification. This can be achieved in various ways as per Ayurveda. Some of the treatment modalities include:
- Langhana – Therapeutic fasting. This process is essentially the intake of a controlled, easy to digest food which is nutritious. It can be termed as a dietary detox.
- Agni Deepana– Igniting the digestive fire. This rekindling of fire is helpful to regain the lost functions of Agni which are proper absorption of food, better assimilation and conversion into energy.
- Ama Pachana– Removal of Ama. Ama is gradually removed from the body by boosting the digestion which eventually clears the Strotasa – channels for microcirculation.
How to Improve Gut Health
- Aahar/ Diet – intake of meals which are rich in macro and micronutrients. Including pro-biotic foods in daily diet helps to balance the gut microbiota. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, vinegars, pickles, curd, and buttermilk are the best pro-biotics. Along with these, having regular timely meals, especially warm and cooked meals is beneficial. Eating a balanced diet as per body type and at the time of best hunger is essential.
- Vihara/ Lifestyle – Regular exercise, especially practicing Yoga is essential for a healthy digestion. Few Yoga poses such as Vajrasana, Sukhasana are helpful to improve and regulate digestion. A small walk after every meal is also beneficial. Staying up late at night should be avoided, in case of extended working hours, one must try and get enough sleep the next day to avoid health issues.
- Aushadhi/ Herbs – Ayurveda focuses on many herbs which promote a healthy digestion. These herbs can be used in the form of food such as spices, or extracts are used in the form of tablets or capsules, or dried powder form is also used as combination of medicines. Some important gut-friendly herbs are:
- Black pepper