Maintaining a healthy digestive system is important to overall vitality and wellbeing.
Digestive imbalance presents in various ways. Examples of discomforts after eating include gas, bloating, acid reflux, mucus and congestion, constipation, loose stool, rashes, cloudy head, lethargy and irritability. The precise presentation pattern suggests the root of imbalance, thus intimating the remedy. In Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old system of wellness in India, the solution is individual and nuanced, yet potent. It begins with an understanding of dosha.
How doshas factor into gut health
In order to comprehend dosha, it’s important to recognize that from an Ayurvedic perspective, all people and things are composed of five elements — space, air, fire, water and earth — in varying amounts. The three doshas — vata, pitta and kapha — are specific combinations of these elements.
Vata dosha is comprised of air and space. Pitta dosha is made up of fire and water. Kapha dosha consists of earth and water.
The relative predominance of each dosha in the digestive system influences appetite, digestion, absorption and elimination.
When one dosha is in excess, corresponding digestive symptoms can result.
Vata is the lightest, coldest, driest, most mobile dosha. Excess vata in the gut results in a tendency toward gas, bloating with corresponding belly discomfort, constipation and a lightheaded feeling when hungry.
To encourage digestive balance and minimize these symptoms, we can favor foods that soothe vata and minimize meals that negatively affect vata. Foods to reduce during gas and bloating are include snacks like crackers and popcorn, most beans, iced drinks, and excess raw food and ruffage.
In order to actively soothe digestive vata, consider adding substantive, warm, moist, and subtly sweet foods, such as warm soups, broths, stews, oatmeal and kitcharis, all with warming spices. A hint of sea salt and a splash of sour also benefit. Maintaining a routine and cultivating serenity within a comfortably warm environment further calm vata symptoms.
Pitta is the warmest and most intense dosha. When excess pitta predominates, we are prone to acid reflux, loose stool, sharp appetite and even rashes. We may also tend to feel irritable when missing a meal.
Foods that should be reduced when pitta symptoms are present are hot, pungent, spicy, salty and sour. These include garlic, raw onions, chilis, jalapeños and vinegar. Processed foods, which are typically salt-laden, fried foods, most cooked oils, except ghee and coconut oil, and alcohol are also best avoided. So too are stimulants including caffeine and nicotine.
Dietary alterations that pacify pitta and restore digestive ease include cool, astringent, bitter and subtly sweet foods such as a plethora of raw or lightly cooked veggies and fruits. Beans, cooling herbs and spices like cilantro, coriander, fennel and cardamom are also balancing. The raw green ruffage that challenges the vata gut balances excess pitta. A cool environment and a focus on going with the flow soothe pitta symptoms too.
Kapha is the heaviest dosha. When kapha dominates the digestive system, there is a tendency toward lethargy after meals, brain fog, decreased motivation and possible congestion and mucus. Earth and water mixed makes mud, and our bodies and minds indeed feel muddy and sticky with elevated kapha.
Foods that amplify kapha include heavy, sweet, oily and cold foods such as ice creams, dense and sweet desserts, pastries, cheeses, fried foods and excess nuts.
Modifying meals by adding light, warm, dry, stimulating, spicy foods mitigate kapha. When kapha predominates, a little caffeine can be helpful, which cannot be said for other doshic imbalances. Overeating exacerbates symptoms, whereas reducing meal quantity and frequency, allowing ample time for complete digestion, helps. Stimulating activities as well as moderate to vigorous exercise aid reduction of kapha symptoms as well.
Many people suffer at times from digestive imbalances, experiencing gas, bloating, acid reflux, mucus, constipation, loose stool, rashes, lethargy or irritability. By recognizing how specific symptoms correlate with Ayurvedic doshas, dietary shifts can be made that reduce the aggravating dosha and restore gut health.
In addition to the foods we choose, other factors can contribute to digestive difficulties such as environmental toxins like pesticides and herbicides, food-born pathogens, antibiotics, some medications, stress, an imbalanced gut microbiota, poor food combinations, nutritional deficiencies and inflammation. Professional guidance can help identify and mitigate such factors, promoting a healthy gut.
Serious medical conditions including a range of gastrointestinal and other systemic disorders can produce similar digestive symptoms, so it is important to see a licensed medical professional if symptoms are chronic or intense.
A licensed medical provider with additional Ayurvedic training can expand on these ideas with thoughtful, personalized guidance to foster vitality and wellness.
— Annie Lindberg is a licensed practitioner and the owner of The Point Acupuncture and Ayurveda in Madison Park