Gut Health (Agni) – Ayurvedic insights
In Ayurveda it is strongly emphasised that good digestion is the key for good health. Therefore it is not only important what we eat but more importantly, the condition of our digestive system or digestive fire (agni). We aim to have a strong and balanced digestive system. This means that in order to improve and maintain good health it is very important to be able to digest the food we consume. A strong digestive fire (agni) means that the nutrients from the food we consume can be readily absorbed. This fundamental key to good health leads to a better immune system and overall health. It is understood in Ayurveda that many health problems are due to an imbalanced or weak agniwhich causes toxin (ama) formation in the gut and body resulting in inflammation in the tissues which leads to diseases.
Symptoms of Imbalanced agni:
Digestive system issues such as bloating, gas, constipation, heartburn, belching are indications of an imbalanced or weak agni. Hence, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your agni is weak and imbalanced. A symptom which many people experience is bloating.
What is bloating?
Bloating is an abnormal swelling or increase in diameter of the abdominal area. A full and tight abdomen frequently causes abdominal pain and discomfort.
What causes bloating?
Quite simply, bloating is caused by a weak digestive fire or agni. In Ayurveda, this condition is called aadhmaana, and it is a type of vata (which basically means air/ether) imbalance. Occasional bloating or gas is okay but when it becomes regular and persistent, it a sign and symptom of a vata digestive imbalance.
Bloating is a result of gastrointestinal tract activity where food is not effectively absorbed. This not only results in malabsorption of essential nutrients, it also results in a build of toxins in the digestive system.
Bloating may be related to a range of factors such as the following:
- Eating heavy and fatty foods, which can overload the digestion system and a delay in defecation
- Raw and uncooked food are difficult to digest for a person with poor digestion and a weak agni
- Dried beans, such as kidney and navy beans. These beans contain a complex sugar called oligosaccharide which is hard to break down particularly for a weak digestion system.
- Cold food and drinks – it is best to consume drinks at room temperature
- Drinking carbonated drinks and gassy food – if you think about it, you are adding more gas to your digestive system!
- Swallowing air – this happens when eating too quickly, drinking through a straw, chewing gum or sucking on candies
Addiction and medicines
- Certain medicines like narcotics and calcium channel blockers slow down the gut, and may lead to gas being trapped in the bowel.
- A gastrointestinal infection, blockage or disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterised by abdominal pain, cramping and changes in bowel function.
- Conditions such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance in which the intestines are not able to digest and absorb certain components of food.
- Stress or anxiety – this can have a significant effect on your digestive system. Never eat when you are highly stressed!
- Eat mostly cooked foods: Do you know there are two types of cooking? One that happens in the kitchen and the other inside our bodies. When you have a strong internal fire, you can digest a certain amount of raw food. However, if your digestive fire is weak, and you are experiencing symptoms of bloating and gas, you definitely need to favour cooked food. Cooked foods easier to digest and gentle on your system.
- Spice up your food: In ayurvedic cooking, we use spices and ghee not only for taste but also for medicine! Some of the common spices that balance the agni or digestive fire are cumin seeds, ajwain, fennel seeds, ginger, and asafoetida.
- Use ghee: In Ayurveda, ghee is medicinal – it is unlike other oils or fats and has unique properties such as lubricating your food and hydrating your intestine for proper digestion, absorption and elimination.
- Chew thoroughly: Why do we have 32 teeth? Of course, for chewing and smiling. Chewing is an important part of digestion. When we rush our meals, we don’t give adequate time for the first stage of digestion that occurs which is in our mouth. Slow down and chew – ideally up to 32 times each mouthful. And chewing some fennel, ajwain or cumin seeds after food also aids digestion.
- Eat mindfully: Sitting quietly and eating slowly is one secret to help balance your digestion.
- Fluid intakes: Ayurveda advises drinking liquid before and during your meal dilutes your digestive enzymes and dampens your digestive fire. Drink 30 minutes after, not before and during, your meal. After your food has settled (approximately 30 minutes), it is good to drink some herbal tea like ginger tea, cumin tea, ajwain tea or butter milk (ayurvedic lassi).
- Eat smaller amounts: Ayurveda discourages eating to full capacity. It loads our system, giving it too much work to do. A rule of thumb is to fill our stomachs throughout the day with 50% solids, 25% liquid leaving the remaining 25% empty. Experiment with this and decide what works for you to keep it light.
- Triphala: Triphala is a mixture of 3 medicinal fruits that treats the entire digestive tract.
- Hing spice mix: (Hingwastak churna): Hingwastak choornam is an ayurvedic preparation that is excellent for the digestive tract. It stimulates appetite, assists proper bowel elimination, and prevents accumulation of gas.
Half a teaspoon of Hingwastak choornam is mixed with a tablespoon of warm rice and a small amount of ghee (optional) and taken before the meal.
Other herbal combination can be: Avipattikar Spice mix, digest Fort tablets, digestive support formula, and other preparations. Please contact our qualified practitioners for the specific formula of herbs for your needs.
Ayurvedic management of bloating
Treatment modalities include promoting deepana (by carminatives), paachana (by digestives) and vaataanulomana(by gas expellers). For customised treatment, your ayurvedic doctor will assess your constitution and tailor a solution for you.
Ayurvedic detox (panchakarma) is also recommended for eliminating the symptoms and the causes of digestive discomfort. It entails virechana (purgation) and vasti (herbalised enemas) for cleansing the intestine.
For further information, please visit one of our branches to consult with our specialist and begin the process of ayurvedic wellbeing.
Ayurvedic digestive support tea
In order to improve digestion and get relief from bloating and gas, it is recommended to to sip tea from some spices as the spices not only help stimulate Agni(digestive fire), but also improve absorption and detoxification. The spiced also helps keep you warm and improve your immune system to fight the cold/cough symptoms.
- 500ml boiling water
- 1–2 Tablespoons thinly sliced ginger
- 1 Tablespoon thinly sliced fresh turmeric ( or ½ –1 tsp ground)
- 1–2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1–2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1–2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1–2 bags (or Tablespoons) green tea, tusli tea, mint tea, chamomille, ginger tea, yerba, (Optional)
- squeeze of lemon
- Other additions: use other whole spices if you like- cinnamon, clove, cardamon, pink peppercorn, anise,
Option 1: Boil water along with ginger, turmeric and seeds for 5minutes. Then dip tea bags and squeeze lemon and enjoy the drink;
Option 2: add boiling water to the spices mix and leave for 20minutes. Then strain and drink throughout the day.
This can be made ahead and refrigerated, then reheated as needed.