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Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Ayurvedic Perspective.

Digestion is a key to health, according to Ayurveda and it plays a vital role in the maintenance of health. In Ayurveda, food is nourishment and what one eats matters vitally. Agni, the digestive fire, located in the abdomen helps digest the food and it is very important to maintain this ‘agni’ at its optimum. Not only does an imbalanced digestive fire give rise to toxins but also it weakens the function behind the digestive process itself.


IBS can be classified as “Grahani roga” from the Ayurvedic perspective. It is a disease of the food channel (annavaha strotas), which cause low digestive fire (agni) or disrupts the functioning of this agni. Low Agni means that food is poorly broken down, digested and absorbed. Partially digested and undigested food particles lead to accumulation of toxins (ama) in the gut, which combine with food causing bad taste in the mouth, anorexia, mucous in the stools, increased thirst, lethargy, heart burn.


The low ‘agni’ results in accumulation of toxins (ama) in the intestines, which results in weakness, debility, foul smelling stools, cramping pain, constipation or loose stools. Another significant signs include the increase in bulk of the stools, bloating, the sensation of not having completed the bowel movement and constipation alternating with loose stools. Untreated diarrhea can result in low agni as is said in Charak Samhita a treatise on Ayurveda.


IBS according to Ayurveda can be classified as Vata, Pitta, Kapha or a combination of all three. Vata type of IBS could present with constipation, bloating, weight loss, feeling cold, anal fissures and anxiety. Pitta type is associated with heartburn, loose stools, foul smelling stools and inflammation. Kapha is associated with mucus in the stools, sluggish bowels and heaviness in the body.


Treatment of IBS is usually done by correcting the agni or digestive fire and digesting the ama(toxins). Digestion of ama will lead to a good balanced ‘agni’. The next step is to strengthen the intestines and the food channel. Treatment is also reliant on treating the offending dosha or doshas.


Diet and Lifestyle: Just like it is important to choose the correct herbs it is also very essential to follow a certain diet and lifestyle regimen to help the body get back into balance. Eating smaller simpler meals is a good way to begin to rekindle balanced agni. It is best to avoid red meat, bread (especially white), cheese, raw food, cold food and water. Prefer food that is easy to digest, freshly prepared and warm. Soups make an excellent, nourishing and a hearty meal. They are easy on the system and tonify the gut. Fresh lime or lemon in water is a gentle and cleansing stimulant to agni.


Avoid consuming incompatible or indigestible foods, over eating, irregular eating, eating left over or stale food, eating foods which are heavy on the digestive system, suppressing natural urges like passing stools or urine, anxiety and stress.

Choosing buttermilk as a part of the diet is highly recommended in IBS. The tremendous benefits of buttermilk have been explicitly explained in the Ayurvedic text- Charak Samhita. Buttermilk is easily digestible, stimulates and strengthens the digestive fire and is balancing to all three doshas. Buttermilk is a highly beneficial drink for people with Irritable Bowel syndrome.


Herbs: Herbal formulations like Hingvastak Choorna and Trikatu help remove ama, improve the digestive fire and also strengthen the intestines.


Ayurvedic preparations such as Haritaki, Amalaki, Triphala, Soonth, are some of the herbs that help improve the digestive fire, remove ama and also strengthen the intestines. Herbs like Musta, Kutaja, bilva improve intestinal absorption and stop diarrhea. All the above herbs can be excellent tools when used under knowledgeable supervision.


Thus for successfully treating IBS, it is important to stay away from the bad choices in diet, maintain a healthy lifestyle and work towards maintaining an optimum digestion. An optimum digestion will not only address IBS but will keep all other diseases at bay.

Multiple Sclerosis in Ayurveda

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most debilitating and progressive diseases affecting the nervous system. There is no curative treatment available yet with medical science though a lot of medicines are used to treat it symptomatically.


I would like to put forward and explain this devastating disease in the Ayurvedic perspective. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can be described as a "Vata Vikara- Dhatukshayajanya" a Vata disease which causes gradual deterioration of the tissues.


Vata dosha plays a very important role in the development of MS.


Causes:

The cause of the disease according to Ayurveda can be traced to:

  • Toxins and impurities in the system: - There is a build up of toxins and impurities in the body. This occurs due to loading the body with toxic substances and activities that imbalance Vata. These include some factors in the diet and the lifestyle, which may be responsible for the toxin build up.
  • All forms of stress: – Physical and mental stress are Vata vitiating (imbalances Vata) and ultimately take a toll on health in some form or the other.
  • There is a reduced immune response of the body. The body has difficulty in healing and combating disease. This can be attributed to "Ojas" depletion. "Ojas" is the most refined product of nourishment of Dhatus. "Ojas" is the potent expression of healthy tissues (Dhatus) and is responsible for the health and vitality of a person. A person with a good Ojas always maintains good health.

Disease Process:
In MS the vitiated Vata dosha attacks all the (dhatus) tissues one by one and that is why we see symptoms that are associated with all ‘dhatus’ in MS. This causes reduction in the strength and stability of the ‘dhatus’ or the bodily tissues. The dhatus start deteriorating one by one through all the seven levels mentioned in Ayurveda (from Ras to Shukra level). This causes reduction in the strength and stability of the dhatus or the bodily tissues.


But the most important symptoms are seen in the Majja Dhatu or nervous system where it expresses itself completely.


Symptoms:

This deterioration is very well expressed in the Majja Dhatu (nervous system) and hence all the symptoms of MS, which include demyelination of the nervous tissue and decreased function of the nervous system.


Along with this you also see other Vata symptoms namely heightened sensitivity, numbness, tingling, fatigue, fear, worry, anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, tremors, headaches, constipation, dry or rough skin, inappropriately cold body parts.


The exacerbations (worsening of the disease), the remissions (reduction of symptoms) and showing up of symptoms in different places associated with MS is typical of a Vata disorder. We also must not forget that Majja dhatu is associated with the eyes and conditions related with the eyes (loss of vision, optic neuritis) also show up as symptoms in MS.


Fatigue, muscle weakness twitching, tics, numbness, shooting pain are other symptoms which are associated with other Dhatus (tissues) like Ras, Rakta, Mamsa, Asthi etc.


Treatment:

One thing we have to remember is that the disease progresses through the dhatus and goes down to the higher and higher dhatus (tissues), and this is what makes the disease more and more difficult to treat. Ayurveda will help but will require a long-term commitment from the client as well as the Ayurvedic Practitioner. More the number of dhatus involved, difficult the disease and more in-depth treatments need to be delivered.


The main treatment is to address the Vata Dosha.


It is also important to reduce the ama and digest the toxins bringing the 'agni' digestion back to balance. Avoid foods that are hard to digest and which clog and obstruct the circulation. These foods have the potential to create toxins that create the inflammation that leads to nerve sheath demyelination.

Vata can be balanced with Abhyanga (with specific herb infused oils) that enhances circulation and cleanses the body of toxins and impurities, which may cause MS. The herbs and oil nourish the tissues and help repair. Basti (herbal enemas) with oils and herbal teas- is one of the best modes of treatment for pacifying Vata Disorders. Shirodhara (oil drip on forehead therapy)- rejuvenates the body and mind. Pranayama (breathing exercises) and some form of meditation help to quiet the mind and provide profound tranquility. Herbs and various herbal combinations are suggested according to need. A combination of all the above-mentioned therapies provides a very good mode for healing the internal physical environment of the mind and body.


In Ayurveda the treatment is aimed not just at the ailment but also towards strengthening and rejuvenating the body and the body’s mechanisms for healing. Along with this the co-operation of the client, a balanced mental state and a perfectly positive attitude can go a long way!

Seasons and Ayurveda

Climatic homologation i.e. having a diet and lifestyle according to the season has numerous long-term benefits. Seasons form an important aspect of Ayurvedic living. Ayurveda believes man to be a part and parcel of nature. Hence anything going around in nature does have an effect in same way or the other, subtle or gross, on our body too. Seasons have a profound effect on our entire system.


The transition of season is the most crucial time, says Ayurveda. This is the time when summer changes to fall, fall to winter, winter to spring or spring to summer. Due to the change of season there are temperature and atmospheric changes in nature. This leads to a doshic imbalance in the body making us susceptible to a lot of diseases. Hence there is more incidence of viral and bacterial infections This is the time to listen to our body and bring it to balance.


Currently we are in the transition of spring to summer. The best way to handle the transition is to slowly quit the lifestyle of the previous season and then gradually incorporate the lifestyle of the next season.


Spring
Spring is here, beautiful vibrant colors and flowers, lovely weather and longer days. Spring is the season of renewal, rebirth, a new beginning! It brings with it a reawakening of the whole planet.


As we are profoundly linked to the nature’s cycles and seasons our body too enjoys the abundant energy that spring provides. End of winter and beginning of spring is a period where the body’s mechanism for returning to positive health is on a natural high. It is a time of planting the seeds of health for the coming year.


In spring, the ‘Kapha’ accumulated in the body is melted by the heat of the sun. This release of excess kapha can cause various imbalances and can disturb digestion leading to formation of toxins. The result of this is flu and colds.


The excellent beverage for the spring season is ginger tea. Also a glass of lukewarm water with ½ tsp of honey first thing in the morning is a good combination. It not only helps warm the body but also digests all the toxins.


This is also a great time for Panchakarma- a full body cleanse, with the help of which all toxins can be cleared from the body. It is a good idea to not oversleep or take naps in the afternoon. Avoiding heavy sour, sweet and oily food would be in good order.


"Dosha kadachit kupyanti jeeta langhanpachanaihi
jeeta sanshodhanaihi tu na tesham punarudbhava" Charak Sutrasthan 16/20


"Imbalanced doshas which are taken care of with fasting and digestive herbs may again become imbalanced. However, imbalanced doshas which are brought under control by cleansing techniques will rarely go out of balance again".


Spring may also bring a fresh wave of seasonal allergies to some. Allergies usually occur due to low immunity or ‘ojas’. Low ojas can be due to prolonged disease, mental or physical illness as well as emotional disturbances.


Meditation, breathing exercises and stress management are particularly important in minimizing allergies due to repressed emotions. Herbal supplements and detoxification also help to take care of these allergies.


Summer
Summer is the time for high Pitta.

Keep cool and get plenty of fresh air. Enjoy fresh flowers, they enliven the spirits. Avoid excess humidity, steam and heat. Too much sun aggravates Pitta. Wearing cool, light colors, covering the head in the sun and wearing sunglasses also helps. Enjoy moonlight walks on the beach, luxuriate in cold water in the pool after the sun goes down.


Sweet, bitter and astringent are the best tastes in summer, which keep Pitta balanced. Pungent (chilies, onions, garlic, ginger), salty and sour (alcohol, tomatoes, cheese) are all unbalancing tastes for Pitta.
Cooling foods like milk, icecream and cooling spices like coriander and cumin are good for summer.


This is also a good time for Panchakarma, to clean up the toxins and get rid of the excess Pitta!

Transition from Summer to Fall

Climatic homologation i.e. having a diet and lifestyle according to the season has numerous long-term benefits. Seasons form an important aspect of Ayurvedic living. Ayurveda believes man is a part and parcel of nature. Hence anything going around in nature does have an effect in some way or the other, subtle or gross, on the body too. Seasons have a profound effect on our entire system.


The transition of seasons is the most crucial time, says Ayurveda. This is the time when summer changes to fall, fall to winter, winter to spring or spring to summer. Due to the change of season there are changes in temperatures and in atmospheric conditions. This leads to a doshic imbalance in the body making us susceptible to a lot of diseases. Hence there are more incidences of viral and bacterial infections. This is the most crucial time to listen to our body and bring it to balance.


The best way to handle a transition is to slowly quit the lifestyle of the previous season and then gradually incorporate the lifestyle of the next season.


Here's a quick briefing on the transition between summer and fall.


Summer
Summer is the time for high Pitta.


Keep cool and get plenty of fresh air. Enjoy fresh flowers they enliven the spirits. Avoid excess humidity, steam and heat. Too much sun aggravates Pitta. Wearing cool, light colors, covering the head in the sun and wearing sunglasses also helps. Enjoy moonlight walks on the beach; luxuriate in cold water in the pool after the sun goes down.


Sweet, bitter and astringent are the best tastes in summer, which keep Pitta balanced. Pungent (chilies, onions, garlic, ginger), salty and sour (alcohol, tomatoes, cheese) are all unbalancing tastes for Pitta.
Cooling foods like milk, icecream and cooling spices like coriander and cumin are good for summer.


This is also a good time for Panchakarma, to clean up the toxins and get rid of the excess Pitta!


Fall
Fall is predominantly a Vata season. The blowing of Santa Ana winds is a natural Vata event, and hence gives rise to an increased Vata during this period. We all should take extra precaution against Vata, one good way to do that is a good warm oil massage followed by a hot bath. A dip in the warm natural hot springs is also ideal during this time; the Palm Springs area is famous for its natural hot springs. Calming yogic exercises and pranayama are also a good way to remove or reduce Vata. Vata is motion, it is dry and drying, it is rough and cold. Various types of joint pain etc are also attributed to Vata. Dry skin, or cold joints and extremities are indicators of a Vata imbalance. Vata imbalance may also lead to depression or anxiety as Vata governs the Nervous system. Ginger tea can be consumed in small quantities to reduce the effects of Vata. Application of warm sesame oil to the body helps pacify Vata. Favor warm or hot drinks to ice cold drinks. Make sure the food is warm, moist and well lubricated. Take it easy on beans and raw food. Follow a simple routine, sleep early and rise before sunrise. Thus, Vata needs warmth on all levels from food to their environment to their friendship.


Transition from summer to fall is thus basically, moving gradually from ‘cool’ to ‘warm’ ie slowly letting go of the summer regimen and gradually following the fall regimen, and thus gearing up for the forthcoming winter. Changing the food habits and making gradual lifestyle changes is a recipe for a smooth transition. It supports and assists in creating good and robust health.