Ayurvedic Diet & Digestion Made Easy
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If heavy foods like cheeseburgers, burritos and ice cream trigger acid reflux, your stomach acid is probably too weak. Most acid reflux is triggered by insufficient acid production, not excess. When stomach acids are too weak, indigestion ensues and food stagnates. Food that sits too long in the stomach tends to regurgitate. Antacids actually eat up the little acid that remains, making the problem worse. If your doctor recommended antacids, demand an acid test of your stomach.
After swallowing, food passes from the throat to the stomach through the esophagus. Once in the stomach, a ring of muscle fibers called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) prevents food from traveling backwards up into the esophagus. Sometimes, however, the acidic contents of the stomach are regurgitated or leak backup through the valve into the esophagus, a condition called acid reflux. Metaphorically, the stomach functions to accept and absorb food, and it is supposed to move food downward. Acid reflux is a sign that the stomach is unable to perform these functions. There are several patterns of imbalance that must be carefully differentiated before selecting an appropriate line of treatment.
According to Ayurveda, indigestion places a significant role in the development of acid reflux. It is called amla pitta because the indigestion eventually results in aggravated pitta (specifically pachaka pitta) even though pitta is usually not the underlying cause. Pitta often gets blamed but the stomach is the home of Kapha, and Kapha indigestion from low metabolism and mucus obstruction are common patterns leading to acid reflux. There are several other main contributing factors to the development of acid reflux including gastritis, hypoacidity, hyperacidity, stress, bile reflux, pharmaceuticals, and other physiological changes. Treatment should address these root causes, repair digestion, redirect food downwards, and reduce inflammation.
Acid Reflux, Indigestion & Food StagnationWhen the stomach is overwhelmed, indigestion ensues and food stagnates. This is why the most common type of acid reflux arises from heavy Kapha provoking foods such as cheeseburgers, burritos, ice cream and fried foods. Food stagnates because digestive organs are programmed to hold back food until properly digested. Normally, when one stage of digestion is complete, peristalsis (regular wavelike muscular contractions of the intestines) propels the food further down the digestive tract. When indigestion delays food movement, bacteria feed on the partially undigested food and multiply.
Food becomes rotten, foul smelling and gaseous as it lays stagnant in the intestine. Stagnation in the stomach, a condition known as gastroparesis, causes a subjective feeling of heaviness, burping, upper GI (short for gastro-intestinal) distension and regurgitation of food mixed with acid. Rotten food also contains chemicals released by bacteria that may increase inflammation and degradation of tissue (gastritis). Indigestion may involve one or more doshas.
Kapha type indigestion is characterized by low metabolism and mucus obstruction. Low metabolism, perhaps due to hypothyroid, makes the digestive tract cold and sluggish, and contractions of stomach muscles weak. Mucus buildup in the stomach from a diet high in sweets, dairy, wheat, red meat, and refined sugars directly obstructs the action of digestive acids. Common symptoms of Kapha type acid reflux include a subjective feeling of heaviness, acid reflux that appears after late-night meals, morning mucus and congestion in the respiratory tract, as well as a thick coating on the tongue and a tendency to gain weight.
GastritisGastritis is inflammation of the digestive tract. Gastritis ultimately leads to impairment of digestive function, a Vata disorder. Infection, auto-immune disorders, loss of the protective mucus barrier, bile reflux and other pathological agents can cause gastritis. When inflamed, the folds in the stomach become enlarged and swollen. Common signs of gastritis include abdominal tenderness and teeth marks on the tongue border. One type of gastritis that causes acid reflux is chronic atrophic gastritis. Atrophic refers to 'atrophy, a medical term meaning loss of function. In atrophic gastritis, there is a loss of acid secreting cells of the stomach. The inability to secrete a normal quantity of acids is a condition known as hypochlorhydria or hypoacidity.
Infection with H. pylori, a gram negative bacteria, is a common cause of acute gastritis which may become chronic and atrophic. The organism is predominantly found beneath the gastric mucosal layer that lines the surface epithelium of the stomach. H. pylori produces abundant quantities of urease, an enzyme that functions to produce ammonia in order to neutralize gastric acid. Urease also inflames the gut wall. An interesting side note: although gastritis secondary to H. pylori infection may cause acid reflux, the neutralization of stomach acids by urease actually reduces symptoms of GERD including esophageal irritation.
The stomach is normally well protected by a thick layer of mucus. Dehydration may leave stomach glands unable to produce enough mucus. Alcohol, smoking, and spices, carbonic acid (in carbonated beverages) and hyperacidity can also erode the protective mucus barrier of the stomach, and then irritate the tissues beneath causing gastritis.
Digestion and the BloodMost of the energy and fluids used for digestion are supplied through the blood. Thus, digestion is only as strong as the blood and circulation. A high-Vata lifestyle including overexertion and skipping meals deplete the blood. Stress effectively shuts down circulation to digestive organs. Cold temperature also constricts blood vessels and circulation. Anemia and other blood deficiencies can also cause cold temperature related circulation problems. Deficiency-related cold is associated with feeling cold often even during the summer, voiding a larger quantity of soft but formed stools, and clear, thin nasal discharge.
Dehydration reduces the production of digestive juices by the stomach, liver and pancreatic glands creating a condition of "Dry Stomach Syndrome". Consider that 2 liters of acid production a day could easily drain the blood of much needed fluids, especially in thin Vata individuals. Here are some signs of a dry stomach:
HypoacidityThe blood, circulatory and gastritis based deficiencies discussed above reduce acid production, a condition called hypoacidity. Hypoacidity generally causes Vata-type indigestion, characterized by frequent hunger but a feeling of fullness or heaviness after a small meal, which may be followed by upper abdominal distention, bloating and burping. Hypoacidity related indigestion is a common, if not the leading, cause of acid reflux and should be ruled out before taking antacids.
HyperacidityAlthough most western medical doctors assume hyperacidity in all cases of acid reflux, we believe hyperacidity may be the exception, not the rule, in cases of acid reflux. Hyperacidity is fundamentally associated with aggravated Pitta. It results when the blood (bhrajaka pitta) and the stomach (pachaka pitta) are overactive, making a person 'hot blooded' both emotionally and physically. Typically, symptoms appear 1-2 hrs after eating. Vasodilation, thinning of the blood and increased cardiac output together increase the rate of digestion and can cause hyperacidity. Smoking, alcohol, and excess use of sour and spicy foods are just some of the ways to over-stimulate digestive juices.
Stress, worry, anger and frustration also increase production of stomach acids (Vata pushing Pitta). Emotional stress stimulates the vagus nerve, in turn stimulating secretion of gastrin and production of stomach acids. Gastrin also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), leaving the esophagus vulnerable to acid reflux. Via the sympathetic nervous system, stress causes blood vessels to constrict, decreasing production and quality of mucus. In addition to directly causing acid reflux, more acid and less mucus leaves the stomach vulnerable to "stress gastritis".
Whereas heaviness and low appetite are commonly associated with hypoacidity, a person with chronic hyperacidity would likely have a large appetite and feel hungry between meals. The tongue will generally have a red tip or show other heat signs including a rapid, strong and bounding pulse. Hyperacidity will show fewer signs of indigestion-related gas and bloating.
Acid Reflux and Bile RefluxAcid reflux must be differentiated from bile reflux. Bile reflux has similar symptoms to acid reflux. Bile is an alkaline salt produced by the liver and is normally released by the gall bladder into the small intestine. Then bile emulsifies fats for absorption into the lymphatic system. Sometimes, bile backs up through the pyloric valve into the stomach causing atrophic gastritis eventually leading to acid reflux. Bile reflux may result from bile insufficiency (Vata in ranjaka pitta), gall bladder stasis (Kapha blocking ranjaka pitta), or a defective pyloric valve, and any kind of food stagnation in the duodenum. The duodenum is the section of the small intestine just after the stomach. Food stagnation in the duodenum signals the stomach to stop releasing food, causing backup and acid reflux.
Insufficient bile impairs digestion of fatty foods causing stagnation. If related to Vata deficiency, symptoms will include yellow, light colored stools, emotional instability, and hypogylcemia. Common signs of Pitta related bile obstruction are yellowing of the eyes, nails, or skin, secondary to liver distress and inflammation. Gall bladder stasis from Kapha occurs when thick bile gets stuck in the gall bladder leading to indigestion, irritability, red puffy cheeks or hands, and tiredness after eating fatty foods such as french fries or potato chips.
Western MedicineAntacids reduce symptoms and irritation from acute acid regurgitation but they do not address the root cause. Antacids are often prescribed before determining whether the underlying cause is hyper or hypo-acidity. Antacids actually increase food stagnation and exacerbate chronic acid reflux in hypo-acidic clients. The following western pharmaceuticals can increase the risk of acid reflux:
Other causes of Acid RefluxHiatal hernia (a condition where a portion of the stomach protrudes upward into the chest), injury to the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), inflammation, and overeating can cause stomach contents to leak into the esophagus. Full or partial intestinal obstruction by compacted or otherwise stagnant fecal matter can cause backup. Increased pressure on abdominal organs during pregnancy can cause late term acid reflux. Strenuous exercise such as weight lifting increase the risk of acid reflux. Hiccup, retching, spasms, and vomiting cause the reverse flow and regurgitation of stomach contents.
General Diet - Repairing DigestionIn all cases, follow good eating habits to build the strength of digestive organs (agni).
Avoid the following foods and beverages
Sleeping HabitsAcidity is high during digestion and during Pitta time of night (10pm to 2am). While sleeping, stomach acid regurgitates more easily because the esophagus is horizontal. The following techniques can help:
Stress ManagementThere are many stress reduction techniques beyond the scope of this paper useful for acid reflux. A few highlights: Do not eat when emotional. Lions pose, shaking it out, dancing, meditation and breathing exercises can relieve pent up emotions. Twisting yoga poses can also help move emotions and can improve digestion but also push acids upwards. Use with caution. Milky Oats (Avena sativa) reduces anxiety and worry. Elderberry (Sambucus canidensis) is grounding. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) brings calm and focus to a scattered mind. Massage relieves stress and tension.
Directing Vata DownwardsFood should move downwards instead of stagnating or moving upwards. Materials that encourage food (and Vata) to move downwards (called an 'anuloma in Ayurveda) include warm water, carminatives such as cardamom, pungent aromatics such as fennel, and bitters such as neem or dandelion. Even though bitters stimulate Vata, they equally stimulate peristalsis.
Kapha Acid RefluxTreat Kapha Acid Reflux by clearing stomach stagnation, destroying mucus, improving metabolism and stimulating both digestion and bowel motility. Follow a Kapha pacifying diet avoiding wheat, red meat, ice-cream, cheese, refined sugars and fast food. Minimize overeating, emotional eating, and heavy foods after 5pm. Drink small sips of warm water spaced ten minutes apart to stimulate digestive function and bowel motility. Steamed bitters are soft enough for easy digestion and encourage peristaltic movement through the GI.
Clear stomach stagnation with bitter orange peel (Citrus aurantium). Destroy mucus with cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). Improve metabolism and clear heat with amalaki (Phyllanthus emblica). Stimulate digestion with fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale). See the formula Stomach Ice: Acid Reflux Relief.
GastritisTreat gastritis by babying digestion, soothing the digestive tract lining, rebuilding the mucus layer, destroying parasites and clearing inflammation. Favor light, easy to digest foods that also reduce inflammation. Cool, demulcent foods like okra are ideal because they are mucilaginous and light. Avoid foods that irritate the digestive tract such as coffee and alcohol, or ones that provoke heat in the blood such as bell peppers or cigarettes. Favor cooling drinks like pomegranate, cranberry and aloe vera and herbs that clear heat such as amalaki and barberry (Berberis vulgaris). Demulcents, such as marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) and licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), soothe inflammation. An anti-microbial, Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), may be used in case of infection.
HypoacidityTreat hypoacidity by stimulating digestive secretions, rehydrating, and reducing the rate fermentation. Sips of warm water with a pinch of salt and a wedge of lime one hour before eating until the salivary glands and palate remain moistened replenish fluid loss from chronic dehydration. Take digestive stimulants such as fresh ginger and blood movers such as turmeric (Curcuma longa) to compensate for deficient blood or poor circulation. Detoxify with laxatives such as haritaki (Terminalia chebula). Reduce fermentation and proliferation of bacteria with anti-microbials such as vidanga (Embelia ribes). Demulcent foods (okra) and herbs (marshmallow root) will restore the mucus lining of the stomach. Favor nourishing anti-inflammatories such as shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) and licorice root.
Hydrating, building, and easy to digest foods such as soups with ghee, rice and carrots replenish and restore deficient fluids. Warm food with mild spices stimulate circulation and thus digestion. Stress management, especially during mealtimes, greatly improves circulation to the digestive tract. Avoid difficult to digest foods such as beans, peanuts, wheat, and egg yolks. Dried foods such as granola bars, toast, and diuretics like corn, can absorb too much fluid from the blood, increasing dehydration. A routine eating and sleeping schedule will precondition digestive organs for acid availability at mealtimes. Keep warm; a cold body temperature causes loss of fluids (cold diuresis).
HyperacidityThe treatment paradigm for hyperacidity is to absorb excess acid and avoid stimulating the digestive tract by stress, intense emotions, or heating, spicy, or otherwise acid provoking foods. Heavy foods like barley and wheat absorb excess acids. Cooling and demulcent foods like bananas, avocado, cucumber and aloe vera soothe the mucus lining. Pomegranate and cranberry offer astringency to reduce inflammation and irritation. End meals with a small amount of sweet taste to soothe the gastric lining. Chilies, radishes and other spicy or pungent foods can over stimulate digestive juices. Ferments like pickles, wine and cheese also increase acid secretion. Sour taste generally increase digestive secretions and is usually indicative of acid in food. While acidity in tomatoes and spinach increase acid production in the stomach the citric acid in vinegar, lime and lemon actually reduce acid production. Limes are preferred because they are less Pitta provoking.
Fennel and fresh ginger share a dual advantage. They are both cooling digestives, a rare combination. Amalaki, like lime, is a cooling sour that also improves digestive function by stimulating micro-circulation and capillary bed level. Antacids such as sodium bicarbonate will help in acute cases but may fail to address the underlying cause. Lifestyle choices should address high stress and reduce emotional intensity in general.
Bile Deficiency and ObstructionTreat bile problems by eating less fats, encouraging bile production, and in case of obstruction, diluting thick bile. Substances that increase the flow of bile and gall bladder contractions are called cholagogues. Sour taste from lemons increases production and thins bile for easy flow. Favor light foods with fewer fats such as soups with steamed or boiled greens and vegetables. Bitters stimulate bile production and contractions of the gall bladder. Some other prominent cholagogues include bhumyamalaki (Phyllanthus niruri) and dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale). Treatment of Pitta type bile obstruction/deficiency (jaundice) is beyond the scope of this paper.
Summary of Types
General Treatment Protocols
Principal HerbsCommon Ayurvedic formulas for acid reflux include Avipattikar Churna, Sootsekhar ras, Praval panchamrit, Trikatu, and Guduchi Satva. Primary herbs for custom formulas include marshmallow, licorice root, shatavari, ashwagandha, milky oats, cane sugar, sodium bicarbonate, calcium, amalaki, neem (Azadirachta indica), barberry, dandelion, burdock(Arctium lappa), guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa), bhumyamalaki, vidanga, goldenseal, aloe vera, ginger, fennel, turmeric, cayenne, clove, cinnamon, vinegar, lemon, lime, triphala, trivrut (Ipomoea turpetrum), bitter orange peel, cardamom, peppermint.
Recipes for Acid Reflux
Symptoms Tell A StoryThe first step to healing is learning patterns from your symptoms. Symptoms are clues that reveal underlying imbalances, showing you where your body is weak. Specifically, they reveal the doshas & qualities that may have become aggravated. If you notice a quality or dosha appears next to many of your symptoms, it helps you establish a pattern that may be systemic.
|GUNA||FOODS TO AVOID||DO YOU HAVE THIS IMBALANCE?|
|TOXIC||AVOID THESE TOXIC FOODS THAT MAY AGGRAVATE ACID REFLUX||
Status UnknownTake these quizzes to find out if you have an imbalance of 'Toxic' guna
|OILY||AVOID THESE OILY FOODS THAT MAY AGGRAVATE ACID REFLUX||
Status UnknownTake these quizzes to find out if you have an imbalance of 'Oily' guna
|HEAVY||AVOID THESE HEAVY FOODS THAT MAY AGGRAVATE ACID REFLUX||
Status UnknownTake these quizzes to find out if you have an imbalance of 'Heavy' guna
|DIFFICULT||AVOID THESE DIFFICULT FOODS THAT MAY AGGRAVATE ACID REFLUX||
Status UnknownTake these quizzes to find out if you need to decrease Difficult to digest foods
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On Joyful Belly, we've created an extensive categorization of food in relation to qualities (gunas). By eating an optimal diet that balances your gunas, your whole body is strengthened and the conditions that created the disorder are removed. Once the root causes of the disease are removed, the disease lessens in strength or disappears altogether. Additional remedies - such as herbs and lifestyle practices - focused on the specific disorder, can greatly enhance your healing.
Dampness in Spleen Type
Dry Spleen Type
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. His online course Balance Your Ayurvedic Diet in a Week provides tools for gracefully healing with Ayurveda to thousands. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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