School of Ayurvedic Diet & Digestion
Ayurveda believes that disease begins in the digestive tract. The stomach is the focal point of this digestive belief. Ayurveda believes it is essential to address imbalances here to prevent more complicated disease manifestations
The stomach is the first place food goes after we eat it. So, the stomach responds quickly to the food, drinks and herbs you ingest, giving you an tremendous opportunity to influence your stomach health, and your health overall.
Your stomach is strongly affected by diet and the quality of your blood. The food that you eat can irritate the stomach, lead to mucus buildup, enhance or reduce enzyme production and generally affect the potency of digestion. It can stimulate contractions, accelerate gastric emptying, or make your stomach slow and sluggish.
Blood conditions also have a huge effect on your stomach, as blood rushes to your stomach every time you eat. Do you have enough good, strong, warm blood to build an appetite? Is your blood hydrated enough to pump 2/3 's of a liter of hydrochloric acid into your stomach?
As a comprehensive, holistic form of medicine, Ayurveda excels in managing your diet and improving the strength of your blood, so you digest foods quickly and easily in your stomach.
The stomach consists of four parts.
Food churns in the stomach for about one to two hours. During its incubation, the stomach releases about 2/3 of a liter of acid to process your meal. That acid is comprised of liquids retrieved from the blood. This is why hydration improves digestion by up to 25%!
Your stomach fire (agni) may be hampered by drinking too much fluid with your meal which hampers enzymes. If you drink too much water during a meal, you may feel slightly nauseated, or your stomach heavy and waterlogged. On the other hand, if you drink too little fluids in the hours before your meal, you may be dehydrated, which reduces enzyme production. Thus, your stomach fire can be hampered by too much or too little fluids.
The stomach protects itself from fiery acids with a mucus barrier (Kledaka Kapha). Without this protective mucus barrier, your stomach would auto-digest itself. Kledaka Kapha also provides the liquid for food to "cook" evenly in the stomach, similar to the function of water when cooking rice. An excessively rich meal will thicken mucus in your stomach, making your digestion and your whole body feel heavy and sluggish. Alternatively, if your diet is too light, the mucus barrier will become too thin, which can lead to ulcers.
Contractions of the stomach (due to samana vayu) churn the food, mix it with the gastric juices and ensure it moves in the right direction, similar to the bubbling and movement within the pot of rice as it cooks. Stress, overeating, undereating can disturb stomach movement, leading to indigestion.
Your mental and emotional state while eating also influence stomach health. Stress is a common culprit in stomach disorders. Whether it be due to anger, anxiety, worry, sadness or overwhelm, stress reduces blood flow to the stomach, creates tension that hampers stomach movement, and can lead to ulcers and acid reflux. Do your best to calm down before sitting down to eat.
Eat only when you are truly hungry. Digestion takes a lot of energy. Hunger is a signal that your body is in need of and ready to digest food. Eating when you are not hungry puts unnecessary strain on the body, inhibiting its ability to perform other important tasks such as cleansing or rejuvenation of tissue. Eating without hunger on a regular basis can weaken your digestion over the long term.
Chew your food well. Digestion begins in the mouth. Your saliva contains digestive enzymes. Therefore, the more you chew your food, the more you help your body digest it! Also, breaking up large chunks of food mechanically in the mouth makes it easier for your stomach to complete the job of chemical digestion. Compare how much longer it takes stomach acids to break down a whole almond to how quickly your teeth can pulverize it.
Eat only until you are two-thirds full. Stuffing yourself to maximum capacity leads to difficult digestion because your stomach can't contract to mix your food. Leaving some space in your stomach not only ensures optimal digestion, but keeps your mind clear and sharp and ensures a healthy appetite for the next meal. You will easily know when it's time to eat again.
What you do after eating also affects your stomach health. As mentioned earlier, digestion takes a lot of energy. Relax after you eat to conserve energy. Thinking or exercising after eating uses up to much blood, blood needed for good digestion. Excessive activity like exercising after eating can easily induce nausea and indigestion. The first fifteen minutes after eating is a critical time to relax. Afterwards, go for a short walk to help your stomach churn the food. Then, return to work or daily activities.
Allow for some down time. Rest your digestion between meal by minimizing snacking. Digestion takes a lot of energy and is a slow and careful process. It's ideal to allow at least 3 hours - optimally more like 5-6 hours - between meals so that stomach has time to digest and slowly release food to small intestine.
Burping - especially when accompanied by the flavor of food you ate and a sense of heaviness in the stomach - is another common stomach disorder. While some burping is normal after a meal, an excess of burping points to fermentation of food and toxins (ama) in the stomach.
Soreness and burning in the stomach can be a result of general inflammation, H. pylori infection, ulcers, bile or acid reflux and/or gastritis. These conditions of excess heat can make the stomach feel tender upon palpation and extremely sensitive to spicy food. Frequent nausea and indigestion also indicate stomach issues and are sometimes accompanied by vomiting.
Vata individuals also tend to have cold digestion, either due to poor circulation, stress, or anemia. Spices and herbs such as hingvastak churna can warm up Vata digestion. Take 1/4tsp hingvastak churna in a cup of heat tea a half hour before meals. The additional fluids will combat Vata dryness as well. Vata individuals should be sure their palate is moist when they sit down to eat. Alternatively, Vata folks may also drink fresh ginger, lime and salt thirty minutes before mealtime to increase bodily secretions, boost appetite and fire up digestion. Vata individuals should add spices to their meals such as ginger, black pepper, garlic, onion and turmeric. This helps their digestive fire to burn stronger and prevents stagnation of food in the stomach.
For Pitta, the stomach tends to be hot, acidic and easily irritated. Pitta individuals are prone to burning sensations and inflammation. This irritation may cause a sensation of "false hunger" giving them a strong urge to eat. Their overproduction of stomach acid quickly digests their food, while a strong metabolism quickly burns up energy. Therefore, Pitta individuals get hungry quickly. They may become ravenous and "hangry" when food isn't ready on time. Their weak liver can also result in increased chemical sensitivity. Certain foods and smells make Pitta individuals frequently nauseas.
Pitta individuals should favor cooling, soothing foods such as milk, oatmeal, and cucumber. They should avoid acidic and spicy foods like vinegar and cayenne pepper. Avipattikar churna sprinkled on top of food or taken in hot water thirty minutes before meals can improve digestion for Pitta individuals. Avipattikar churna won't irritate the stomach when it is inflamed. Alternatively, cooling, Pitta pacifying digestives such as cilantro, ginger, cardamom and fennel optimize Pitta type digestion.
Kapha individuals tend to have mucus laden, sluggish stomachs which easily tend toward stagnation. Overeating, overhydration, too much dairy or wheat and/or eating too late at night are common causes of Kapha stomach issues. These transgressions can lead to disorders involving acid reflux, feeling tired after eating, sluggish digestion, burping, nausea and/or vomiting.
Kapha individuals should avoid soggy, gooey, heavy and demulcent foods such as wheat, dairy, oatmeal and okra as these types of foods can bog down their stomach creating stagnation and excess mucus. Kapha individuals do best when they eat a light and early dinner and avoid eating after dark. This ensures that food is out of the stomach by the time you lay down to go to bed and allows the stomach a long fasting period which ultimately strengthens the digestive fire.
Kaphas can use generous amounts of spice in their cooking. Their stomachs tend to be slow and sluggish. Spices of any kind help perk it up. Pungent spices like black pepper and ginger heat up the stomach, while aromatic spices like oregano and thyme encourage the muscles to relax so that food can flow out of the stomach smoothly. Some of our favorite herb blends for supporting Kapha in the stomach are Trikatu, Mint Belly Bliss and Digestive Bitters.