You Are What You Eat (And So Is Your Skin!)
To achieve clear skin and feel vibrant, maintaining good digestive health is crucial.
Digestion plays a vital role in determining an individual's overall physical well-being. This is because the body's ability to create healthy tissues, including the skin, is directly influenced by the quality of digestion.
The energy responsible for digestion is known as Agni (Sanskrit word for digestive fire), which is likened to fire, as it transforms one substance into another through the process of metabolism. Metabolism consists of two components: catabolism, which breaks down substances into smaller components, and anabolism, which builds new tissues from those components.
Agni is present within Pitta, one of the three Ayurvedic bodily energies, which is composed of fire and water. While Agni is often described as digestive strength or metabolic capacity, it is much more than that. It is the force that sustains life and governs all transformations in the body, from the breakdown of food in the gastrointestinal tract to the conversion of nutrients into tissue and the transformation of cellular energy.
Agni has many manifestations, including digestive enzymes, body heat, and metabolic processes. Balancing Agni is the most crucial step in Ayurveda to optimize digestion and promote overall well-being.
A person's body weight and appetite can reflect the state of their agni. Low agni is often seen in overweight individuals with a decreased appetite, whereas those who are underweight but have a strong appetite tend to have high agni. Those with a moderate appetite and healthy body weight are typically associated with balanced agni.
Digestion plays a crucial role in influencing the entire body via the bloodstream. What is digested and absorbed by the body enters the bloodstream, which circulates to every system, organ, tissue, and cell. If digestion is strong and balanced, the food you consume is efficiently broken down, absorbed, and assimilated, nourishing the entire body. This results in a feeling of strength, alertness, energy, and vibrancy. Even the most nutritious diet cannot be adequately processed by the body if digestion is weak, leading to a lack of vigor and vitality. Improperly digested food produces toxins called ama, which accumulate over time and enter the bloodstream, circulating throughout the body. Ama is a precursor for numerous health problems, including skin issues like acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
Causes of Digestive Imbalance from Ayurvedic perspective
The digestive system is a complex system that requires proper care and maintenance to function optimally. Many factors can disrupt its delicate balance and lead to digestive problems.
The modern diet, with its highly processed and refined foods, is a significant contributor to digestive imbalance. These foods often lack essential nutrients and fiber, making them difficult to digest. Poor food combinations and frequent consumption of leftovers can also place a heavy burden on digestion.
Eating foods that are not suited to your body type can cause further imbalance. Overeating and eating when not hungry are also common culprits that can weaken the digestive system over time.
All of these factors contribute to the buildup of toxins, known as ama, which can further impair digestion and lead to a range of health problems. Ama refers to anything that remains undigested or gets stuck in the body, accumulating when agni is low or variable. Symptoms of weak digestion in the stomach include burping, acid reflux, low appetite, and feeling heavy and sleepy after eating. In the small intestine, gas and bloating are the signs of poor digestion, while in the colon, constipation and diarrhea can indicate poor digestive function. Additionally, many other symptoms of indigestion may arise.
Common Digestive Issues
Inflammation and malabsorption
Inflammation and malabsorption are major digestive issues that can have a variety of causes. One common cause of inflammation is obstruction of bile flow to the small intestine. Bile has an alkaline nature and plays a key role in neutralizing stomach acids in the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. When the stomach contents are too acidic, they can cause inflammation of the intestinal wall, leading to digestive issues and malabsorption. Malabsorption is the inability to absorb nutrients from food, and can be caused by various factors such as low production of digestive enzymes, inflammatory digestive conditions, or parasites. It is important to conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine the specific type of inflammation and malabsorption present in order to address them effectively.
Gas and bloating
Gas and Bloating are not just uncomfortable; they can also be signs of weak digestion that can lead to more severe outcomes like malabsorption. Gas is formed when food remains stagnant in the digestive tract for too long, fermenting and creating a buildup of gas molecules. The bacteria responsible for this fermentation process can also leave behind waste products that irritate the digestive tract and further disrupt digestion. Bloating occurs as a result of this excess trapped gas in the gut. Severe or ongoing cases of bloating can lead to distention or overstretching of the intestines, which can permanently affect the muscle tone of the bowels. It is essential to address these digestive issues, as they can have consequences if left unmanaged.
The initial step in addressing gas and bloating is to relieve the gas. The first step is to avoid foods that cause gas and bloating, like legumes and cruciferous vegetables. Additionally, following an Ayurvedic diet according to your constitution and current state of doshas can help to eliminate excess doshas that cause these symptoms. While using spices and herbs to alleviate gas and bloating is effective, it's important to ensure that you're not causing harm to your digestive tract.
Sluggish Digestion & Nausea
Nausea can be caused by excess ama or mucus in the stomach, which is often the result of following a diet that is not suitable for your body type, overeating sweet or heavy foods, or consuming meals with incompatible food combinations. Lifestyle factors also contribute to digestive imbalances, as the body benefits from regularity and routine. Changes in your daily routine can deplete agni, which is responsible for digestion. Eating late dinners is a common habit that can weaken digestion.
According to Ayurveda, the complete digestion of food through the digestive tract takes around six hours. It is essential to wait until the entire digestion process has been completed before eating your next meal.
Ayurveda recognizes the connection between food and mood, and emphasizes the importance of good mental health for strong digestion. Negative emotions, stress, fatigue, and insomnia can weaken agni and compromise digestive strength.
Each person's digestive imbalances require a comprehensive assessment to determine the best course of action.
I have formulated nine different herbal formulas specifically designed to address digestive issues associated with imbalances in different dosha combinations. These formulas include Vata Digestive Formula, Vata-Pitta Digestive Formula, Pitta-Vata Digestive Formula, Pitta Digestive Formula, Pitta-Kapha Digestive Formula, Kapha-Pitta Digestive Formula, Vata-Kapha Digestive Formula, Kapha-Vata Digestive Formula and Kapha Digestive Formula.
Strong digestion, facilitated by a robust agni, is crucial for our physical and emotional health. In Ayurveda, it is believed that we are not simply what we eat, but rather "we are what we digest." Therefore, making choices that enhance our digestive capacity forms the basis of good health and vitality.