Healthy digestion ensures that all of the nutrients taken in through food are assimilated in a healthy manner into the cells. When food is completely digested by the body, the tissues will be nourished well and impart glow, strength, health, enthusiasm and vitality to the body. Indigestion refers to various gastrointestinal complaints, which can include gas (belching, flatulence, or bloating) nausea, heart burn and an upset stomach. When digestion is weak, cells of the body become feeble and are prone to diseases.
The Ayurvedic approach of explaining digestion is very simple. The concept of agni, the Sanskrit word for ‘fire’, is key to Ayurveda. Ayurveda views agni as the very source of life. Ayurveda teaches us that impaired agni is at the root of every imbalance and disease. So, the importance of agni in Ayurveda is extremely essential. The food we eat is digested by this agni. The word ‘Ajirna’ refers to insufficient digestion of the ingested food. Incomplete metabolism due to weakened digestive fire leads to an unprocessed state of food causing ajirna. Indigestion occurs when there is an imbalance in the agni due to some aspects (tridoshas) which help in digestion of food.
The abnormality in agni due to tridoshas are of four types:
Samagni (Balanced agni): When there is a balance in the tridoshas, the agni is also well balanced; this is called Samagni. The food is digested completely and the body cells and tissues are well nourished.
Vishamaagni (Varying agni): This condition surfaces when there is a predominance of vata dosha. The digestion is irregular – there is normal digestion on some occasions and at other times the digestion is very poor. This varying agni may cause stomach ache, bloating, constipation and other vata related diseases.
Teekshnagni (Increased agni): When there is a predominance of pitta, there is an increase in the agni or the digestive fire. It leads to elevated hunger, thirst, heartburn and diarrhea. The main causes of Teekshnagni are the pitta aggravating lifestyle and food.
Mandagni (Decreased agni): As the kapha dosha increases in the body, it reduces the intensity of the agni. This hampers the digestion process and leads to incomplete or poor digestion. This type of indigestion is called amajeerna. This decrease in agni is caused due to kapha aggravating food and lifestyle.
Heaviness in the body, belching with the smell of the food and water brash are some of the common symptoms of Mandagni. Improper digestion leads to poor nourishment in the body and hence makes the body weak and vulnerable to diseases. The improperly digested food is sticky in nature and is called ama. Due to the sticky nature, ama contaminates the tissues, blocks the channels and cripples the doshas thereby leading to various diseases.
CAUSES OF INDIGESTION
Disobeying the dietary rules
Irregular food habits are one of the major reasons for indigestion. Excessively spicy, oily and heavy food leads to an overloaded intestine and causes indigestion. Irregular meal timings can also cause indigestion. It is also important to allow the digestive fire to fully process one meal before we eat again, keeping four to six – hours between meals. Overeating and insufficient food are also detrimental to the digestion process. Drinking excessive water may also decrease the intensity of agni and hamper digestion.
Irregular sleeping habits
Today’s generation has an irregular sleeping pattern. Both excessive sleeping and an inadequate amount of sleep interfere with the regular process of digestion. Waking till late night and sleeping during the day time are considered unhealthy as it disturbs the body functions especially the digestion.
Certain medications like antibiotics, painkillers, steroids and oral contraceptives Interfere in the digestion process and cause irregularities. Some medicines lead to an increase in the agni, while others almost put off the digestive fire.
Some diseases of the liver, pancreas, gall bladder and intestinal infections may also cause indigestion. Certain intestinal parasites also contribute to indigestion and lead to constipation or loose motions. Some women experience indigestion during pregnancy, mensuration and menopause though these cannot be termed as diseases.
Stress and Anxiety
When the mind is not peaceful, the body functions are affected in a negative manner. Emotional stress, anxiety, and depression make the digestion process go bizarre leading to complications and other diseases.
SYMPTOMS OF INDIGESTION :
As mentioned above, indigestion could be an increase, decrease or irregularity in the digestive fire. Each condition has its own symptoms but some of the common symptoms include:
1. Heaviness in the body especially in the abdomen.
2. Stomach ache
3. Constipation or diarrhoea.
4. Nausea and vomiting.
5. Burning sensation in chest and sour belches
6. Excessive thirst.
HEALTHY HABITS FOR BETTER DIGESTION:
- Eating Right:
1. As per Ayurveda, ginger is an excellent food which aids in digestion. Water medicated with dry ginger and coriander seed is recommended. Warm lime water with a few drops of fresh ginger juice and a pinch of pepper powder is also good.
2. Carrom seeds, fennel seeds, asafoetida and cumin seeds should be included in the diet for proper digestion.
3. Vegetables like ladies finger, snake gourd, pumpkin, bitter gourd are recommended.
4. Fruits like fig, pineapple, pomegranate and sweet lime aid in digestion. Dry fruits like fig and raisins are also beneficial.
- Lifestyle Changes:
Ayurveda prescribes certain dietary rules and healthy food habits for proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
1. Avoid excessively spicy, oily and heavy food
2. Consume freshly cooked warm food. Avoid stale, fermented and processed food items.
3. The largest meal should be taken in the noon when the sun is high as the digestive fire is the strongest at this point. Avoid over eating as it overloads the intestine and hampers digestion.
4. Consume food only at prescribed times; irregular and frequent meal times denies rest to the intestine.
5. Mindful eating is very important. Chew the food properly while eating and there should be no distractions (like TV, reading, excessive conversation etc.) while eating.
6. Avoid drinking excessive water during the meal as it weakens the digestive fire.
7. Regular exercise and active lifestyle are very essential
8. An adequate amount of sleep and regular sleeping habits.
9. Fasting completely for a day is recommended to normalize any imbalance in the agni
Ayurveda believes that digestion is essential for healthy development of body and mind. For a healthy mind resides in a healthy body.