We had the honor of speaking with Swati Mhaske, BAMS, MD, a classically trained doctor of Ayurveda from India (known as a Vaidya), and founder of HemaVeda, an Ayurveda clinic based out of Crystal Lake, Illinois about Leaky Gut syndrome. In this chit-chaat she discusses Leaky Gut through the lens of Ayurveda and shares her experience and knowledge with us over chai.
A chit-chaat with Swati Mhaske, BAMS, MD
Through the lens of Ayurveda, what is Leaky Gut?
If we look at the Ayurveda scripts for this particular GI disorder, the classical literature of like Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, Bhavaprakasha, Chakradatta etc gives us the closest description of leaky gut in the etiopathology of diseases like “Grahani”, “Arsha”
“Grahani” is described as the prime location of the digestive fire, which plays a role in the digestion process as follows- “Annam Gruhyati pachati, vivechayeti, munchati”-Kaychikitsa chapter 52. Which means the place where the food is taken, digested, distinguished and discharged or released – our complete digestive system.
In leaky gut syndrome, the above functions of the digestive system are weakened or compromised by repetitive consumption of the factors like-
- lack of routine – diet and general activities (disturbed circadian rhythm)
- consuming food when not hungry/or in the case of indigestion
- heavy and regular consumption of cold and raw foods, etc.
which eventually lead to- “Agnimandya”- Agni-digestive fire and Mandya- poor or sluggish, which means the diminished capacity of digestive fire to digest anything.
This poor digestive capacity eventually becomes the root cause of the formation of Ama Dosha (undigested food -toxin formation). This Ama dosha then becomes the crucial factor for the manifestation of most of the diseases, in short, the etiopathology of Grahani disease/leaky gut syndrome.
Ama has a particular affinity for tissues that are weak and it has the tendency to accumulate in these locations. One of the features of ama is that once it enters the dhatu cycle it impairs the nutrition and function of the dhatus (building blocks/nutritional pillars) of one’s body. Once it is firmly wedged in these locations, the doshas become vitiated and when it is first Kapha, there is an early sign of an increase in congestion, followed by Pitta which sets up a cycle of inflammation, and then Vata, which is responsible for all the degenerative changes.
This vicious cycle in the digestive system eventually results in symptoms like- indigestion, lack of appetite, irregular bowel habits, abdominal pain, bloating and malabsorption of nutrients in tissues -the classic symptoms of Leaky Gut syndrome.
If we take a look at the modern concept of Leaky gut, it is the persistent GI inflammation which eventually disrupts the integrity of the mucosal lining of the gut, and tiny perforations allow for molecules larger than usual to pass across this barrier, including molecules from dietary protein and fats, bacteria, parasites, and fungi.
In response to this infiltration, an immune response is initiated and the body begins to manufacture specific antibodies to these antigens. Unfortunately, human tissues have antigenic sites almost identical to those substances that pass across a permeable intestinal wall. These antibodies then circulate throughout the body and “look” for more antigens. When an antigen is found, such as a tissue that has similar markers to an exogenous antigen, the antibody initiates an immune response and the tissue begins to be destroyed. This vicious cycle continues if the causative factors are not eliminated.
Can we recover from Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut syndrome is difficult to cure disease. According to Madhav Nidana- Kayachikitsa, Grahani is treatable in children and babies, difficult to cure in youth and adult age and becomes completely incurable in old age.
To my 15 years of experience in gut health, I would say we can control the symptoms of Leaky gut by incorporating Ayurveda principles, herbs in an appropriate manner and keeping in mind the Bala or strength of the client
I would like to share one of experience very briefly, of one of my clients:
A 32-year male, came to my clinic with symptoms of lack of appetite, irregular bowel moments, lethargy/lack of energy, abdominal pain and bloating. He was diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome by modern medicine doctors. He had tried the allopathic medicines for more than a year now, but it was not helping him at all. Tired of all this, he chose Ayurveda to give a try.
We both worked together for a few months and with proper Ayurveda lifestyle and herbs and panchakarma, he got 80% relieved from the symptoms of Leaky gut after 6 months of meticulously following the treatment.
I would say, recovery of a person with Leaky Gut depends on the age, strength, and determination of the person to follow the treatment. Also, the key role played by and the knowledge and experience of the Vaidya (Ayurveda doctor treating the person)
The key to reverse the effects of Leaky gut syndrome is to follow an Ayurveda routine after proper analysis of your individual constitution.
When you see a client with Leaky Gut, how do you approach supporting them?
Ayurveda’s principle to cure a disease is always to find the root cause and eliminating it. Whenever a person walks into my clinic my first approach to listen carefully to the symptoms and signs of the disease. Identifying the root cause of the disease is only possible by taking a detailed history of the client which is my next priority. This history includes the persons’ diet, lifestyle, work regimen, surroundings, any physical or emotional trauma and more
After my detailed analysis, I calmly explain to the patient the etiopathology of the Leaky Gut syndrome, the causative factors and how these factors become the contributing factors to his symptoms and also the Ayurveda approach to the cause and symptoms.
Keeping in mind his work regimen and schedule, I meticulously plan his diet and lifestyle. I believe, slow transitions in work and daily routine work more effectively rather than hurrying up and overburdening the person with drastic changes in his everyday life.
Giving my clients assurance and self-confidence by explaining the beauty of Ayurveda is one of the most important aspects of my consultation also. I like to share some positive health experiences in relation to the leaky gut syndrome with them.
I firmly believe, giving confidence and motivation with a hint of compassion gives the client the hope to recover and make permanent changes in their lives.
How long does it take to see a relief of symptoms?
It might take weeks to months to years to get complete relief from the symptoms. It all depends on the factors causing it and the strength and determination of the patient suffering from it. Like for eg- a patient is who is a 7-year-old, which medium body and mind strength and is in the acute stage of disease can see positive changes as early as 4-5 weeks of following Ayurveda treatment. Whereas an individual who is 45 yrs. old and is in the chronic stage of disease, can approximately take at least 3-6 months-1 year to recover or experience positive changes.
Assuming, the absorption of nutrients is hindered, when the digestive system is weak, should we taking mounds of supplements to get nutrients, or should we work on rebalancing our gut?
There is an answer hiding in the question itself. Let’s take the example of a car, which is approximately 10 yrs. old, not regularly serviced, always being filled with low-quality fuel and is being used regularly without any maintenance. This car is surely going to complain more compared to a car which is maintained regularly with good fuel usage and meticulous servicing. Even if we wash, paint and decorate the first car -would any of the external cleaning and decorating help with the improvement of the quality and efficiency of the engine? The answer is of course NO!
Similarly, is our body chemistry- if the digestive fire is compromised it is impossible to even digest a small grain of rice! It is completely impossible to digest and metabolize the heavy load of supplements (which are already heavy to digest and are overheating to the liver).
The overuse of supplements these days are affecting the functions of a healthy gut, it causes chaos when are consumed in bulk by the people with compromised Gut health.
The best supplement that Ayurveda recommends is the regular consumption of Takra or Buttermilk for Leaky gut. We are gifted by healthy supplements by nature itself. Why incline towards the supplements prepared by the labs.
What about juicing, and smoothies, is this helpful with Leaky Gut?
Raw foods like cold juices, smoothies are difficult to digest. A person with Leaky gut syndrome has a compromised digestive fire, consuming raw juices and smoothies will be like consuming toxins for him/her. Our digestive fire is supported by warm, freshly cooked foods. Even when big animals like cows, buffalos or ruminating animals, chew on raw plants and vegetables they digest it completely by the process is regurgitation- We as human beings are the only beings who cook their food and then consume it.
In the case of leaky gut, the agni or the digestive fire is already in a compromised state (which is the main cause of Leaky Gut syndrome) in addition to the production and accumulation of Ama has significantly blocked the channels of nutrition. Raw and cold foods that are heavy to digest and metabolize will contribute to further damage of the digestive system and more accumulation of undigested toxins that is, the formation of more ama in the system.
I would not recommend any kind of juices or raw smoothies in a person with Leaky gut syndrome. It is best to consume takra (buttermilk) with warm digestive spices like ginger, cumin regularly in a person suffering from Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Often gas, bloating, flatulence, heartburn, acid-reflux are symptoms often disregarded with a couple of tums, why do we need to pay attention to these symptoms, and when do we begin to take a look at them more seriously?
Ayurveda’s objective is to provide guidance to a healthy person to maintain his good health and for the diseased person to regain his good health. The practice of Ayurveda is designed to promote human happiness at a physical, mental and spiritual levels.
By the proper balance of all vital energies in the body, the processes of physical deterioration and disease can be reduced. This is accomplished through proper eating, thinking, and living habits as well as the use of herbal remedies to treat illness. When you suffer from the above symptoms frequently then yes, you have to address the imbalances and correct them within an appropriate time and manner. If you wait and ignore them, the samprapti or the etiopathology of any disease will only progress resulting in any Gut health disease. Which eventually becomes difficult to treat or even incurable in some cases.
In your practice, have you found some commonality in diet and lifestyle, that when adjusted has helped your patients?
Yes, my mantra for better health (both physical and mental) is – to listen to your body clearly. Let’s take the example of a dog. When a dog suffers from indigestion, he stops eating food and tries to chew on a type of grass called “Durva”. He then waits patiently and with the help of the grass consumption, he naturally purges out/vomits the indigested food, and stops further digestive imbalance.
A human body is far more intelligent than any living being on this planet. Even if the senses of some living species are far more better than us, we have the power of MIND – we can think and decide what to put in our mouth. It is as simple as that. If we are less distracted by what is going on in the outer world related to food, and just listen to ourselves quietly, it is hard to end up making the wrong choices every time.
We are always warned by the signs and symptoms of our body immediately. If we still continue repeating the mistakes by ignoring the imbalanced state, we end up into something which is difficult or even impossible to cure. How about we follow the basic principle of Ayurveda and that is not to fall sick!
Maintaining good Ayurveda routines like – dinacharya- Morning or day time rituals, Ratricharya – Night time rituals, Ritucharya- Seasonal lifestyle and diet, we can have better control to stop the further progression of any kind of disease and maintain a healthy state of mind and body.
In Ayurveda, it is said, all dis-ease begins in the gut, what are some of the key lifestyle habits that can help care, support and strengthen our gut health?
A healthy gut is a sign of a healthy person. Our gut not only digests and metabolizes food but also our thoughts and emotions. When our digestive ability, or agni, is strong, we create healthy tissues, eliminate waste products efficiently, and produce a subtle essence called ojas. According to Ayurveda, ojas is the basis for clarity of perception, physical strength, and immunity. Here are a few points to follow for a healthy gut.
- The first thing to keep in mind is – Maintain a regular diet regimen that means eat at the same time every day following the dosha clock/circadian rhythm
- Regular use of digestive spices in our diet like – Ginger, Dry ginger(shunthi), cumin seeds, buttermilk, black salt, coriander seeds, fennel seeds etc in your daily diet
- Intermittent fasting with Ama digesting foods and lifestyle
- Listen to your body and try to correct the imbalances sooner.
With 15 years of experience in Ayurveda, Vaidya Swati Mhaske (B.A.M.S) M.S specializes in Ayurveda Diet and Nutrition. She helps her clients achieve their health goals with a private Ayurvedic consultation and Panchakarma therapies. Vaidya Swati is also an avid Vedic Astrologer.