According to Ayurveda’s time-tested science, most treatable diseases arise from the presence of ama, a toxic by-product stemming from undigested foods. This is why our ability to digest plays a key role in ayurvedic medicine. And why chronic gas, bloating, and constipation are not taken lightly. Rather they are considered early indicators of weakness in the gut’s microbiome. In our recent chit-chaat with Ayurveda Practitioner, Manish Chandra, founder of Santa Cruz Ayurveda, we talk about the importance of recalibrating the gut microbiome and how his Gut Healing Protocol supports balanced health mentally and physically.
Q & A with Manish Chandra, NAMA certified Ayurvedic Doctor
Why is the health of the gut such an integral part of Ayurveda’s approach to wellness?
In Ayurveda, how our gut metabolizes, assimilates and absorbs speaks to the qualities of our tissues, known as dhatus in Sanskrit. If we are unable to digest what we eat, due to poor gut health, every cell and tissue of our mind-body is affected. With today’s science showing that 60 – 80% of our immune system is located in our gut and 80% of our body’s neurotransmitters are made in the gut, we know there is an intimate, 2-way communication between the gut and brain. Which is mediated by many pathways including the vagus nerve.
For this reason, in Ayurveda, healthy digestion has always been the key to optimal health. Poor digestive health, not only plays a role in the quality of the dhatus (tissues), but when there is undigested food in the gut, it will lead to ama or toxins. Over time, an accumulation of ama causes imbalances, affecting the mind and the body and eventually, manifesting as “dis-ease”. This is why, eating a seasonal diet based on our prakriti, our individual constitution and what we are able to digest is integral in Ayurveda.
What are the early signs or symptoms that our gut health may be weakening?
Experiencing chronic indigestion, gas or bloating, constipation, mental confusion, poor appetite, sinus or lymph congestion or feeling fatigued or lethargic are signs to pay attention. When these symptoms become a regular occurrence, it can mean there is a build up of ama.
Ayurveda does not take chronic gas, bloating, constipation lightly, why is this?
Chronic indigestion speaks to our metabolic health or a weak agni, often referred to as the digestive fire. A properly functioning agni (or digestive fire) is essential for the absorption of nutrients and preventing ama in the body. When the agni is weak, there is a decline in healthy gut bacteria. Impacting nutritional assimilation and absorption because the agni is too weak to properly break down food. Leading to ama build up in the body, clogging the srotas or channels. When there are too many toxins in the body, it can lead to many illnesses such as cold and flu, allergies, weight gain, autoimmune disorders, insomnia, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Therefore, when we see chronic gas, bloating, constipation, we look at them as the body crying for help. Informing us of a weak agni and ama build up. Intervening at this stage and looking at diet and lifestyle can help in preventing gut health from further weakening.
How does the gut’s microbiome play a role in our stress levels?
Each of the thousands of species of microbes has a direct impact on our mental and physical health. Our gastrointestinal tract is lined by a complex, independent nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS), with around 100 million nerves! The ENS is where up to 90% of our neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and nitric oxide are produced. The gut microbiome (and what we feed it) produce and have metabolites that communicate with the brain and the central nervous system through the vagus nerve and other routes, such as the circulatory, endocrine, and immune systems.
Our stress levels are impacted greatly by our gut microbiota and vice-versa. Researchers are now discovering a bidirectional link between stress and the microbiome. When we have exposure to a stressor (work, relationships, accidents) it can change our gut microbiome, our stress response (fight/flight/freeze), and our other behavior such as our overall mental health to how we respond to situations we are presented.
On the other side of that, when we have healthy strains of bacteria in our gut, they can reduce our stress levels. We will always face stress and stressful situations in our lives, but we can change the effects of the stress and prevent it from creating other forms of physical and mental issues such as anxiety, weight gain, chronic fatigue, depression, etc. When we have a healthy gut microbiome we are taking preventative care for our mental, physical, and emotional health.
As an Ayurveda Practitioner, what informs you that your client is under stress?
When someone is under stress it can affect all many aspects of their life, including their lifestyle choices, behavior, emotions, digestion, immune system, and sleep patterns. Some of the common symptoms I observe in my practice are poor digestion, lack of energy, foggy head or lack of decisiveness, headaches, chronic inflammation, and weight gain. However, symptoms vary from person to person.
How do you approach healing the gut?
The first step I take in healing the gut is looking at the imbalanced doshas. By assessing the client’s prakriti, or constitution and then looking at their vikriti or the current state of imbalance. I also asses the state of their agni or metabolic fire, dhatus or tissues, srotas or channels and if there is ama, toxins in the system. Before putting them on my Gut Healing Protocol, which begins with detoxification through food and herbs.
With a focus on strengthening the digestive fire and removal of accumulated ama from the body. Then I focus on restoring the healthy microbes, the gut flora. Followed by the rejuvenation process. The goal of our Gut Healing Protocol is to restore the gut microbiome to have both biodiversity (the number of individual bacteria of each different bacterial species present in your microbiome) and richness) and richness (the total number of bacterial species in the microbiome), so that we can have more energy, radiance, and vibrancy.
What are 3 lifestyle and dietary factors we can take into consideration, to support our gut’s health?
- A food and lifestyle that is tailored specifically to support your prakriti, individual constitution and vikriti, the current state of imbalance
- Daily and seasonal routines to align with the bio-rhythms of nature.
- Incorporating spices and herbs, the digestive aids of the pantry into daily meals. AND PERHAPS…
- Cultivating a yoga, pranayama, meditation practices to address and manage stress.
Manish Chandra is an Ayurveda Practitioner who is recognized by the National Ayurvedic Medical Association as an Ayurvedic Doctor and the founder of Santa Cruz Ayurveda. A full-service Ayurveda center offering gut healing programs, ayurvedic therapies and monthly workshops on a variety of health topics, ayurvedic cooking and gut healing.