Here at Alandi Ayurveda Clinic, we ask our patients to bring in their medications and supplements so we can see what they are taking. Many of our patients have digestive concerns and we see that a number of them are taking various over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements. But do these supplements really work and are they the best way to support digestion?
First, not all enzyme supplements are created equal. Rarely, an individual may suffer from Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), a condition in which the pancreas is unable to make the enzymes needed to digest food. Autoimmune chronic pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis are two conditions that may cause EPI, a condition that affects roughly 8 per 100,000 men and 2 per 100,000 women. Patients diagnosed with this condition are in danger of severe, chronic malnutrition. These patients are treated with special prescription pancreatic enzymes that are 'enteric coated'--that is, they have a special coating that prevents them being digested in the stomach and allows them to work where they are needed, in the duodenum. On the other hand, OTC 'enzyme supplements' are not enteric coated and relatively little of what is taken will actually be active in the duodenum.
According to the teachings of Ayurveda, agni (your digestive fire) is at the root of health. As the seminal Ayurvedic text, Charak Samhita says in discussing malabsorption issues:
Longevity, complexion, strength, health, enthusiasm, muscle-mass, lustre, immunity, energy...all these depend on agni. One dies if this fire is extinguished, lives long free from disorders if it is functioning properly, gets ill if it is deranged, hence agni is at the root cause of all. (CS, chi xv, 3-4).
So rather than trying to prop up a weak digestive fire by consuming digestive enzymes, it is more effective and helpful to turn that weak agni into strong agni. This is a process that has several steps: remove the cause, improve your diet, use herbs and home remedies to strengthen agni.
Remove the Causes
Remove the causes of your digestive disturbance by following these simple Agni Rules.
Eat food at room temperature or slightly above
Allow three hours between meals to allow digestion to be complete before adding new food to the system
Don't drink and eat at the same time. Drink half hour before or two hours after eating.
Use proper food combining.
Relax after eating to allow for proper digestion.
Don't eat and then sleep--wait two hours.
Don't eat and then exercise--wait two hours.
Don't eat and then meditate--Leave one hour.
Follow the diet appropriate to your constitution and the season.
Improve Your Diet
Improve your diet by focusing on warm, soupy and well-cooked foods such as soups, stews, kitchari and dal. Using spices such as ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, cardamom, fenugreek, cinnamon and clove in your food will enhance digestion. Studies show that these spices help improve our body's natural secretion of pancreatic enzymes. Rosemary, sage and oregano are beneficial too.
Use home remedies and herbs
Use home remedies and herbs to convert a weak digestive fire into a strong one.
CCF Tea: At Alandi we encourage our students and patients to drink CCF tea. Mix one-third teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and fennel 'seeds' in a cup of water, boil until the seeds sink and strain. Drink after meals to aid digestion or to relieve colic. This tea is also a great way to help get adequate iron and calcium in your diet. You can also use this tea to bring down a fever.
Agni Kindler: Grate fresh ginger and fresh turmeric, add a squeeze of lime and some salt. Eat half a teaspoon a few minutes before meals to improve digestion. If you can't get fresh turmeric root, you can make the remedy with ginger, lime and salt.
Chewing Spice (like in an Indian restaurant but minus the sugar and colouring): chew ½ tsp. roasted fennel and cumin seeds after each meal.
If you continue to have issues such as gas and bloating despite using these remedies, your agni issues may be more complex, or there may be underlying causes such as parasites or food intolerances. An Aurvedic Practitioner will help unravel the underlying cause and provide individually tailored remedies to improve your digestion.
Alakananda Ma M.B., B.S. (Lond.) is an Ayurvedic Doctor (NAMA) and graduate of a top London medical school. She is co-founder of Alandi Ayurveda Clinic and Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula in Boulder Colorado, as well as a spiritual mother, teacher, flower essence maker and storyteller. Alakananda is a well known and highly respected practitioner in the Ayurveda community both nationally and internationally.
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