Health - Traffic in the Tummy
by Megha Bajaj
You want to see a miracle? Look in the mirror. The human body is one of the most phenomenal creations in existence. As one reads of the various different systems within, in this case the digestive order, one is filled with awe and wonder. To understand where various indigestion problems arise, and their prevention and cure, one needs to understand the entire system. Imagine your digestive system to be a huge road network that has to take this food piled on little trucks throughout the body, absorb nutrients along the way, and finally throw the trucks away in the form of excreta. The trucks are nothing but fibre.
Digestion begins in the mouth with the chewing of food (mastication). Mastication not only breaks down food molecules into smaller particles, but also sets off a green signal to the body to start the entire digestive process.
The esophagus is the tunnel that connects the mouth to the stomach. It delivers the saliva-mixed food from the mouth to the stomach, and serves as an air lock between the outside world and the digestive tract. The stomach, in many ways, is the main road for the truck laden with food. It is here that food is crushed into tiny particles, toxins are removed, and food is sent off to the small expressway called small intestine.
Here is where the maximum absorption takes place. This small expressway has many folds that the truck must pass through, and on its way, a liquid called pancreatic juice, which helps in digestion, is mixed with the food. Active absorption takes place, and energy is generated. There is a small tunnel through which nutrients absorbed are carried to a place called liver. Finally, the trucks enter the large expressway or large intestine, with almost 90 per cent of their loads lifted off. This expressway is five feet long, and it takes the trucks 6-72 hours to get out. (The roads in the stomach and small expressway take only about 1-2, 2-6 hours respectively). Sodium and water are absorbed here. And then gradually the trucks make their way towards defecation. The more trucks there are, i.e. more the fibre intake, quicker will be their exit.
Having understood the system, we can now realise where and how the indigestion takes place:
- At the mouth level: If the food is eaten too quickly, without chewing properly, the trucks are overloaded, and the work at other junctions increases, causing indigestion. When as a child your mom told you not to talk while eating, she was not just teaching you manners, but also a way to avoid gas. We swallow a lot of extra oxygen while eating if we talk, and this produces gases.
- In the eosophagus: Heartburn, a common symptom of indigestion, occurs when the esophagus’ ability to separate the mouth and stomach is not effective, and the acids are released outside the stomach, creating a ‘burning’ sensation. Most of us experience this every now and then, but in a few hours the saliva takes the acid away to its right locale. Alcohol and overdose of medicines like aspirin may cause this. However, if it happens too often, it is called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and needs to be treated by a physician.
- Stomach: If there is an overload of toxins or fats, through the intake of junk, processed and fried food, the stomach is not able to do its work of breaking down complex food properly. The acid in the stomach that helps break down food is supported by fresh salads and fruit, and therefore it is advisable to start a meal with these. Also, a heavy meal can increase the acidic levels in the stomach, and give us acidity.
- Small intestine: When we say we are allergic to the food, it basically means that the inner layers of the small intestine are not able to absorb certain foods, and label them as hostile food. Through trial and error, we can find out which foods don’t suit us, and avoid them like the plague, as each time you eat it, it harms the small intestine. Stress can cause a problem called ‘leaky gut’ whereby molecules, which should not be able to get through, find a way inside the cell wall. Also important nutrients may ‘leak out’. Handling of stress along with a diet rich in Vitamin C, from citrus fruits, and vitamin E, found in whole grain cereals and nut oils, support intestinal healing in such cases. Diarrhea too can be caused both by stress as well as inappropriate combinations of food.
- Large intestine: A large intake of fibre is a must for the entire process of digestion to work well. This can even cause constipation which is defined as less than three bowel movements in a week.
If you have indigestion due to any of the above causes, the common symptoms you will experience will be: burning feeling in the upper abdomen, often accompanied by nausea, abdominal bloating, belching, and sometimes vomiting. Acidity, heartburns, constipation and diarrhea may also occur. All these can be cured by some of the amazing alternative therapies given below:
Foods that Heal
In his book, Home Doctor, Dr. Phadke writes of several home remedies for indigestion:
- 2-3 crushed cardamom (elaichi) or 2 cloves
- Fresh or dried bael fruit is considered a panacea for digestive disorders
- Crushed mint prevents several digestive disorders. Can be had alone or along with some liquid.
- Holy basil is known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, and helps heal the digestive system
- Fresh and dried turmeric
According to the popular website, www.ayurvediccure.com, Ayurveda attributes indigestion to a weakening of the agni, or digestive fire. They consider it to be a primarily pitta function. They believe the causes of this weakening is: Stress, smoking, which interferes with the enzyme production in digestion, very long gaps between two meals generating unrequired acid, over-eating, eating too little, eating stale food.
Ayurveda advices dietary control, and the choice of right food. Other tips: do not eat when stressed, wear loose clothes, eat your night meal at least two hours before bed-time, and don’t do too much exercise immediately after eating. Ayurveda also recommends having curd and buttermilk daily as they strengthen the digestive fire. Also, have a teaspoon of white sesame seeds every morning as part of your daily routine.
Ayurveda also recommends paachan, a herb medicine. It includes important herbs like ginger, pepper, leadwort, menthol, and the embelin, which individually and collectively, help the digestive powers of an individual to become stronger. For the correct doses, go to a good ayurved.
Roshan Patel, a Mumbai-based hom-oeopath, treats almost 10 patients daily for complaints of indigestion. After understanding all the symptoms through a long discussion, and getting to the underlying causes, she uses some of the following remedies for relief:Arsenicum album would be indicated if a person feels anxious, restless yet exhausted, and is worse from the smell and sight of food. Bryonia, when the stomach feels heavy, with rising acid, and a bitter or sour taste. Pain and nausea are worse from motion of any kind. And Lycopodium when the person’s appetite may be ravenous, but eating even a small amount can cause a feeling of fullness and bloating. Rumbling gas may form in the abdomen, pressing upward, and making breathing difficult. There are many other remedies, but primarily these are seen to give maximum relief in minimum time.
Deepa Bhatia, with her ‘Breathe’ range, literally breathed new life into aromatherapy. Today this 30-something woman is a known name for her healing oils. She says, “It’s a misconception that aroma oils only have beauty utility. Aromatherapy has application in everything from common cold to the female reproductive system.” According to her, the prime benefits of essentials oils would be for stress, anxiety and depression. For example, Patchouli, an oil which smells like wet earth, relieves stress in even the most anxious of people. Jasmine oil helps in times of trauma. Just two to three drops of orange oil in half a bucket of water is enough to cure constipation. And Aromatherapy can successfully be used to cure indigestion, and other digestive disorders like ulcers.
One of the digestive benefits of yoga is that it restricts the blood flow to certain parts of the body while holding some poses. Once these poses are released, this area of the body is then flooded with blood, and thus, oxygen. Oxygen has healing properties, and is necessary for proper organ function.
Another major benefit of yoga is practising breathing, known in yoga as pranayama. Simply forcing ourselves to breath into our bellies during certain yoga poses, sends breath and healing to the digestive area. Regular focussed breathing can also open up blocked areas of energy in the body. Blocked energy, or prana, in the stomach/intestines, is often the cause of digestive problems. Mr Ravi Dixit, senior teacher at Kaivalyadham, recommends the following postures for good digestion:
- Vajrasan: Sit erect, with your knees folded under you and hands placed lightly on thighs. Sit for 5-10 minutes immediately after a meal.
- Uttanapadasana: Lie down on your back, gently lift both your legs, let both palms be close to the body, facing down.
- Pavanmuktasana: Lie down on your back, fold your knees over your chest, hug them, and gently lift your head and touch nose-tip to knee.
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Subject: feedback - 6 November 2011
Very Informative so that people can avoid indigestion:-D
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