By Aalif Surti July 2004 Stress, obesity and irregular meal timings, plus emotional factors, lead to digestive problems Today’s irregular, fast lifestyle where skipping regular meals, excessive intake of food or drinks, high stress levels at the workplace, etc., has led to conditions where ailments pertaining to your abdomen are on the rise. Also called ajeerna in the ancient Indian medical system of ayurveda, irregularities in diet and sleep and emotional factors such as envy, fear, anger, etc. can lead to indigestion. It occurs due to deficiency in quality and quantity of digestive juices, which is termed as mandagni (deficient digestive fire). Indigestion can also be due to uncomfortable postures, controlling natural urges and changes in the period and pattern of sleep. Indigestion can lead to waking up frequently at night, several diseases and psychological disturbances. So what different medical systems, like ayurveda, homoeopathy, nature cure, allopathy and Unani have to say about indigestion? What are the causes, symptoms, prevention, treatment and dietary recommendation for this abdominal disease? AyurvedaAll ayurvedic literature describes pachan (digestion) to be performed by pachaka rasas (digestive juices), which are regulated by pachaka pitta or pachaka agni. Pachaka pitta is one of the five pittas responsible for the digestion of food. When digestive juices are reduced (mandagni), indigestion takes place. Ayurveda classifies seven types of indigestion, of which four are based on the type of dosha affected. The symptoms of indigestion depend upon the type of dosha involved. They are: Amajeerna: Swelling on the face, around the eyes and cheeks. Heavy feeling in the abdomen. Belching with smell of undigested food. Increased secretion of saliva. Vidagdhajeerna: Belching with soar taste in the mouth. Feeling of dryness or smoke in the mouth. Increased thirst and giddiness. Burning sensations on the chest and abdomen. Increased sweating. Vishtabdhajeerna: Piercing pain in abdomen with distention. Increased gases in the bowels and constipation. Feeling of stiffness and pain. Rasaseshajeerna: Normal belching, unhappy feeling, lack of desire to eat food. Feeling of heaviness in the chest. The principle for treatment depends on its type. For example, for ajeerna, fasting is recommended. Forced vomiting for Vidagdhajeerna; Forced sweating and appropriate diet for Vishtabdhajeerna; and establishing suitable sleeping pattern is recommended for Rasaseshajeerna. After these initial procedures, Dipan and Pachana medicines are recommended to improve digestion. The following single medicines are recommended in ayurveda for indigestion: • Dried ginger and jaggery to be taken with pure water two to three times a day. • One to three grams of powdered fruit rind of black variety of haritaki (small Chebulic myrobalan) to be taken with equal volume of raw sugar twice a day before meals. Apart from this, ayurveda also suggests some dietary recommendations for those affected with indigestion. They are: • Eat low-calorie foods that can be easily digested. • Consume larger portions of curd, yoghurt or milk. • Consume larger portions of juicy fruits. • Avoid tobacco, wine, cannabis, butter and ghee. • Fast once a week or eat till you feel just full. HomoeopathyThough causes and symptoms of indigestion are same in homoeopathy as well as in ayurveda, a homoeopath can also make a final diagnosis of indigestion on the basis of the symptoms and a detailed examination to rule out any underlying disease. Treatment as per homoeopathy includes three main steps: • Treatment of the symptoms in order to provide you immediate relief. • Treatment of the underlying causes in order to provide permanent relief. • Improving general health. A homoeopath will select the medicine most suited to you on the basis of four main physical or emotional factors—symptoms, underlying physical or emotional causes, family medical history and the general build up, which includes eating habits, likes or dislikes, lifestyle, temperament. In addition to various homoeopathic medicines, this medical system strongly recommends the following general measures to manage indigestion: • Mental relaxation through meditation, yoga. • Regulation of diet with regular intake of a balanced diet and avoiding excessive intake of any particular food. • Regular physical exercises. • Avoiding addictive substances such as alcohol and tobacco. In homoeopathy, medicines have five main actions—appetite improvement; regulation of the bowel movements; enhanced functions of the liver; immediate relief to the symptoms; and infusing a general sense of well-being. Nature Cure“To rise at six, dine at ten, sup at six and go to bed at ten makes a man live 10 times longer.” This famous 16th century proverb defines nature cure system of medicine. According to this system, the heat generated due to indigestion increases the fermentation of the undigested food and leads to the increased production of gases and acids in the stomach. These toxins, produced in the digestive tract and absorbed by the blood, can lead to several diseases. In this system, appropriate combination of food is very important for proper digestion (see box on next page). Below are some management options for indigestion in nature cure: Fasting: One to three days of fasting is one of the effective ways to correct indigestion. You may drink fruit juices and coconut water, if necessary. Fasting once a week can prevent indigestion. Enema: Taking enema with warm water cleanses bowels and avoids reabsorption of toxins from the large intestines. Initially, enema is recommended for three consecutive days and thereafter as and when necessary. Induced vomiting: Drink three to four glasses of warm water mixed with salt. This will result in vomiting of undigested foods. Do not, however, strain yourself to vomit. Cold compress: It prevents fermentation of food and production of excessive heat in the digestive tract. It also improves blood circulation and therefore improves digestion. Apply cold compress on empty stomach. Gastro-hepatic pack: This pack helps improve the functions of the stomach and liver. Application of this pack for one hour two or three times a week helps maintain normal functions of all organs of the digestive system. Abdominal pack: If taken for an hour before going to bed improvers the tone of the muscles of the digestive tract and therefore improves digestion. It can be taken everyday. Dietary modification: Avoid overeating and eat the correct combination of fruits. Eat at regular timings everyday. Exercise: Do regular exercise. Herbs: Herbal tea made out of peppermint, hibiscus, lemon grass and fennel help maintain the normal quality of digestive juices and therefore prevent indigestion. Tea prepared with fresh ginger also improves digestion. AllopathyA variety of uncomfortable sensations mainly in the upper abdomen occur due to indigestion. The discomfort may be experienced as pain, pressure, burning sensations, bloating, excessive gas, belching, nausea or fullness after eating a small amount of food. Below are listed some common disorders of the digestive system/stomach which are associated with indigestion. Heartburn: Also called ‘reflux oesophagitis’, this is caused by the abnormal function of the muscle valve situated at the junction of the food pipe and the stomach. Chronic heartburn may result in narrowing of the food pipe and therefore block the passage of food. Very rarely, it leads to cancer-like condition.General measures for managing heartburn are: • Control obesity> • Stop smoking • Eat small quantities of food at a time • Avoid oily food • Do not lie down for at least one-two hours after a meal • Take medicines prescribed by your doctor Gastritis: It is the term used for diffuse inflammation of the lining of the stomach. The symptoms are discomfort in the upper part of the abdomen, loss of appetite, nausea and feeling full after eating small portions of food. Peptic ulcer: Pain in the upper and middle part of the abdomen is one of the common symptoms of peptic ulcer. Endoscopy is the best method to diagnose peptic ulcer. To manage it, one should stop smoking and use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Irritable Bowel Syndrome: This is one of the commonest disorders of the intestine where there is long-term disturbance in the bowel functions and pain in the abdomen for which no apparent cause can be detected. Symptoms include bloating of the abdomen, sense of incomplete passage of stool, excessive gas and audible sounds from the intestines. Gall Bladder diseases: Stones in gall bladder and its inflammation are two main causes of symptoms of indigestion. Gall stones may block the tube of the gall bladder and cause moderate to severe pain. An ultrasound examination is the best way to diagnose gall stones. These stones need treatment only if they cause symptoms. Surgery is the main treatment for troublesome gall stones. Liver diseases: Hepatitis, or the inflammation of the liver, leads to symptoms of indigestion. Symptoms include pain in the upper and right part of the abdomen, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and jaundice. Pancreas diseases: Chronic pancreatitis can cause pain in the upper abdomen, which is often related to meals. It can also lead to deficiency of the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. Normally indigestion that is not associated with diseases of the organs of digestive system does not lead to serious disease conditions but indigestion that appears first time in a middle-aged person needs detailed examination and investigation by a doctor. UnaniIn Unani system, indigestion is called badhazmi or sue-Hazm. The digestive system breaks down the food and modifies i
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