Pitta Dosha And Gastritis - What's The Connection?
by Dr. Surya Bhagwati on Jan 10, 2020
One of the biggest changes to impact human health in recent decades has been the radical transformation of our diets. This shift towards highly processed foods and unhealthy eating habits has ushered in a wide range of lifestyle disorders, as well as gastrointestinal conditions. Gastritis is one of the most pervasive of these problems, as it describes any condition involving inflammation of the stomach’s mucosal lining. This can cause a number of symptoms and may also lead to various complications if not dealt with appropriately. From an Ayurvedic perspective, this makes it important to understand the underlying causes, which leads us to the role of pitta in digestion. To develop a clear understanding of this complex problem, let’s take a closer look at the role of pitta dosha in digestion.
Importance of Pitta Dosha Balance
In Ayurved, digestion is regarded as the cornerstone of health with good reason. Healthy digestion is what provides us with sustenance and a breakdown of this process is linked to the rise of a wide range of health conditions, not just gastrointestinal disorders. Digestion is governed by a hot or fiery natural energy, called agni, which allows the breakdown and assimilation of foods that we ingest. It also facilitates the elimination of waste and toxins or ama. Of the 3 doshas that determine or comprise your prakriti, pitta is the one that has the main influence on agni because of its defining qualities of heat, lightness, and fluidity. Comprising the elements of fire and water, pitta dosha has an influence not just on digestion, but on the entire metabolic process. Imbalances in pitta can affect every aspect of digestion and metabolism, down to the breakdown and absorption of nutrients in the body. Agni or digestive fire is the mechanism through which this process occurs.
Impact of Pitta Imbalances on Digestion
The optimal balance of pitta is therefore responsible for the health of this digestive fire. Any imbalance, whether weakening or aggravation of the dosha has a direct impact on the functioning and health of agni. To keep things simple and free of medical jargon, let’s just say that a weakened agni does not have the power to efficiently digest food and metabolize nutrients for energy. The quality of your digestive fire can vary, depending on your unique dosha balance or prakriti. Individuals with dominant Vata or kapha tend to have weaker agni, which translates into sluggish digestion, with a higher risk of malabsorption disorders, diarrhea, or chronic constipation. In pitta type individuals, the risk is the opposite. Excessive agni may seem like a good thing, but it actually gives rise to problems like acidity, heartburn, GERD, colitis, and other gastrointestinal inflammatory disorders. Gastritis is the term that refers to almost all gastroinflammatory conditions and this risk is highest for pitta types, although it can affect any dosha type.
Pitta Dosha and Gastritis
As we have already established, pitta aggravation is associated with conditions of increased acidity like acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD. When such dosha imbalances are not corrected swiftly, it can lead to inflammation of the stomach’s mucosal lining – described as gastritis. Gastritis itself can be acute or chronic, depending on its duration. In some cases, it can also give rise to erosive gastritis, in which there is a high risk of bleeding and peptic ulcer formation. With aggravated pitta dosha, gastritis can become a vicious cycle. A weakened mucosal lining is more vulnerable to damage from digestive juices and acid, while pitta aggravation and excess agni increases the production of stomach acids.
Dietary and lifestyle choices have a huge impact on dosha imbalances and the development of gastritis. Some habits and food choices can aggravate pitta, with some even directly damaging the stomach mucosal lining. These risk factors include:
- High intake of highly processed foods with high fat and sugar content
- Excessive and frequent alcohol consumption
- Consumption of tobacco products
- Prolonged use of NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- High stress levels
- Autoimmune disorders
- Certain infections such as with Helicobacter pylori
Dealing with Gastritis Linked to Pitta Imbalance
When gastritis develops as a result of pitta aggravation, it is described as urdhvaga amla pitta. While each case is different because of the uniqueness of your dosha balance, there are some general guidelines based on the underlying causes of gastritis. Before looking for any Ayurvedic medicine for gas or gastrointestinal problems like gastritis, your first goal should be to correct dietary and lifestyle factors that contribute to pitta aggravation and gastritis. This means cutting back on heavily processed foods to favor whole foods, while limiting consumption of hot and spicy foods. This does not mean elimination of spices, but it requires the use of pitta pacifying herbs and spices like coriander, cilantro, black pepper, turmeric, basil, cumin, cinnamon, and mint. You can also turn to herbal supplements to get added benefits through polyherbal formulas that accentuate the therapeutic actions of the herbs. When looking for best Ayurvedic medicines for gastric problems, you should favor products with ingredients like amla, elaichi, haritaki, jaiphal, saunf, pippali, and nagkesar.
In addition to helping restore your dosha balance and destroying or eliminating ama from the body, these herbs also have proven therapeutic benefits for gastritis. For example, amla’s high fiber content increases feelings of fullness to reduce overeating and aid weight loss, which also helps reduce acidity and gastric symptoms. Studies have confirmed these benefits, with patients experiencing heartburn relief with just 1 month of regular supplementation. Saunf can protect against gastritis as it studies demonstrate a gastroprotective effect that reduces inflammation and the risk of ulcer formation. Similarly, jaiphal, tulsi, and turmeric are all noted for strong anti-inflammatory effects that can counter gastritis inflammation.
There is more that you can do to protect against pitta aggravation and gastritis besides adopting dietary changes and using Ayurvedic herbal medicines. Lifestyle changes, such as following a schedule that matches closely with dinacharya or daily routine, taking up yoga, having disciplined meal timings, and practicing meditation can all help. Other Ayurvedic clinical therapies like panchakarma may also be employed to manage gastritis. For a comprehensive treatment plan however, it is imperative that you consult an Ayurvedic physician so that you can receive personalized recommendations that will work for you.
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