Acid Reflux & Indigestion - An Ayurvedic Approach to Calm Your Gut
by Dr. Surya Bhagwati on Oct 18, 2019
Indigestion is one of the most common complaints that general physicians deal with, giving rise to problems like acidity, gas, bloating, and so on. When not dealt with appropriately, indigestion and acidity disorders like acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn, can increase in severity causing other complications. Although acidity in itself is non-threatening and can be easily dealt with, conventional treatments simply rely on antacids to provide short term relief. For a more sustainable long term solution, you can turn to Ayurved. Ancient Ayurvedic physicians were familiar with conditions of hyperacidity like GERD, which they describe as amlapitta. Their observations in classical texts give us a good starting point for the use of natural remedies for acid reflux and indigestion.
Simple Steps to Relieve Acid Reflux & Indigestion with Ayurved
As a holistic health system, Ayurved doesn’t just advocate quick fixes or medications to relieve acid reflux and indigestion. It recognizes the underlying causes and recommends a variety of practices to cure the condition and lower the risk of recurrence. Preventive care is one of the hallmarks of Ayurved, and in the case of digestive disorders, this begins with your diet. Other Ayurvedic techniques to manage acidity include modification of dietary habits, lifestyle changes, and the use of herbal Ayurvedic medicine for indigestion.
1. Diet Modifications
Agni or the digestive fire is regarded as critical to human health and wellbeing, making it one of the main subjects of several classical Ayurvedic texts. While the rationale and concepts in Ayurved may not be easy to understand, the observations and treatment guidelines are easy enough for anyone to follow. The first step is to make corrections to your diet, eliminating or restricting any intake of foods and drinks linked to acidity. Some of the most common food triggers for acid reflux can include citric fruits, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, sugar, colas, and most processed foods. You also need to be more mindful with your diet, taking note of foods that work as a trigger for you, as these can vary among individuals.
This stress on finding a cure through your diet is also backed by research, with studies showing that dietary interventions alone can be as effective as the best conventional treatments, but without any side effects. Many of the aggravating foods increase symptoms of acid reflux and indigestion because they stimulate increased acid production or weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, which normally stops the upward flow of stomach acid. In addition to these broad diet modifications, you should also eat as per your prakriti or dosha balance to lower the risk of aggravation of any dosha. You can find out about your prakriti and get a personalized diet plan from an Ayurvedic specialist.
2. Lifestyle Changes
As a holistic health system, Ayurved stresses the need for harmony with the forces of nature. In practical terms, this means following a daily or seasonal routine that syncs with the natural order. Ayurved simplifies this by prescribing detailed schedules for your day, in what is known as dinacharya. This promotes overall health and wellbeing, but it also has particular relevance to digestion as it includes meal timings.
According to the dinacharya, dinner should be consumed between 6pm to 8pm, depending on your dosha type and the season. While strict adherence to dinacharya timings may not be feasible today, you should take note of the 3 hour interval between the last meal and bedtime. This ancient Ayurvedic practice, which has been prescribed for millennia, is now accepted in mainstream health care too. Studies have shown that eating meals close to bedtime can increase the frequency and severity of acid reflux symptoms.
Another cornerstone of Ayurved is the maintenance of balance and moderation in all aspects of life. In the context of coping with acid reflux and indigestion, this would require moderate and balanced nutrition. There is plenty of scientific support for this advice too, as overeating increases pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. When this happens, the sphincter, which normally serves as a one way valve, malfunctions and allows acid or undigested food to travel back up. This is why acid reflux is most severe after eating large or heavy meals. Eating smaller portion sizes and more frequent meals can help to overcome this problem.
Another important lifestyle habit that can help deal with acid reflux is your sleep position. Ayurvedic experts strongly advise patients with gastric disorders like indigestion and acidity to sleep on the left side, rather than the right. Although this ancient Ayurvedic recommendation was widely ignored by mainstream medicine, it is now supported by research. We now know that the sleeping on the right side can aggravate acidity symptoms because of the positioning of the esophagus’ entry point towards the right side of the stomach. When you sleep on your left side, this opening and the sphincter remains safely above the stomach contents, reducing pressure on it.
3. Physical Activity
Although physical activity is also included in dinacharya, it warrants more attention because of its weight loss benefits. Obesity can greatly increase pressure on the stomach and esophageal sphincter, significantly raising the risk of acid reflux and heartburn. This reinforces the importance of moderate eating and exercise, as they are the most effective strategies for weight loss. It would be best to take up the practice of yoga from a skilled instructor, as certain asanas can help, while some can exacerbate symptoms. Gentle forms of exercise like yoga are also preferable, as some individuals experience increased acidity with high impact exercises. You can start with low intensity workouts and gradually increase the intensity; cut back if you start to experience any discomfort.
4. Ayurvedic Herbs
While the diet and lifestyle recommendations are highly effective, they are not always easy to implement and we often require additional support. This is where acidity medications come into play, but you should again focus on natural methods. Ayurvedic herbs like saunf, elaichi, amla, and jaiphal are notable for relieving acid reflux disorders. Studies show that herbal Ayurvedic medicines for indigestion are effective because of ingredients like amla, which regulates acid production and protects the stomach mucosal lining, or tulsi and jaiphal, which have strong anti-inflammatory effects.
If you do not find relief even after adhering to these recommendations for at least 3 months, it would be best to consult your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and treatment, as you could be dealing with an undiagnosed health condition.
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