Ayurveda: Gut and Mental Health

 Ayurveda suggests an individualized approach to gut health. Current researchers are verifying Ayurveda’s ancient work that your gut health and mindfulness are key to being healthy. Ayurveda works to find the root of the issue and not symptoms. We look at the symptoms to see how the imbalances in our lives and how we can come back to our fullest potential.  A properly functioning Agni (or digestive fire) is essential for absorption of nutrients and removal of Ama (toxins) from the body. Optimal functioning of your gut can head to better gut and mental health.

Agni and Ama When Agni is weakened, we get less nutrition per caloric intake because the Agni is too weak to properly break down food. The undigested bits of food are then stored in fat cells as Ama. Ama is the buildup of toxins in the body. When there is too many toxins in the body, it can lead to many illnesses such as cold and flu, allergies, weight gain, auto-immune disorders, insomnia, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Too much Ama can disrupt the digestive system by blocking energy channels and by killing some of the critically important gut bacteria. Your gut bacteria are crucial for regulating metabolism, GI function, protecting against infection, synthesizing essential nutrients, and regulating the immune system. Our gut is the home to 60-80% of our immune system. When our gut health is poor, the immune system is weakened and illness can settle in the body.

The Gut and the “Second Brain” Our gut microbiota play a vital role in our physical and psychological health. The gut has been nicknamed the “second brain”, as research has shown there is a deep connection to your mind and gut. There is 2-way communication between the gut and the brain, mediated through the vagus nerve, hormones, neurotransmitters, and electrical impulses through a pathway of nerves. It also involves the endocrine, immune, and neural pathways.

Our Digestive System Our gastrointestinal tact is lined by a complex, independent nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS), with around 100 million nerves! The ENS is where up to 90% of our neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and nitric oxide are produced. Our mental health and physical health can be impacted, when our gut health is imbalanced.

Gut Health and Mental Health The gut can impact our mental health and mental health can impact our gut health. A study done on patients with gastrointestinal disorders found that there was greater improvement in those who used a psychological based approach to those who received conventional medical treatment. A different pilot study from Harvard University affiliates Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that meditation can significantly impact those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These studies show that mental health can impact gut health. On the other side, poor gut health has been implicated in neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders such as, autistic spectrum disorders, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. There are other researchers looking at how Alzheimer’s disease and depression are impacted by gut heath. These are possibly related to inflammatory states created by microbial imbalance inside the body.

Treatment and Lifestyle In modern medicine, we have begun to isolate the body into systems as if they weren’t dependent on other factors. This can be important for research, but when discussing overall health we need to look much more holistically. Ayurveda has looked at the body as system for thousands of years where one’s mental, emotional, and physical health interact and can imbalance each other. Ayurveda takes a lifestyle approach to health. If we isolate the symptoms and only take a pill for headaches or a pill to aid in your gut bacteria, we will miss the complex functioning and interrelations of our emotions, mind, and physical body. Ayurveda heals the gut and the brain through a lifestyle focus on diet, sleep, and mindfulness. One of the main ways to affect your gut microbiome is through diet and food. This is the basis that Ayurveda has been functioning on for 5,000 years. It incorporates food, herbs, massage, and lifestyle choices to help restore health to the gut.

References: Douillard, John. “Gut Health by Body Type (Vata, Pitta, Kapha)”. Life Spa. October 6th, 2016. Web. Wolkin, Jennifer. “Meet Your Second Brain: The Gut” Minful. August 14, 2015.  Web. G, Moser. “Psychotherapy in somatic diseases—for example gastrointestinal disorders”. Psychiatry Danub. December 2007:327-31. McGreevey, Sue. “Meditation may relieve IBS and IBD”. The Harvard Gazette. May 5, 3015. Mischke, Melody. “Ama: The Antithesis of Agni”. Banyan Botanicals.N.d. Web.

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