Welcome back! I’m sure our previous article on acid reflux got you hooked and longing for more, and made you click immediately on the link to this article. Yes, I did pull-off a classic ‘cliffhanger’ by giving you a sneak peek into the benefits of Ayurveda as an alternative to the over-the-counter treatments but stopped right there not divulging the curative ways in which Ayurveda can help cure acid reflux. But this article (and in everything related to The Vedic Co.) is all about the Ayurvedic way. So without further ado, let’s get reading (and you can start noting down) and discover the miraculous Ayurvedic ways of curing acid reflux.
Understanding the Root Cause
According to Ayurveda, Agni (the digestive fire) resides in our gut and renders it the power of digestion. It is also present in all the digestive secretions, including stomach acid. When Agni is strong, it promotes vitality and supports optimal digestion. But, a weakened Agni leads to acid indigestion and reflux.
There is a common misconception that acid reflux and amlapitta (aggravated or morbid pitta) or hyperacidity are the same. But it is not valid. Acid reflux is the regurgitation of the stomach acid along with the food contents into the esophagus, whereas amlapitta or hyperacidity is the overproduction of stomach acid. Although an aggravated pitta does play a significant role in the manifestation of acid reflux, it is not the primary cause behind it. Acid reflux is not a result of the overproduction of acid, but a dysfunction of the sphincter due to various reasons.
A weakened Agni plays a more crucial role in propagating acid reflux than an aggravated pitta dosha. The aggravated pitta dosha leads to hyperacidity and heartburn, which are the symptoms associated with acid reflux.
Hydrochloric acid is the primary expression of Agni and pachaka pitta (pitta associated with digestion) in the stomach. Low levels of this acid cause the ingested food to stay for a longer duration in the stomach as metabolism is slower due to the lowered acid levels, causing the regurgitation of the stomach contents into the esophagus.
An imbalanced Vata also contributes to the problem by causing an accumulation of air in the stomach, which may increase the risk of hiatal hernia or weakening of the sphincter.
According to Ayurveda, indigestion (Ajirna) aids the development of acid reflux. People who suffer from indigestion have disturbed Agni, which is caused due to the imbalance of the doshas. Ajirna is of three types based on the three doshas.
Ama ajirna is connected to the Kapha dosha. It is the type in which the increase of ama weakens the Agni and causes sinus congestion, the heaviness of the body, and constant burping.
Bistabdha ajirna is associated with Vata’s aggravation and manifests in the form of trapped or excessive air in the stomach causing abdominal pain.
Vidagdha ajirna is linked to an aggravated Pitta, which causes regurgitation of the stomach acid into the esophagus accompanied by the burning sensation.
Thus, acid reflux is a culmination of various factors. A weakened Agni is the primary one. Other factors, such as aggravation of the doshas and their imbalance, further strengthen the symptoms associated with acid reflux and aid in the process.
These imbalances of the doshas and Agni are attributed to certain dietary and lifestyle habits that act as GERD triggers. Some of the common triggers as mentioned in Ayurveda are as follows:-
- Consumption of spicy and oily foods
- Eating large portions of food at once
- Ingesting a heavy meal 2-3 hours before bed-time
- Exercising or lying down immediately after eating
- Consuming refined and processed foods
- Stressful state of mind
- Lack of proper physical activity.
These triggers can be avoided by being mindful of our dietary and lifestyle choices and making a few tweaks towards better digestive health.
Treating the Root Cause
Ayurveda emphasizes treating the root cause of any ailment rather than just the symptoms. It looks at any disease holistically. Diet and lifestyle are the two most important aspects that are focused on in Ayurveda as changes in both leads to great results.
Dietary changes, therapy, and yoga are the three cornerstones of any Ayurvedic treatment, including acid reflux treatment. It is a three-dimensional approach to healing. The procedure usually begins with understanding the underlying cause of acid reflux, which enables the Ayurvedic practitioner to curate a lifestyle plan suitable that is suitable according to that particular cause.
Given below are some tried and tested dietary, therapeutic, and yoga-related remedies that have worked wonders for people suffering from acid reflux. They are easy to incorporate and don’t cost you a ton of money!
The addition of herbs to one’s diet is one of the most effective Ayurvedic cures to treat not just acid reflux, but any kind of ailment or disorder. There are different categories of herbs that can be included in one’s diet to manage the various causes of acid reflux.
- Demulcent herbs, which are soft, moist, and have a protective effect on the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, can be added to the diet when aggravated pitta is the root cause of acid reflux. These herbs are pitta calming and will help solve the problem. Licorice, marshmallow root, and slippery elm are the best examples of demulcent herbs.
- Carminative herbs can be added to promote overall digestion. Their effect ranges from cooling to heating. The spice herbs like coriander, cumin, and fennel are calming and help support Agni without aggravating pitta, thus reducing the burning sensation caused. Whereas, ginger, black pepper, and asafoetida are warming spice herbs which can restore the digestive fire and pacify Kapha imbalance.
- Digestive stimulant herbs are heating in nature and strengthen Agni. They also include spice herbs such as ginger, black pepper, etc., that help treat the problem of a weak digestive force that leads to slow digestion and regurgitation.
Along with including herbs in your diet, consuming an overall diet that treats the root cause is a good way to go about as it helps in relieving the symptoms without further aggravating the problem.
For those suffering from a weakened digestive fire, eating a diet of light foods that are easy on the stomach, such as soups, stews, and broths are the ideal solutions. Adding stimulatory spices to the soups and stews will also strengthen the digestive fire. It is crucial to avoid heavy meals comprising rich foods such as milk, cheese, wheat, peanuts, etc.
In contrast, for those suffering from acid reflux due to an overwhelmed or inflamed stomach, kitchari, an Ayurvedic classic, is your best bet! Not only is it nourishing and light, but it also reduces inflammation effectively. Kitchari is an essential component of the Ayurvedic way of life and dates back to thousands of years. It is primarily composed of basmati rice and mung dal and has many variations. It is a balanced food that is easy to digest and bestows strength and vitality. Also, adding ginger to your diet will help reduce inflammation as it has anti-inflammatory properties.
Although pitta-related acid reflux is rare from an Ayurvedic perspective, it can be treated by consuming a cooling and heavy diet that includes foods like sweet potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, wheat, basmati rice, avocados, cranberries, bananas, etc. It is essential to avoid hot and pungent foods like red meat, alcohol, vinegar, grapefruit, orange, tomato, peppers, chilies, etc. in such cases.
As Ayurveda is a holistic science of healing, along with diet, specific therapies are recommended that aid in the healing process.
The Panchakarma treatment or therapy forms an integral part of Ayurvedic healing. Panchakarma, meaning ‘five actions,’ is a process used to cleanse all toxins and restore balance. It comprises of Vamana, Virechan, Basti, Nasya, and Rakta moksha as the five treatments. Among these five therapies, Vamana and Virechan are particularly recommended to treat the symptoms and root cause of acid reflux. They mainly target the digestive fire (Agni), the three doshas, and the toxins built up in the body.
Vamana or therapeutic emesis is recommended as the first line of treatment for acid reflux. It is one of the Panchakarma treatments of Ayurveda that cleanses all toxins and restores Agni potency at the cellular level, thus curing acid reflux. It is carried out in three phases to ensure maximum efficiency.
The preparatory phase (Purva Karma) comprises the administration of internal medicines to facilitate proper digestion, followed by internal and external oleation and sudation to bring the disease-causing doshas into the alimentary canal. The main phase (Pradhan Karma) comprises only oral medications to induce purgation, followed by the final step (Paschat Karma) comprising a particular diet regimen.
Virechan, or therapeutic purgation, is the other Panchakarma treatment used to cure acid reflux. It focuses on cleansing the excess pitta and is suitable for those suffering from acid reflux due to pitta imbalance. Like Vamana, it involves a Purva karma phase consisting of oleation and sudation, followed by the administration of purgatives like castor oil, psyllium seeds, flaxseeds, etc. to release the excess pitta and associated toxins.
Stress is a major contributing factor to acid reflux, and what better way to release it than Yoga! Research has shown that Yoga, coupled with other forms of treatment, helps cure digestive diseases such as acid reflux. Yoga alleviates stress, and certain poses work wonders in treating the different symptoms of GERD. Yoga for acid reflux focuses on easing the tension in the neck and spine region, improving breathing, and balancing the body. It works on the abdominal muscles to improve digestion. Some of the yoga asanas that aid in curing acid reflux are mentioned below.
Pranayama is the yogic practice of being in control of one’s breath, which is the source of our prana (life force). Kapalabhati and Agnisar kriya Pranayama are most effective when it comes to treating acid reflux. Their combined practice has shown to improve diaphragmatic tone and lessen esophageal sphincter relaxation, reducing reflux episodes.
Halasana or the plow pose is also useful in improving flexibility, strengthening the abdominal muscles, and improving digestion. As such, it helps in preventing the backflow of gastric juices into the esophagus.
Vajrasana, or the diamond pose, is a simple and effective pose that relieves stress and boosts digestion. It can be practiced even after having a meal to stimulate metabolism.
Pawanamuktasana, or the wind removing pose, effectively cures digestion and gas related problems by releasing the trapped air/gas.
Ushtra Asana or the camel pose stimulates the abdominal organs and helps improve digestion. It also enhances the flexibility of the abdominal and neck muscles and reduces the chances of acid reflux.
Marjariasana, or the cat stretch pose, is a complete stretch for the core and benefits the abdomen. It boosts blood circulation and massages the internal digestive organs to provide acid reflux relief.
Balasana, or the child’s pose, is therapeutic and nature and relieves tension. It provides instant relief from acid reflux symptoms as it massages and strengthens the abdominal digestive organs.
Adho Mukha Svanasana or the downward-facing dog pose does wonders in increasing the oxygen supply to the abdominal region, which relieves the burning sensation caused due to acid reflux.
Virabhadrasana II or the warrior II pose is another useful yoga asana to treat acid reflux as it strengthens the digestive system and ensures proper functioning of the digestive organs.
These asanas should be practiced regularly to yield maximum benefits because daily practice will ensure full efficiency and strengthen the digestive system and the related muscles.
Acid reflux is a nasty disorder that leaves a bitter taste in our mouths (literally!). On the brighter side, we no longer have to be victims of the burning sensation or fall prey to the temporary relief of conventional medications. Ayurveda provides a lasting cure. A cure without any side effects, and one which holistically treats the disease.
What are you waiting for?! Grab a handful of those healthy herbs and get into your favorite asana, as I come back with more Ayurvedic remedies for our other everyday health woes.