In the past decade, scientists have begun to realize what Ayurvedic experts have known for millennia: gut health is the key to good health. New research shows that your microbiome—a bustling community of bacteria living in your gastrointestinal tract health—impacts everything from your digestion to your immunity and mood. Your microbiome contains a mix of beneficial and less-helpful bacteria; the goal is to maintain a healthy balance of both. In this article, you’ll learn all about your mighty microbiome, why it matters, and how to keep it healthy the Ayurveda way.
Why is gut health so important?
“All disease begins in the gut.” Hippocrates said it thousands of years ago, and it’s one of the foundational principles of Ayurveda as well. When your digestive fire (agni) burns brightly, you’re better able to maximize the foods and experiences you consume. You feel vital, energetic, clear-minded, and enthusiastic about life. But when your digestion is weak, your body struggles to assimilate nutrients and eliminate impurities (ama). Signs of ama in the gut, or digestive tract, include occasional bloating, indigestion, allergies, skin eruptions, and feelings of heaviness. Left unchecked, an accumulation of ama can lead to weakened immunity and other health problems—including mental and emotional challenges. Learn more about gut health and immunity.
The brain-gut connection
For decades, scientists have known that the nervous system is connected to the immune system and the endocrine system. But in recent years, they’ve discovered something called “the gut-brain axis”—a larger network that includes these three systems along with the gut and its bacteria. Think of this network as a highway that allows information to travel back and forth between the gut and the brain. When you’re stressed, your brain sends signals that can cause digestive upset. Similarly, when your digestion or gut bacteria are out of balance, they can negatively impact your mood.
Have you ever had a “gut feeling” about something? It turns out there’s a second brain in your body—the enteric nervous system. Within the walls of your digestive system are millions of nerve cells that regulate your digestion, working in tandem with your brain and central nervous system. Research has shown that irritation in the gastrointestinal system—and its bacteria—can impact the central nervous system and trigger mood changes. Another great reason for keeping your gut health shipshape!
How can I improve my gut health naturally?
Ayurveda offers plenty of simple, natural strategies for boosting your microbiome health and supporting the growth of friendly bacteria. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites for you below.
Follow an Ayurvedic diet
Whatever your wellness goal or challenge, digestion and gut health are always the first line of defense in Ayurveda. Here are five easy ways to boost your microbiome through your daily diet.
1. Start your day with lemon water
According to ancient Ayurvedic texts, drinking a glass of lukewarm water mixed with a spoonful of raw honey and the fresh lemon juice first thing in the morning on an empty stomach helps to cleanse the digestive tract. Moreover, lemon juice is high in vitamin C, and honey helps to fire up your agni. It’s a simple little formula, but it helps you start the day off with some gentle detoxification.
2. Follow a rest and repair diet
When you need to get your digestion back on track, consider a Rest and Repair diet, recommends Keith Wallace, PhD, co-author of Gut Crisis: How Diet, Probiotics, and Friendly Bacteria Help You Lose Weight and Heal Your Body and Mind. Reducing or eliminating your intake of wheat, sugar, and dairy for a week or two can do wonders for your system. And if sugar cravings start to feel unmanageable, try popping a cardamom pod in your mouth and sucking on it. Cardamom ties into your dopamine reward system, satiating cravings for sweets. You can also drink bone broth to help repair your gut wall.
3. Eat according to your dosha type
After a week or so on your rest and repair diet, follow the diet that is suitable for your Ayurvedic mind-body type (or dosha type). Not sure what your dosha type is? Take our free Dosha Quiz to find out and get customized recommendations. And here are some delicious Ayurvedic Recipes to explore.
4. Feed your inner fire before meals
If you’ve been eating lots of rich, heavy, or sugary foods lately, you’ve heaped a lot of heavy logs on your digestive fire! As a result, the flame might be a bit diminished. A great way to rekindle your digestive fire before meals is to eat a slice of ginger with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Or, if you’re suffering from an acid stomach from time to time (which can also happen with overeating), Pomegranate Chutney helps bring things back into balance. For more tips on stoking your digestive fire, check out our article on Ayurvedic secrets for excellent digestion.
5. Sip some detoxifying spice tea
Sometimes the simplest things are the most powerful. Our Digest and Detox Tea helps to stimulate the lymphatic system, improves nutrient absorption, and flushes toxins through the urinary tract. This potent brew contains organic cumin, fennel, and coriander seeds, which help to counter sluggish digestion. Daily elimination is important in Ayurveda, because it prevents the accumulation of toxins in the digestive tract.
Use probiotics and prebiotics
One of the best things you can do to support your gut health naturally is to consume probiotics and probiotics.
Probiotics are healthy microbes found in foods like yogurt. You can also find probiotics in supplement form, but the traditional Ayurvedic way to consume them is through lassi, a delicious probiotic beverage. Rich in lactobacilli—bacteria your intestines need to function well—lassi helps to prevent and reduce gas and bloating when you drink it with meals. And, if you use our digestive lassi recipe, you’ll also benefit from digestion-boosting spices like ginger, cumin, and coriander. There are plenty of other lassi recipes to explore, from classic mango to rose petal mint, and other delicious variations.
Prebiotics are, essentially, foods that feed probiotics. (Boosting your friendly bacteria intake is important, but you also need to create an environment where it can take hold and flourish!) Certain fruits and vegetables have prebiotic properties, such as apples and asparagus. Our Flora Tone supplement contains herbs like holarrhena, caraway, vidanga, and ajowan, which were traditionally prescribed by ancient Ayurvedic practitioners to support healthy intestinal flora. Organic Triphala Rose is another Ayurvedic supplement that’s extremely beneficial for gut health. Read more about the benefits of triphala.
Avoid certain foods
Some foods are harder for your body to digest and can lead to digestive toxins that encourage less healthy gut bacteria to flourish. Whenever possible, try to reduce or avoid foods that are frozen, canned, heavily processed, or ice cold. All items on this list can slow your digestive system and lead to discomfort down the line. Also on the to-avoid or reduce list: refined sugars and flours, aged hard cheese, non-organic foods, genetically modified foods.
Shake up your lifestyle
Stanford research shows that spending time outside is not only great for your body, it also improves your mental health . As your mind and gut are intimately linked, spending time outside may be therapeutic for your stomach, too. Morning walks are also considered a rasayana (rejuvenative), according to ancient Ayurvedic texts.
“Get out in the morning for at least twenty minutes, even on a cloudy day, and walk,” says Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., in this video. “Enjoy the beautiful, enlivening, refreshing air of the morning and the morning light. It will benefit your metabolism all day long and also help you sleep at night.”
Yoga asanas are also very beneficial for digestion, as they relax the mind and tone the organs. Spinal twists are especially helpful for awakening a sluggish gut.
We hope you found this article on Ayurveda and gut health helpful! For more great tips on boosting your digestion and microbiome, check out our Digestion Wellness Hub.