The Digestive and Immune Systems, an Ayurvedic Perspective
Ancient systems of medicine have long known the close relationship between the digestive and immune systems. Today, clinical research is providing new evidence to support that ancient knowledge. It’s exciting for herbalists and practitioners to see the research supporting what we have known. I’d like to share ways in which this knowledge can help you feel better, stronger, and healthier!
Traditional medicine systems such as Ayurveda understand the human body as an energetic organism. The subtle elements—Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Ether—work together in harmony to support, nourish, and heal the body. When this energetic system is disrupted or out of balance, illness results. Having a basic understanding of these elements and how they function in the body can help us to prevent illness and discomfort.
To understand the relationship between the immune and digestive systems, we must understand the main element that connects them: Fire.
The Fire element is dominant in the stomach and small intestine, where it is essential to breaking down and assimilating food. Fire is also present in the liver and spleen, driving the immune system’s ability to identify and attack invading pathogens. If this Fire in the body is weak, overwhelmed, or misdirected, digestive issues and unhealthy immune response can result. How that may manifest is dependent upon many factors, including lifestyle and individual constitution.
As an Ayurvedic herbalist, I work with people to help them understand their primary Dosha, or Ayurvedic constitution, which allows them to predict strengths and weaknesses associated with their body types, and to prevent common difficulties associated with their type.
Each of the three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, is made up of two energetic elements. Each dosha has its positive and negative attributes, and its particular role in the healthy functioning of the body. Each individual has their own unique balance of doshas within themselves, generally with one dosha strongest, this strong dosha is one’s constitutional type. Ayurveda is a vast body of knowledge, with many subtleties. I will do my best to keep my explanations approachable, and focused on the subject of Digestion and Immune Function.
- is made up of the elements Air and Ether
- it is responsible for all the movement in the body
- Vata circulates nutrients in the blood, and moves specialized cells from the immune system to where they are needed
- some of Vata’s strengths are: mobility, lightness, expansion, flexibility, overview, faith
- some of Vata’s weaknesses are: dryness, anxiety, coldness, nerve disorders, gas or constipation, poor nutrient absorption
- is made up of the elements Fire and Water
- it is responsible for perception and transformation in the body
- Pitta breaks down, assimilates, and absorbs nutrients in the digestive system, and is the energy that allows the immune system to identify and destroy pathogens and unhealthy cells
- some of Pitta’s strengths are: courage, determination, adaptability, passion, and focus
- some of Pitta’s weaknesses are: impatience, acidity, inflammation, anger, dominance
- is made up of the elements Earth and Water
- it is responsible for all lubrication in the body
- Kapha supports and nourishes, provides carrier fluids in the blood and digestion, and secretes mucus to protect delicate tissue
- some of Kapha’s strengths are: stability, patience, strength, compassion, and endurance
- some of Kapha’s weaknesses are: greed, rigidity, stuckness, excess growth, and excess mucus
With an understanding of the way these elements work in the body, we can begin to understand what support and encouragement the body needs for optimum health.
Next time, we’ll look at the doshas in action in the digestive and immune systems.