The Ayurvedic View on Digestive Enzymes
Upset stomach. Constipation. Bloating. These are a few of the telltale signs of indigestion. But should you reach for a digestive enzyme supplement the next time your digestion feels off? From the perspective of Ayurveda, you're probably better off strengthening your own innate digestive fire.
What are digestive enzymes?
When you eat, your stomach, small intestine, and pancreas all produce natural enzymes--proteins that help your body to break down food. Different types of foods require different enzymes; protease breaks down proteins, lactase breaks down lactose, amylase breaks down complex carbohydrates, and so on.
You can also buy manufactured digestive enzymes--supplements that may help to reduce gas, bloating, and other signs of indigestion. These pills contain plant- and animal-based enzymes like protease and amylase. But while enzyme supplements do have their benefits and can be helpful in a pinch (when you're traveling, for instance), most people don't actually need to take them.
Who needs to take digestive enzyme supplements?
Some people have medical conditions--such as cystic fibrosis and pancreatitis--that hamper their body's natural ability to produce enzymes. In cases such as these, physicians may recommend digestive enzyme supplements (always follow your physician's recommendations). But the average person's body naturally produces enough enzymes to digest all kinds of foods. And while it's okay to use store-bought enzymes in the short-term, taking them over time can actually be counterproductive.
When people use digestive enzymes, they often feel as though their digestion is improving--at least, initially. That's because these supplements are effective at masking boating, gas, and other symptoms of poor digestion. But they don't address the root cause, which is a weakened digestive fire. Over time, enzyme supplements can weaken your digestion, create dependence, and lead to a worsening of unpleasant issues. From the Ayurvedic perspective, it's better to tackle the root cause and strengthen your digestive fire using diet, herbs, and natural probiotics.
The Ayurvedic perspective on digestion & digestive enzymes
In Ayurveda, strong, healthy digestion is considered the foundation of good health. When your digestion is running smoothly, you're better able to maximize the nutrients from your food. A healthy digestive system also produces ojas, a subtle substance that supports overall vitality, immunity, and emotional balance. Conversely, weakened or poor digestion can lead to a buildup of ama, digestive impurities that clog the body's channels and lead to various health complaints.
The key to good digestion is a strong digestive fire, or agni. When your agni is burning brightly, your body's natural digestive enzymes and metabolic processes work smoothly. Healthy tissues and cells depend on healthy digestion, which is why digestion is such a key focus in Ayurveda.
With all that in mind, here are some natural Ayurvedic strategies for kindling your agni (digestive fire).
Ayurvedic alternatives to stimulate digestive enzymes
Start your day with a simple detox
First thing in the morning, after brushing your teeth, drink a glass of room-temperature or warm water, with a squirt of fresh lemon juice and a spoonful of raw honey (which contains naturally occurring enzymes). This simple morning tonic helps flush ama (toxins) from the digestive tract, priming your digestion for the day ahead.
Follow an Ayurvedic diet
Eat a largely vegetarian diet rich in whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fresh produce, and dairy (if tolerated). Favor warm, well-cooked foods, such as soups and stews, when your digestion feels taxed. Avoid overeating and aim to eat to the point where you feel three-quarters full. Follow the diet best suited to your Ayurvedic constitution (dosha type). Not sure what your dosha type is? Take our free Dosha Quiz and get personalized recommendations.
Use Enzyme-Boosting Spices
When you cook, incorporate digestion-boosting spices like ginger, turmeric, fennel, and fenugreek into your meals. Ginger is especially beneficial for aiding digestion, as it mimics the digestive enzymes your body naturally produces to process protein.
Eat Ginger Pickle Before Meals
Kindle your digestive fire before meals by eating a bit of fresh, grated ginger sprinkled with lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Ginger pickles are traditionally used in Ayurveda for their natural digestive-boosting power. Read more Ayurvedic secrets for excellent digestion.
Drink Lassi at Lunchtime
Lassi is a traditional probiotic Ayurvedic beverage made with yogurt, herbs, and spices. Yogurt contains probiotics that support healthy digestion and overall gut health. Learn how to make lassi at home. But remember: this beverage is best enjoyed at lunchtime, when your digestive fire is strongest. (Yogurt is a relatively heavy food.)
Avoid Ice-Cold Drinks and Food
When you pour cold water on a campfire, what happens? The flames go out! In the same way, ice-cold beverages and food can weaken your inner digestive fire, and slow your enzyme production. Skip the ice cubes in your water and aim for room-temperature or warm.
Try enzyme-boosting Ayurvedic herbs
Our Aller-GI formula is a synergistic blend of botanicals that strengthens and nourishes the gastrointestinal tract while supporting natural resistance to food sensitivities. Ingredients like pomegranate, cumin, clove, licorice, and caraway all help to balance your body's natural digestive enzymes. Other herbs and spices, like amla, turmeric, peppermint, and coriander support overall digestion and offer probiotic support. Triphala is another excellent Ayurvedic digestive toner. Learn all about the benefits of our Organic Triphala Rose.
Make Time for Meditation & Movement Each Day
"Rest is the basis of activity," as Maharishi AyurVeda's founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi famously said. To keep your mind, body, and digestion shipshape, make time for both rest and activity each day. Exercise and movement--even a walk around the block--enhances your metabolism and uplifts your mood. Yoga Asanas are particularly beneficial for digestion. Learn how to balance your digestion with asana.
Meditation allows your parasympathetic nervous system (a.k.a the "rest and digest" system") to regulate your mind and emotions. When your parasympathetic system is activated, it stimulates the production of saliva and digestive enzymes, helping you digest better at mealtimes.
Do a Seasonal Cleanse
From time to time, it can be beneficial to give your digestion a seasonal detox. Indigestion, bloating, gas, and constipation are all signs your digestion might need a little tune up.
For more information on how to prime your digestion naturally, check out our Digestion Wellness Hub! Listen to our Ayurveda 101 Podcast series on digestion, read up on helpful herbs, try deliciously balancing recipes, and more.