IBS: ‘Tummy-Ho’

Words: Dr Ambika P NAYAK

Our gut microbiome — as is now well-known — holds the key to maintenance of health and well-being.

The metabolic functions of the gut are termed as agni [digestive fire], in Ayurveda. This is as simple as it gets. The benefit of having a good agni is responsible to giving strength to the body, good skin complexion, enthusiasm, development and growth of the physical body, as well as improved quality of life and longevity. It is also said that this agni holds our prana within the body. We, as is rightly said, are what we eat — in other words, food and nutrition are one of the basic necessities of life.

Ayurveda evidences that the occurrence of any disease is determined by our vulnerability in any of the body tissues. This may occur due to improper diet, lifestyle and also imbalance in the doshas [vata, pitta, and kapha]. The outcome is anybody’s guess — disease, or illness.

In IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, as the name itself suggests, the imbalance is represented in the bowels.


  • Long periods of fasting cause acid leak into the bowels. This leads to direct irritation of the mucous membranes in the intestines
  • Binge eating practices, like eating too much, eating too frequently, even before the previous meal is completely digested — this leads a certain overload on digestion, while causing the system to disrupt
  • Eating food that is not suitable to one’s body type — some people are sensitive to certain spices, oil, or other ingredients, including excess sour and fermented foods, dry foods, sugary meals, fast-food, and processed food. Forcing oneself to eating what the body rejects may also trigger inflammatory responses in the bowels
  • Overdoing cleansing practices, viz., bulimia, or excess usage of laxatives, when not necessary, may be yet another cause
  • Certain illnesses, like typhoid, medications like NSAIDs, steroids, and aspirin, excess use of asafoetida, or chillies, may also trigger inflammatory changes.

There’s this new, interesting theory that suggests that IBS may be caused by gravity. As Dr Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, Director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai, Professor of Medicine, and author of the hypothesis, explains, “IBS — and, many other conditions — could result from the body’s inability to manage gravity. He says, “As long as there’s been life on Earth, from the earliest organisms to Homo sapiens, gravity has relentlessly shaped everything on the planet.” He adds, “Our bodies are affected by gravity from the moment we’re born to the day we die. It’s a force so fundamental that we rarely note its constant influence on our health.”

The hypothesis, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, describes how the intestines, spine, heart, nerves and brain evolved to manage gravity. “Our body systems are constantly pulled downward,” as Dr Spiegel notes, “and, if these systems cannot manage the drag of gravity, then it can cause issues like pain, cramping, lightheadedness, sweating, rapid heartbeat and back issues — all symptoms seen with IBS. It can contribute to bacterial overgrowth in the gut, a problem also linked to IBS.”

The listed causes [see above] may cumulatively cause disturbance in the balance of tridosha [vata-pitta-kapha] with symptoms of IBS — as Ayurveda evidences. This is referred to as grahani in Ayurveda literature.

The initial presentation of IBS may be mild; this may, at times, mimic other gastric disturbances, or symptoms like indigestion, or heavy feeling in the abdomen, headache, body pain, feeling of dryness in the mouth and throat, in spite of drinking adequate water, along with tiredness, dizziness, broken and loose stools, constipation, nausea, aversion to food, or lack of appetite, mouth ulcers, heartburn, burning sensation in the throat, or stomach, and sour belching.

When such tell-tale signs are not attended to, and when one continues to indulge in wrong diet habits, or practices, their digestive capacity weakens, so much so the simple breakdown of food particles doesn’t happen as it ought to. This leads to impairment in digestion, broken and loose stools, constipation, or alternating diarrhoea and constipation. They may all eventually lead to nutritional deficiencies — this may affect the muscles and bones, nerves, skin, like vague body and joint pains, fatigue, weakness, rashes etc.


The general line of treatment in Ayurveda is external therapies and panchakarma, a combination of different herbal powders, decoctions, asava arista, buttermilk recipes, and predominantly medicated ghee. This is suggested to first and foremost improve the agni and set the tone for healing and also strengthening of the intestinal mucous membrane.

Your professional Ayurveda physician will analyse the level and stage of IBS. Their primary objective is to strengthen the agni, with herbal appetisers and digestives. Various formulations are readily available, viz., hingwastaka churna, chitrakadi vati, agnitundi vati, abhayarista, vaishwanara churna, and lavanabhaskara churna.

Your Ayurveda physician will also probe in-depth the overt and covert symptoms of the disorder. If, for instance, it is IBS with diarrhoea or constipation, or both, they may prescribe well-chosen remedies derived from a wide range of Ayurveda formulations, viz., kutajarista, madhwasava, takrarista, chirubilwadi kashaya, pathyadi kadha, dadimastaka churna, parpati kalpa, kutaja ghana vati, bilvadi vati, dashamuladi ghrita, tryushanadi ghrita, changeri ghrita etc.

Things To Avoid

The patient is asked to figure out, or ascertain, as to what causes them IBS distress. It is best to eliminate them from the diet. The rule of the thumb is —  avoid wheat and its products, barley, black gram, peas [fresh and dried], rajma and other kidney beans, tubers [potato, sweet potato], drumsticks, cucumber, leafy vegetables, mushroom, garlic, fried food, betel leaves, sugarcane, mango, fermented and sweetened beverages, milk, whey, coconut water, jaggery, and raisins. It is also best to avoid drinking large amounts of water, at one go, including the intake of gomutra and performing strenuous activities, or rigorous therapies.

Things To Do

  • Fasting, under professional guidance
  • Opting for shashtika variety of rice, or gruel made from parched/popped rice [khoi, or battada aralu]
  • Softly cooked red lentils, pigeon peas, green gram, and curd made from low-fat milk of cows, curd, ghee, or butter made from goat’s milk
  • Sesame oil, honey, lotus stems, pomegranate, glue berries [lasode], flower of the banana plant, wood apple [bael fruit], cumin, buttermilk, amaranth, nutmeg, black plum [jamun], coriander seeds, persimmon, and meat soups.

They all, in concert, could help you to ease the IBS ‘fire in your belly’ — with good effect.

Dr AMBIKA P NAYAK, MD [Ayurveda], is Founder & Managing Director of Ayurvedeeyam, a speciality Ayurveda Clinic, based out of Bengaluru, with a branch in Udupi, Karnataka, India. Her passion for Ayurveda, the ancient, yet ‘completest’ natural medical system, and professional clinical skills are keyed to raising awareness for Ayurveda as a first choice of treatment for illness and healthy living. Dr Nayak also has credentials of being a family physician and she is loved by her patients of all age groups. She frequently shares talks regarding health with corporates and is a strong advocate of panchakarma, thanks to its fully holistic and proven therapeutic efficacy in the treatment and prevention of illness, or disease. She is also Assistant Editor [Ayurveda] @ ThinkWellness360 [Subject Photo: Courtesy: Freepik].

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