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Strengthening Your Gut Goes Beyond A Healthy Diet, Says This Ayurvedic MD

Young asian woman drinking a cup of coffee with curtains in the background
Image by Prostock-Studio / iStock
September 21, 2021

You've probably heard the saying you are what you eat—and while there is some truth to that statement, it's not the whole story. From an Ayurvedic perspective, you are what you digest.

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There's no doubt that the types of food you consume have an effect on your body and mind. But if you're only focusing on the "what," you might not be feeling your best—even if you're careful about eliminating foods you're sensitive to and eating organic, whole foods when possible.

Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old healing tradition of India, says there are five critical factors when using food as medicine: I call this the Principle of Ayurvedic Eating. It states that why, where, when, and how much you eat matter more than what you eat. All of these factors affect the strength of your digestive fire, which, in turn, affects your ability to eliminate toxins from your body and your mind.

Why it's not just about food.

The mouth is just one gate of entry into the human system, which is why altering your diet isn't the be-all and end-all to feeling better. There are many other gates of entry, including the eyes, ears, nose, skin, and thousands more at the energetic level that we cannot consciously perceive.

In Ayurveda, everything that enters the body and mind—lifestyle, routines, career, relationships, environment, and diet—is considered "food" because each of these affects our health.

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A strong digestive fire is a key to health.

According to Ayurveda, the digestion (or digestive fire, agni) is a key to achieving optimal health. A strong digestion will take anything that comes into the system, keep the nourishing parts it needs, and eliminate the rest. A weak digestive fire, on the other hand, will not be able to keep up with this process and thus toxins (or ama) build up and overwhelm the system—this can ultimately lead to imbalances, illness, and possibly disease.

Modern science refers to this as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS)1 or "gut-brain": two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your entire digestive tract. Although the second brain can't "think" the way your mind does, it does communicate directly with your big brain. In fact, studies show that a healthy gut microbiome supports mental health2 since the gut microbiome secretes the mood-boosting hormones serotonin and dopamine. Research also states that 70 to 80% of the immune system lives in the gut3, making a healthy gut essential to a healthy immune system.

This science reinforces what Ayurveda has believed for 5,000 years: Overall health is directly linked to the health of the digestive system.

How to make your gut smarter & stronger.

If you want to support your health, pay attention to your digestion. Here are three ways to make your gut smarter and stronger, according to Ayurveda:

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1.

Dry-brush.

The skin is the largest organ of the body, and dead body cells are a type of body waste. Sloughing them off with a dry brush before bathing can help the body excrete that waste from the skin more efficiently. It also stimulates the lymphatic system, which sits right under the skin, encouraging lymphatic drainage. I recommend dry-brushing for five to 10 minutes every morning. If you're new to dry-brushing, here's a step-by-step guide and a list of mbg's favorite brushes to help you get started.

2.

Drink tea.

In Ayurveda, teas are considered healing because they're made with nature's medicine: plants and spices. A warm tea made of equal parts cumin, coriander, and fennel (CCF tea) stokes the digestive fire, supports metabolism, and gets things moving in the digestive tract. Drink one cup of this tea first thing every morning and sip on it throughout the day.

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3.

Rest your digestion for 12 hours.

If your digestive system is constantly processing what's coming in, it never has enough time to send waste out. By allowing your digestion to rest for 12 hours overnight, it has time to clean itself up. Ideally, you'd have an early and light dinner by 7 p.m. and then wait until 7 a.m. the next morning to "break your fast," but follow whatever 12-hour time frame works for your schedule.

Bottom line.

A strong and healthy digestion creates a more balanced microbiome, which makes the communication between your brain and your gut clear. When you understand the Ayurvedic perspective that you are not what you eat, but what you digest, you understand that health goes way beyond your diet.

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Avanti Kumar-Singh, M.D.
Avanti Kumar-Singh, M.D.
Physician and Ayurveda Expert

Avanti Kumar-Singh, is an Ayurveda Wellness Expert on a mission to show how Ayurveda is a health catalyst to achieve optimal wellness in modern life.

After receiving her Bachelor's in Art History from the University of Chicago, she went on to receive her medical degree from Rush University Medical College. While working as an ER physician, she experienced first-hand the limitations of Western medicine. To learn more, Kumar-Singh began a 10-year wellness journey during which she studied energy healing and yoga therapy and became a practitioner of the 5,000-year-old ancient healing tradition known as Ayurveda.

Over the two decades of her training, study, and research, Kumar-Singh has shared her expertise with Fortune 500 companies, at elite undergraduate and graduate institutions, and at prestigious industry and medical conferences. She has been featured in the Huffington Post, goop, Thrive Global and mindbodygreen and served as the co-lead facilitator of the Faculty Scholars Program in Integrative Healthcare at the OSHER Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Medicine.

She is also the author of The Health Catalyst and The Health Catalyst Podcast. If you'd like to receive new episodes as they're published, please subscribe to The Healing Catalyst in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts..