Ayurveda And Heartburn, Acid Reflux And GERD – Cooling Heated Pitta Digestion
30% more people are experiencing GERD than a decade ago, according to the GI Society. If you’re sounding hoarse and it’s not a cold, it could be heartburn, acid reflux, or GERD.
The three terms are often used interchangeably, but there are significant differences. According to Healthline, “Acid reflux is a common medical condition that can range in severity from mild to serious. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the chronic, more severe form of acid reflux. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and GERD.”
According to Ayurveda, what’s behind heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD is Pitta dosha, but first we’ll peel apart all three. Next, we’ll look at ways Ayurveda may help cool Pitta and ground Vata.
This mild to severely painful sensation is felt in the esophagus. The esophageal tissue is more delicate than the stomach which is designed to tolerate stomach acids. When stomach acids flow the wrong direction (Vata dosha at work here), the acid causes pain.
Acid is the Pitta aspect, and the wrong directional flow of the acid is Vata. So this is a dual dosha imbalance. According to Ayurveda, the more doshas that are involved, the more serious the condition may be.
True to Pitta’s characteristics, the sensation of heartburn is sharp, pressured, and burning. Learn more about the 3 Ayurvedic Doshas and Their Impact on Your Life.
According to Healthline, “Heartburn usually occurs after eating. Bending over or lying down can make it feel worse. Heartburn is quite common. It is estimated that more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. ….Your heartburn may be a symptom of a more severe problem like acid reflux or GERD.”
There’s a sphincter muscle (circular, think something like a rubber band) between the stomach and esophagus. It tightens as food passes to the stomach. Sometimes that muscle doesn’t do its job and stomach acid (Pitta) flows the wrong direction (Vata) back up into the esophagus.
Acid reflux can cause heartburn and other Pitta symptoms that include:
- Sore throat, hoarse voice
- Bitter taste in the back of the throat
- Sour taste in the mouth
- Burning and pressure that can extend up the breastbone
Put simple, GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease….is chronic acid reflux. According to Healthline, “It’s diagnosed when acid reflux occurs more than twice a week or causes inflammation in the esophagus. Long-term damage of the esophagus can lead to cancer. Acid from the stomach can damage the lining of the esophagus if GERD is left untreated. This can cause bleeding, ulcer, and scarring.”
Symptoms of GERD include:
- Bad breath
- Damage to tooth enamel due to excess acid
- Feeling like stomach contents have come back up to the throat or mouth, or regurgitation
- Chest pain
- Persistent dry cough
- Trouble swallowing
Now, let’s look at this through the magnified Pitta lens of Pitta, specifically Pachaka Pitta which resides in and governs the stomach and digestion. From an Ayurvedic perspective, these digestive conditions involve both Pitta (acid, heat) and Vata (movement upward, the wrong direction).
Pachaka Pitta: Stomach & Digestion
Pachaka Pitta governs digestion from within the small intestine. In Ayurveda, digestion is considered the bedrock of our health. Plus, Pitta dosha is deeply associated with agni, our digestive fire. Thus, Pachaka Pitta has a profound influence on all other forms of Pitta.
Pachaka Pitta enables proper digestion and absorption of the foods that nourish our entire being. As Pachaka Pitta is a foundational subdosha, Pitta imbalances are often first observed as digestive issues.
There comes a day if Pachaka Pitta begins to aggravate that we may notice, or not, a general sense of heat in our belly. We may pass it off as something we ate or drank. Left unchecked, Pitta dosha continues to aggravate the lower stomach and small intestine. It may manifest as hyperacidity or looser stools. Check out our article on Poo Analysis with Ayurveda: What Your Poop Says About Your Health to learn more.
“If we still have not taken notice or steps to care for aggravated Pitta dosha, it continues to burn. Clients often have one heated digestive issue and then another. If Pitta dosha overflows from it’s home in the digestive tract, it travels into general circulation and may manifest as heat flashes, flushing, and skin conditions. Depending on the individual, Pitta is not properly pacified, it will continue to spread to other parts of the body and mind, and Pitta dosha will establish itself here, there, and in time, possibly everywhere.
Clients tell me, “I feel inflamed all over, and the doctors can’t find what’s wrong. From Ayurveda’s view, yes–clients know what they feel–they feel Pitta that has spread. They will start their consultation with a list of 6-12 chief concerns, all with one root-Pitta dosha. Seeing that so many health concerns come from one root provides clients with immediate relief and hope. Read their stories and see how clients put out the wildfire of Pitta dosha” -Veena
Thanks to modern dietary and lifestyle stressors, fiery Pitta dosha is prone to overheating – particularly in the summer months and during periods of stress. One of the most common symptoms of heated Pitta is Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as heartburn or acid reflux.
If you’re sounding hoarse and it’s not a cold, it might be GERD. According to Harvard Medical School,”…your lower esophageal sphincter. That’s the muscle that controls the passage between the esophagus and stomach, and when it doesn’t close completely, stomach acid and food flow back into the esophagus. The medical term for this process is gastroesophageal reflux; the backward flow of acid is called acid reflux.
Acid reflux can cause sore throats and hoarseness and may literally leave a bad taste in your mouth. When acid reflux produces chronic symptoms, it is known as gastroesophageal reflux disorder, or GERD. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn—pain in the upper abdomen and chest.”
Cooling Heated Pitta Dosha for Digestive Relief
If something you eat manifests with a fiery vengeance, you may be experiencing symptoms of GERD. Over 20% of Americans have heartburn at least once a week, and it’s not just uncomfortable – it can cause serious health issues if left untreated.
In Ayurveda, digestive issues like GERD are caused by an imbalance in Pitta dosha. To remedy these ailments, we must cool Pitta in the body.
There’s never just one symptom of high Pitta
You may think heartburn, loose bowel movements, and migraines are unrelated ailments – but they stem from the same root cause, aggravated Pitta dosha. Ayurveda connects the dots, and allows us to see how digestive function manifests as a multitude of bothersome issues.
In general, GERD and other digestive symptoms of Pitta dosha – such as ulcerative colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), inflammation, migraines, eczema, liver concerns- – may be considered, in part, lifestyle ailments. Thus, our diet, herbal remedies, and lifestyle practices can provide relief.
“I had trouble keeping weight on and had lost 10 pounds. No matter what I ate, I felt like something was missing. My family doctor said I had colitis. Also, my energy level was very low, and I was using medication almost daily for a skin condition that my dermatologist recommended. Add to this severe migraine headaches about every two weeks. Following Veena’s guidance, all of these conditions have been nearly eliminated!
I gained 10 pounds, and my energy level is now strong and stable. When I eat, I feel satisfied. My skin condition has stabilized, and the migraines have essentially disappeared. I’m very grateful to Veena for the wonderful results and the healthier quality of life we have attained together. Without reservation, I highly recommend Veena at Saumya Ayurveda.” -Chris Schirber, Yoga Instructor, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Food as Medicine for Pitta Dosha Digestion
Water helps soothe heated Pitta. Drinking plenty of warm or room temperature water. Water pacifies Pitta, which can alleviate gastric issues such as heartburn and loose bowel movements. Better yet is to drink herbalized tea specific to your constitution and needs. Avoid drinking coffee, soda, or alcohol – which can have the opposite effect.
Ayurvedic Diet for Acid Reflux
Processed foods are harder to digest – and spicy or oily foods aggravate inflamed Pitta. Incorporate mild, cooling foods to decrease internal heat. Eat meals when you’re relaxed, at the same time every day, to help your digestive system find a healthy rhythm.
Herbs for Pitta Dosha Digestion
Herbal remedies that reduce inflammation and balance digestion can soothe GERD, loose stools, IBS, and other symptoms of heated Pitta dosha.
- Licorice and Neem: These extremely valuable gastroprotective herbs help regulate
- Shatavari and Vidari: Both mucilaginous herbs, these help balance pitta dosha, soothe GERD symptoms, and improve gastric functioning.
While herbal remedies can be truly life-changing, they must always be consumed properly–what herb is correct for each person varies. An Ayurvedic professional can develop a personalized plan for your unique body, composition, and life situation – book a consultation to get started.
Lifestyle for Pitta Dosha Digestion
“It’s time we reclaim our calm.” – Veena | Saumya Ayurveda
Our lifestyle habits affect how we feel mentally and physically – and how we digest food. Release pressure by taking moments of meditation throughout the day. Listen to this 2-minute guided meditation, or this 11-minute systemic relaxation meditation, twice daily for a quick reset.
As Pitta dosha is ruled by fire and water, we can harness the latter to soothe the heat. Spend time by the water (preferably flowing water) to tap into its cooling and nourishing properties. Even a few minutes will help.
“When it comes to our lifestyles, what we don’t do is just as important as what we do.” -Veena
Give yourself a break, and don’t overdo it. Pitta can be intense and fiery – take time to breathe, rest, and cool down throughout your busy day. Also important – don’t take things too seriously. Humor and laughter can keep us from getting stressed or hot-headed, so queue up the funny cat videos.
Harvard Medical School suggests 9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication that include several tips consistent with the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda such as: eating mindfully and only until 3/4 full, avoid incompatible foods, avoid exercise after eating instead favor a walk, and losing weight (Kapha) if indicated.
In another article by Harvard Medical School, Proton-pump inhibitors: Should I still be taking this medication? “New guidelines by the American Gastroenterological Association have highlighted the need to address appropriate PPI usage, and they recommend that PPIs should be taken at the lowest dose and shortest duration for the condition being treated.”
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