The Relevance Of Probiotics In Ayurveda
Probiotic is a term that is rapidly gaining popularity in the drug and pharmaceutical industries these days. Here we take a look at the benefits of probiotics, their uses in Ayurveda, and the best Ayurvedic probiotics for gut health.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts present mostly in our digestive systems. These are the “good bacteria” that keep the gut environment healthy.
The mode of action of how exactly these probiotics work is still being researched.
Types of Probiotics
Here are the descriptions and uses of some of these probiotics.
- Found in yogurt and other fermented foods.
- These strains can mainly help with diarrhea and lactose intolerance.
- Found in some dairy products.
- Eases IBS or irritable bowel syndrome.
- Yeast found in probiotics.
- Eases digestive problems and diarrhea.
A Brief History On Probiotics
19th-century French pediatrician Henry Tissier observed that gut microbiota from healthy breast-fed infants was dominated by rods with a bifid shape (bifidobacteria) which were absent from formula-fed infants suffering from diarrhea
He was instrumental in establishing the connection between bacteria and gut health. Many clinical studies were conducted in the 19th and 20th centuries following Tissier’s observations.
However, these studies often faced practical challenges such as strain specificity of properties and the slow growth of probiotics in substrates other than human milk.
Nowadays, there is more substantial evidence that probiotic bacteria can contribute to human health.
What Are Probiotics?
Until recently, the most well-known definition for the term probiotics was that of Dr. Roy Fuller – “probiotics are live microbial feed supplements which beneficially affect the host animal by improving microbial balance”1
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations World Health Organization recently redefined probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”2
Probiotic Food Products
Ever since gut health has come in forefront, probiotic food products are popping up everywhere. From yogurt commercials to the shelves of pharmacies and grocery stores, probiotics are widely available.
The range of food products containing probiotic strains is still growing. The most popular sources of probiotics are the following.
|Dairy-Based Probiotics||Non-Dairy-Based Probiotics|
|Fermented Milk||Soy-based products|
|Buttermilk||Variety of juices|
To evaluate the effectiveness of incorporating probiotic strains certain factors has to be considered like the following.
- Compatibility of the product with the microorganism.
- Maintenance of its viability through food processing, packaging, and storage conditions.
- The product’s pH which is responsible for the bacteria’s survival and growth.
Overcoming probiotic stability and viability is highly important when considering the products.
Ayurveda On Gut Health
The term ‘gut health’ is well known in the health industry nowadays. The importance of gut health extends beyond just proper digestion and assimilation.
The gut microbiome helps in generating a healthy ecosystem by breaking down the food we eat and absorbing nutrients from it.
Ayurveda has stressed on the importance of gut health for ages. You might have heard of the concept of Pitta dosha in Ayurveda.
The word Pitta originates from the Sanskrit root ‘tap–santaape’ that means to heat, to burn or warm-up. Pitta is described as agni (fire) as its functions resemble that of fire.
This is why agni in Ayurveda is often translated as the ‘digestive fire’. The functions of Pitta can be attributed to those of digestion, assimilation, thermos-genesis, and metabolism.
With an increase in Pitta, the blood tissue also gets vitiated resulting in circulatory and inflammatory disorders.
Ayurvedic scholars have also mentioned that while doshas are omnipresent, each of the doshas has a specific location in the body. In this case, the location of Pitta dosha is in between the navel and epigastrium.
When Pitta gets vitiated, the raktha dhathu (blood tissue) also gets affected. Ayurveda has mentioned seven types of basic tissues in the human body. Blood tissue or rakta dhatu is one of them.
There is a direct relation between Pitta and raktha. This direct relation is known as ashraya–ashrayi–sambandha. It means the inseparable relationship between the abode and resident.
Here the blood tissue is the abode, and Pitta dosha is the resident. If the dosha is in equilibrium, the dhathu (tissue) will also be healthy and vice versa.
With an increase in Pitta, the blood tissue also gets vitiated resulting in circulatory and inflammatory disorders.
Ayurvedic View On Disease Formation
Appropriate knowledge of this concept of ashraya-ashrayi-bhava helps in providing a proper treatment protocol as well.
When there a vitiation of Pitta in the body, the best panchakarma or a detox procedure like virechana (purgation therapy).
The etiology of many illnesses in Ayurveda originates from the improper functioning of the digestive system which alludes to a therapeutic understanding that differs from conventional Western medicine.
The Ayurvedic process of disease formation takes a longitudinal approach which builds sequentially overtime. This is comprised of the following six steps.
Accumulation – A dosha is disturbed whilst localized in one of the three core dosha sites: stomach (Kapha), small intestine (Pitta) and colon (Vata).
Aggravation – Without proper care, the symptoms mentioned above will worsen and continue to accumulate in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract.
Overflow – The irregular dosha spreads throughout the body, moving into the bloodstream.
Moving and Localization – The dosha begins to move into organs and bodily tissues which are susceptible to disturbance, staying dormant until the disease is apparent.
Manifestation – The first signs of the illness develop which can be measured and named. Names given to such disease in Western medicine include cancer, diabetes, and bronchitis.
Chronic Complications And Distinction – The disease takes a complex and/or chronic form. Meaning that the disease might have advanced into a further stage of aggravation, for example, an abscess becoming a chronic ulcer.
Most importantly, most dosha problems originate from the digestive tract (regardless of which dosha has been vitiated).
Once a dosha starts to move outside the digestive tract, it starts circulating throughout the body via the blood.
If there is no therapeutic intervention to stop the dosha from spreading, it will move into the fourth stage of localization.
This is the stage where the disease will take shape, including all relevant symptomatically, by impacting tissues and vital organs throughout the body. 3
When talking about the concept of gut health in Ayurveda the term ‘ama‘ is also important.
The Ayurvedic Concept Of Ama
Ama is a toxic, heavy, unctuous, and sticky juice-like substance which originates as a waste-product of digestion and metabolism. Indeed, the word ‘ama’ can be translated to mean immature or incompletely digested.
Ama builds up in individuals with weak digestion and those consuming the wrong foods.
Since one’s digestive capacity is in part determined by one’s prakriti (genotype), individuals with strong digestions (a characteristic associated with Pitta prakriti) can eat larger quantities and richer foods without forming ama.
In contrast, individuals with weak agni have weak digestive powers (a characteristic associated with Kapha prakriti) and produce ama easily.
Ayurveda states that simple foods minimize the formation of ama, whereas foods high in protein or fat result in an increased production of ama.
This is because such foods are intrinsically difficult to digest and are therefore more likely to be partially digested. An ayurvedic practitioner diagnoses the signs and symptoms of ama.
Typically, ama manifests as a sticky, white coating on the tongue, which obstructs various internal microchannels.
It is associated with characteristic symptoms such as inability to taste food, local or general inflammation, sudden fatigue, heaviness, pain, abdominal discomfort, lethargy, indigestion, and constipation.
Since ama is considered the root cause of disease, it must be fully digested before one can rectify vitiated dosha(s).
Accordingly, strengthening of agni and complete digestion of ama are major goals of ayurvedic treatment.
Therefore, therapies such as purgation, enema, or therapeutic emesis lead to the complete digestion/elimination of ama and the separation of the vitiated Dosha from various channels.
The improved agni results in complete digestion of ama, and leads to a state known as nirama meaning free from ama.
The nirama stage is favorable for additional treatments aimed at resolving vitiated or depleted Dosha and dhatus and reversing the disease pathology.
Notably, the popular panchakarma procedures for eliminating vitiated Doshas are only effective if preexisting ama has been completely digested. 5
Rebalancing Your Gut Flora Ayurvedically
- Include beneficial prebiotics in your diet. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that the human body cannot digest. They serve as food for probiotics.
- Some healthy source of prebiotics include – agave, banana, chicory, dandelion, garlic, onion, jicama, and others.
- Eat a diet of whole foods. Ayurveda emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods.
- Limit or avoid animal-based products. Focus more on fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Include these whole foods in the majority of your meals.
- Limit or reduce the usage of antibiotics, acid blockers, and anti-inflammatory medicines.
- According to Ayurveda, good digestion is the key to health. So many herbs are available for improving the digestion and assimilation like trikatu, triphala, and chitraka.
Takra – The Ayurvedic Probiotic
Classical Ayurvedic medical texts like Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, Bhavaprakasha, and Chakradatta, in the treatment context of grahani (IBS), arsha (hemorrhoids) mentioned the judicious use of takra as medication.
In Ayurveda, we have a substantial number of references explaining the importance of takra – “He who uses takra daily does not suffer from diseases, and diseases cured by takra do not recur; just as amrita (divine nectar) is for the gods, takra is to humans” 6
Takra cleanses the channels of circulation (srotas), as a result of which rasa, the end product of the digestion of food, reaches the tissues properly. It creates proper nourishment, strength, and complexion.7
Ayurvedic scholar Charaka opines that buttermilk removes such blockages and purifies the strotas or channels. This causes better ayana (movement) of anna-rasa (nutrients).
When adequate nutrition is obtained by koshas (cells), they start working with full force.
Due to the saturation/aging of strotas during old-age, the control systems of the body do not get adequate nutrients, which cause aging symptoms such as reduction of memory (dementia), reduced vision, wrinkles on the skin, graying of hair, and others.
But those who take buttermilk regularly, do not age faster, keep their arteries flexible for a longer time. Thus, buttermilk is an elixir which keeps jara (old age) and vyadhi (disease) away.
Is Yogurt A Good Probiotic?
Yogurt is a natural probiotic. It has an abundance of good bacteria beneficial for the body’s digestive tract.
Good quality yogurt is made up of several types of bacteria which increase the numbers of beneficial bacteria in the intestines.
Bacteria that are normally present in meals get destroyed in the acidic environment of the stomach and the salty and watery environment of the small intestine.
However, bacteria in yogurt are able to survive these environments and reach the large intestine where they digest prebiotics (food fibers consumed by bacteria).
They then form short-chain fatty acids in the acidic environment of the large intestine. This helps support the body’s immune system and is believed to make the body stronger with the formation of antibodies called IgA.8
The knowledge of probiotics and rebalancing your gut flora can help you in regulating the digestion and assimilation processes thereby ensuring good health.
Please consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before using the probiotics and herbs mentioned in this article. Consult your primary healthcare provider to see if probiotics are right for you.
- Fuller R. Probiotics in man and animals. Journal of Applied Bacteriology. 1989;66(5):365–378. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2666378
- FAO/WHO. Report on Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food Including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria. 2001.
- Lad V.D. Ayurvedic Press; Albuquerque, NM: 2006. Textbook of Ayurveda: volume 2-A complete guide to clinical assessment.
- Mitra J. Ashtanga Samgraha. Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series Office, Varanasi, India, pp. 168, 2006
- Sumantran, V. N., & Tillu, G. (2012). Cancer, inflammation, and insights from Ayurveda. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 2012, 306346. doi:10.1155/2012/306346
- Sri Brahmasankara Misra, Sri Rupalalaji Vaisya. Bhavaprakasa of Sribhava Misra including Nighantu portion-edited with the Vidyotini Hindi Commentary. 11th ed. 2004. Varanasi: Chaukhambha publications; 1992
- Agnivesha. Charaka Samhita – Revised by Charaka and Dridhabala with Ayurveda Deepika commentary of Chakrapani Datta. 3 rd ed. Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar Press; 1941. pp.738
- Dr. Rajeshwari P. N., Verma, A., B., P. B., and P., V. J., “Probiotics in Ayurveda”, International Ayurvedic Medical Journal, vol. 1, no. 2, 2013.