IBS or irritable bowel syndrome (also called spastic colon, irritable colon, or nervous stomach) is a condition in which the colon muscle contracts more often than in people without IBS. Certain foods, medicines, and emotional stress are some factors that can trigger IBS. If you have IBS, an IBS diet is needed. The right way of eating can help mitigate IBS symptoms. IBS causes according to Ayurveda, including improper ways of eating, can also be changed to bring some relief.
Here’s a quick review of what we will cover in this article.
- IBS Symptoms
- What Ayurveda Says About IBS
- IBS Causes
- IBS Treatment
- IBS Treatment In Ayurveda
- General Diet And Lifestyle Guidelines For IBS Diet + More
- IBS Diet + Your Digestion
- More IBS Diet Tips
- IBS + Physical Activity: Yoga & Meditation
In these contemporary, competitive times many of us remain constantly on the go. Being stressed has become second nature. Ingesting processed foods, multitasking, and eating on the run, untimely meals, late nights, and sedentary work culture further can take a significant toll on digestive health and excretory function.
Apart from food habits being an issue, suppression of natural urges, improper sleep habits, grief, anger, fear, suffering from chronic illness along with traveling and seasonal changes are factors which may lead to diminution of metabolic fire.
IBS symptoms include the following.
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Excess gas
- Change in bowel habits such as harder, looser, or more urgent stools than normal
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea
IBS does not have a direct impact on life expectancy but it does have a significant impact on performance and productivity. It causes depression, weakness, poor resistance and complicates social interactions. Modern medical science has limited solutions for IBS except for symptomatic control and psychological support.
The main symptoms of IBS include pain and discomfort in the abdomen, which is often associated with frequent diarrhea or constipation, as well as abnormal peristaltic movement of the intestines. The last symptom is often triggered by emotional or psychological stress. In addition, people with IBS suffer from intestinal spasms, the feeling of not being able to fully relieve their bowels, bloating or distention of the abdomen.
Apart from these symptoms, people with IBS suffer from heartburn (acid reflux), urogenital symptoms, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), headache, back pain and psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety. It is a functional disorder of the gut and not a structural anomaly.
What Ayurveda Says About IBS
According to Ayurvedic medicine there is a similar condition known as Muhur Badham, Muhur dravam malam,1 which means occasional constipation and hard stools along with occasional watery stool. Grahani roga is the term used to describe this health condition.
Although Grahani roga is a much wider term in itself representing many disorders, it includes all that is meant by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Ayurveda recognizes the digestive tract as the very first site that indicates ill health. Ayurveda views elimination as an important indicator of overall health because healthy elimination generally points to balanced agni (digestive fire), which is one of the keys to health and longevity.
Ayurveda defines health as the state of equilibrium of the tridoshas, the equilibrium of the agni (metabolic fire), and the dhatus (body tissues), mala kriya (elimination of waste), including cheerful state of atma (soul), Indriya (organs of perception) and manas (mind).2
Ayurveda considers Grahani as a Tridoshic disorder of the digestive system which occurs due to vitiation of Agni, in particular Jatharagni (the digestive fire), along with Saman Vayu, Pachak Pitta and Kledaka Kapha subtypes of Vata, Pitta and Kapha respectively.
Jatharagni is normal when Samana Vata (a sub-type of Vata dosha) is in its normal state. It becomes erratic (visham) when samana vata is unsteady. It becomes aggravated or very strong (tikshna) when samana vata is associated with Pitta. It is weak (manda) when samana vata is associated with Kapha dosha.
Agni is of four types: sama (normal), visama (erratic or unsteady), tikshna (very strong) and manda (weak).
Ayurvedic scholar Charaka described grahani to be the site of agni (digestive fire). Commentator Chakrapani Datta, elaborated that grahani is that which retains (grahanat)4 the downward movement of undigested food and retains it until it is fully digested. As this function of the intestine is greatly altered and it loses the ability to retain for a stipulated time according to one’s absorption needs, it is called Grahani Roga. The discomfort caused by this illness causes great distress and life becomes miserable with fatigue. Many people tend to lose weight over a period of time.
The most common theory behind the onset of IBS is a disorder of the interaction between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, although there may also be abnormalities in the gut flora or the immune system.
Publications suggesting the role of brain-gut “axis” appeared in the 1990s, such as a study entitled ‘Brain-Gut Response To Stress And Cholinergic Stimulation In IBS’, published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in 1993.
A 1997 study published in ‘Gut’ magazine suggested that IBS was associated with a “derailing of the brain-gut axis.” Psychological factors may be important in the etiology of IBS. It is diagnosed as per Rome III criteria. It shares symptoms of recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort and marked change in bowel habit for at least six months, with symptoms experienced on at least three days per month in the last three months associated with two or more of the following: pain is relieved by defecation, onset is associated with change of frequency of stools, onset is associated with a change in form (consistency) of stools.5
IBS Causes According To Ayurveda
Grahani being the site of Agni (digestive enzymes), is supported and nourished by the strength of the agni. Normally it restrains the downward movement of undigested food and releases the digested food (anna rasa) through the sides of the lumen into the circulation. In abnormal conditions, when the agni is weakened, the weak digestive enzymes bring about vidaha of food. That is, a part of the food is digested and a part remains undigested and is passed out as stool.
So the distinctive feature of Grahani is Pakvam yadapakvam malam. That means, the person passes stool which is partly pakva (digested), and partly apakva (undigested).6
Ayurvedic texts have cited various causes of IBS, the first being the improper ways of taking food which in turn leads to deranged agni (deranged functioning of the metabolic fire). The root cause in grahani roga is alteration of agni. Ayurvedic scholar Charaka in his text Charaka Samhita Sutra Sthana, chapter five, elaborated on these various causes including food combination and the proper quantity and quality of food to be eaten to sustain a healthy agni function.
The following list demonstrates IBS causes.
- Excessive Fasting
- Intake of food before the previous meal is digested
- Over eating or too scanty eating (binge eating)
- Improper combination of food items
- Unwholesome food intake: too heavy, too chilled, too drying or junk food items
- Improper time of eating
The Ayurvedic approach to managing IBS focuses on restoring the agni (the digestive fire) and this approach is definitely helpful. All illnesses are considered due to the imbalance of the doshas and are managed by balancing theories.
- IBS can be associated with derangement of agni due to imbalanced Samana Vata or a state of Visham agni. Saman Vata is located near the digestive fire and it’s activities are limited to the digestive tract, assisting in normal downward peristalsis movement.
- IBS can be associated with derangement of agni due to imbalance of Pachaka pitta or a state of Tikshna agni.
- IBS can be associated with derangement of agni due to an imbalance of Kledaka Kapha or Manda agni.7
- Visham agni: This represents an irregular appetite and digestive system with signs of variable hunger, bloating, indigestion, intestinal cramps, constipation, dry stool and gas. It is common in Vata types.
- Tikshna agni: presents intense hunger but with poor digestion. Also present may be thirst, tastelessness, dry throat, loose stool and a burning sensation and acid reflux.
- Mandagni: presents loss of appetite, slow digestion, heaviness after a meal, sluggish bowels, bulky stool, feeling cold.
IBS Treatment In Ayurveda
As you know, IBS is a functional disorder of the seat of Agni according to Ayurveda. IBS is a result of diminished digestive enzymes leading to Ajirna (indigestion).
Thus the line of management of IBS as per Ayurvedic principles is the following.
- Langhan or fasting (nothing by mouth)
- Deepan or carminatives, which kindles the agni (digestive fire)
- Pachan or digestives, which aids in digestion
- Sangrahi or intestinal restoratives, which increases intestinal absorption capacity of the intestine.
- Laghu or a light, easily digestible diet
Fasting is the willing abstinence or reduction from some or all food, drink or both, for a period of time. An absolute fast or dry fasting is normally defined as abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period, usually 24 hours, or a number of days. Water fasting allows the drinking of water. Other fasts may be partially restrictive, limiting only particular foods or substances, or be intermittent.
In a physiological context, fasting may refer to the metabolic state achieved after complete digestion and absorption of a meal. Several metabolic adjustments occur during fasting. Metabolic changes of the fasting state begin after absorption of a meal (typically 3–5 hours after eating).8
According to Ayurveda, langhan is of two types, shodhan (purificatory) and saman (palliative).9
- Shodhan is that which expels the doshas out of the body forcibly. There are 5 types or Panchakarma procedures.
- Samana (palliative treatment) is that which does not expel the increased doshas out of the body or does not excite the normal doshas but makes the imbalanced doshas balanced. It is of seven types.
7 Types Of Palliative IBS Treatment (Samana)
- Pachan (use of digestive aids /carminatives)
- Dipana (hunger producing / stomachic)
- Ksut (withstanding hunger/ avoidance of food)
- Trit (withstanding thirst)
- Vyayam (physical activity)
- Atap (exposure to sunlight)
- Marut (exposure to breeze)
All of the above forms of langhan have their individual sphere of action and reach. They are advised by a practitioner after assessing the dosha imbalance and the state along with the strength of the client.
For Dipana, herbs which stimulate the agni (digestive fire) like piper longum, root of piper longum, piper chaba, plumbago zeylanica, ginger (Zingiber officinalis), black pepper (Piper Nigrum), Ajmoda (celery), asafoetida mixed with light and easily digestible food like soups of green gram should be used.10
For Pachana, herbs that aid in digestion like Musta or Nut grass (Cyperus rotundus) and papaya (Carica papaya) should be used.11
Include Sangrahi herbs, herbs that bind the stool. Those include Aegle marmelos (wood apple / stone apple), stone of amra (stone of mango fruit), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) and more.12
Regular intake of Takra (buttermilk) is advised in IBS as it rekindles the digestive fire. It has an absorbent property and is light to digest. It has a sweet (madhur) post-digestive effect so it does not aggravate Pitta. As it is astringent (kashaya) in taste, ushna (hot) in potency and drying in nature it balances Kapha. Because of its sweet and sour taste, and due to its density it pacifies Vata. When prepared freshly, it does not cause a burning sensation.13 Therefore all the recipes of Takra (buttermilk) preparation described for treatment of abdominal disease should be used for the treatment of IBS.13
General Diet And Lifestyle Guidelines For IBS Diet + More
- Eat light to digest food and freshly cooked food
- Eat only when hungry
- Avoid long intervals between two meals
- Do not eat in between meals, it weakens the agni
- Pungent (katu), sour (amla), salty (lavana) taste rekindles agni, so start meals with these tastes
- Agni stimulating and increasing herbs are ginger, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and long pepper (Piper longum),
- Occasional fasting and a mono diet (Kitchari) on and off also helps to keep agni healthy
- Eat fresh fibrous fruits and vegetables everyday to cleanse the digestive system. Fruits low in fructose such as bananas, blueberries, grapes, oranges, lemon, lime, kiwi fruit, strawberry should be included.
- Certain vegetables cause gas and abnormal bowel habits. Avoid cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, coleslaw. Include eggplant, green beans, celery, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, yam, zucchini and squash.
- Include old rice or sorghum (Jowar), split green gram (moong dal), bitter gourd, pumpkin, pomegranate, Indian gooseberry, mint leaves (pudina), turmeric, coriander, cumin seeds, hing (asafoetida), rock salt, cow ghee, fresh buttermilk in daily food to prevent GI diseases.
- Drink a little lukewarm water after meals, it aids in proper digestion of food.
- Walk slowly for 15-20 minutes after every meal. It aids in the digestion of food.
- Eating foods with cold, wet and heavy qualities weakens the agni. Eating stale food also weakens the digestive fire.
- The sign that the previous meal is digested is when the breath is fresh.
READ MORE: Amla: The Sour, Anti Aging Ayurvedic Super Fruit + Amla Recipes, Tridoshic Vegan Pomegranate Pudding, Vata And Pitta Pacifying Pumpkin Black Bean Side Dish, Ayurvedic Holiday Sweets: Moong Dal Jaggery Halwa
Your IBS Diet + Your Digestion
Let’s now take a look at your diet based on your metabolic fire (deranged agni).
- Vishama Agni (Vata)—Soup of split green gram (moong dal) with panchakola. If you do not have panchakola, this soup can be made with ginger, black pepper and long pepper or trikatu. Use sweet and pungent flavors. Include Asafoetida formula with trikatu and ginger before you eat.
- Tikshna agni (Pitta)— Light, easily digestible diet with bitter herbs, lean meat soup and fresh vegetable soups (fibers). Use mild sour flavors to dilute excess acid. Include shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia) and amalaki to balance Pitta.
- Manda agni (Kapha)– Soup of split green gram (yavagu), light diet, soup of dried radish or Kulattha (horse gram) mixed with pungent, sour and saline herbs and buttermilk. Use pungent and bitter flavors. Include trikatu, ginger and cinnamon in your diet.
More IBS Diet Tips: When, How Much + How To Eat
Diet plays a very significant role in easing IBS as diet has a profound effect on elimination. Ayurveda emphasizes not only what you eat but also when you eat, how much you eat and even how you eat.
Try to follow these Ayurvedic practices to further strengthen digestion and elimination.
- Eat when hungry. Hunger is a natural indication that the body is ready to eat and that the digestive fire is strong enough to digest a meal and is satisfied by food. So it is best to eat only when you are hungry.14 Real hunger comes with a natural feeling of lightness and clarity, a pleasant anticipation of eating, and is satisfied by food.15
- Avoid long intervals between meals. It is usually a good idea to allow at least 3–4 hours between meals. It varies based on the type of meal and the individual. Also, avoid very long intervals between meals.
- Eat appropriate quantities of food. Ayurvedic scholar Charaka recommended the amount of food to eat should be that which does not disturb the equilibrium of doshas and dhatus and gets digested as well as metabolized in proper time. This is regarded as an adequate quantity.16 Ayurveda recommends much smaller meals: just the amount of food that we could hold in our two cupped hands. Another helpful guideline is to fill the stomach, as explained by Charaka, “for the purpose of taking food, the stomach capacity should be divided into three parts; one part of it should be filled up with solid food, the second part with liquids and the third part should be left for Vata, Pitta and Kapha, if you take food in due regard to this principle, you will not fall victim to the harmful effects of food taken in improper quantity”.17 Unless a portion of the stomach is left empty for the doshas, the food itself gets vitiated by the doshas.
- Enjoy a simple cleanse or detox program. Adopt a once a week or once a month detox, cleansing regimen. It can be as simple as a half day or a full day fasting, or liquid diet, or a single, light and easily digestible meal taken at one time called a mono-diet
As psychological factors like stress and anxiety impact bowel movements, so a daily routine makes you feel in tune with nature and balances the doshic imbalances. Include yoga and meditation into your daily regimen as a great way to ease symptoms.
Physical Activity: Yoga + Meditation
- Regular exercise for 30 minutes daily
- Yoga Asanas like cat pose, downward facing dog pose, sitting half spinal pose, bow pose, fish pose (matsyasana), wind relieving pose, plough pose, sun salutation (surya namaskar) are beneficial for IBS and constipation.
Yoga asanas are the Ayurvedic way to exercise. Yoga is not merely physical posture but it holds much more to it because yoga (meaning union), helps you to connect to your inner self, calms your mind and brings inner peace. Yoga asanas increase blood flow to vital organs, stimulate marma points (points in our bodies where concentrated prana is located) renders lightness to the body and prepares the body to face the struggles of the day. It also stimulates the digestive system and all the systems of the body essential for good health.
After exercise, sit quietly and do some deep breathing exercises (Pranayama) as follows.
- 12 alternate nostril breathes/ balancing breathing or Anulom -Vilom Pranayama for Vata type.
- 16 cooling (shitali) breaths / turtle breathing (curling up your tongue lengthwise and breathing through it) for Pitta.
- 100 kapalbhati (short, fast abdominal breaths) for Kapha.
All three can be done if you wish and have the time to balance all the three dosha. Yoga postures and Pranayama are great to prepare the body for meditation.
Meditation brings balance and peace to your life. Try and meditate for at least 15-20 minutes daily either morning or evening before dinner or both. Do not overexert yourself, meditate at your own convenience as you are accustomed to. Just de-concentrate, watch your breath and let go!
READ MORE: Watch: 12 Minute Calming Yoga Sequence
1. Shivcharan Dhyani, Kayachikitsa, Ayurvedic and Tibbi academy UP, Lucknow, pp-226.
2. P.V. Sharma, Sushruta Samhita (sutra sthana), Vol 1, Chowkhambha Vishva bharati, Varanasi, (2013), verse- 41, pp-173.
3. K.R. Srikantha Murthy, Ashtanga hridayam (Sarir Sthana), with English translations (vol 1), Chowkhamba Krishnadas academy, Varanasi (2016), pp-410.
4. R.K Sharma, Bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita (Chikitsa Sthana) Vol 4, Chowkhambha sanskrit series office, Varanasi(2017), verse-56, pp29.
5. Harrison’s principles of Internal Medicine, Vol 2 (2003), Mcgraw-Hill.
6. R.K Sharma, Bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita (Chikitsa Sthana) Vol-4, Chowkhambha sanskrit series office, Varanasi(2017), verse-51, pp-28.
7. K.R Srikanth Murthy, Astanga Hridayam (Sarir Sthana) Vol 1, Chowkhamba krishnadas academy, Varanasi (2016), verse-73, pp-410.
9. K.R. Srikantha Murthy, Astanga Hridayam (Vol-1), Sutra sthana, with English translation, Chowkhamba Krishnadas academy, Varanasi, (2016), verse-4-6, pp-192.
10. R.K. Sharma, Bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita (Vol-1), with English translations, Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series Office, Varanasi,(2016), verse-9, pp-89.
11. P.V. Sharma, Dravyaguna vijnan, Vol 2, Chaukhambha Bharati Academy,(2005), pp-370, 372.
12. P.V. Sharma, Dravyaguna Vijnana, Vol 2, Chaukhambha Bharati Academy,(2005), pp 455, 458.
13. R.K. Sharma, bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita(Chikitsa Sthana),english translation, Vol-4, Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series office, Varanasi(2017), verse-117-119, pp 46
14. Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998. Print. 100, 153-155, 212-213.
15. Lad, Vasant. Textbook of Ayurveda Vol III: General Principles of Management and Treatment. Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press, 2012. Print. 142.
16. R.K Sharma, Bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita, (Sutra Sthana) vol 1, Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series office, Varanasi,(2016), verse 4, pp 106.
17. R.K. Sharma, Bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita,Vol-2( Vimana Sthana), Chowkhambha sanskrit series office, Varanasi(2016), verse-3,pp-132