Attaining Optimal Weight through Balanced Digestion
by Prashanti de Jager ©2012
Traditional wellness systems often reveal that a balanced digestion is the root of all health. In this article we will dig down and see dozens of mechanisms of how herbs are excellent in supporting this foundation of enduring wellness. One of the many wholesome benefits of having a balanced digestion is the increased ability to attain your optimal weight.
So let’s look at how we can support balance in the three main arenas of digestion: the stomach, the intestines and the liver.
Balancing Stomach Digestion
Traditional medicine usually divides digestion function, especially in the stomach, into three simple categories, too slow, too fast and just right. But just what does that mean and what can we do about it?
In our stomach there are two main and opposing forces which are known as the aggressive factors and the protective mechanisms. The aggressive factors include the gastric juice composed of hydrochloric acid and all the enzymes that break down the food. The protective mechanisms include bicarbonate to help lower the pH of the acid if needed and also the mucus and the mucous membrane of the stomach.
So when digestion is too fast in the stomach it typically means that the aggressive factors are too great relative to the protective mechanisms. Slow digestion is typically the opposite, when protective mechanisms are too strong relative to the amount of aggressive factors present.
“Relative” is the operative word here. It is not necessarily the case that some facet in your stomach physiology is bad or wrong, but rather it is simply that two facets that are required for health are out of balance relative to each other.
Of course one commonsense way to balance the stomach digestion is to remove the cause, which often is a bacteria but also can be stress, cigarettes, alcohol, acidic food, sustained intense emotions and numerous prescription drugs like NSAIDS.
One of the best remedies for helping maintain balanced factors in the stomach is the herb called Amla, or Amalaki, which is the fruit pulp of Emblica officinalis. It has potent antioxidant polyphenols including one of the highest levels of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), bioflavanoids, ellagic acid and other tannins.
Its name is derived from Amala meaning pure, clean, shining and with the suffix ki Amalaki means “that which makes you pure, clean and shining.” Amla simply means “sour,” as this is the dominant of its 5 tastes, yes, 5 tastes! Amalaki is one of the few 5 taste herbs in the world. The more tastes an herb has then not only is it much more potent and can support a much greater range of facets of the bodymind, but it is also more balanced, because all the energetics of all the tastes tend to keep each other in check.
Hundreds of times I have seen how Amalaki helps slow a fast digestion or speed up a slow one, and this ally does so by creating a balance of the two factors involved. This has been known and proven for thousands of years and recently numerous western bioscience articles confirm this. Note that establishing or supporting deep homeostasis between various physiological factors is one of the definitions of an anti-stress adaptogen, an herb that has a strong ability to help us adapt to changes and stressors.
Without doubt, Amalaki is truly one of the world’s greatest adaptogens and antioxidant-loaded super fruits. It is unrivaled in offering people of all ages a broad spectrum of deeply supportive nourishment. Amalaki is the herb of choice when it comes to deep rejuvenation as it can be used to renew the digestive system, support healthy liver function, support the immune system, and support healthy inflammatory response, all of which can support a healthy balance of factors in the stomach and digestion. For thousands of years Amalaki has been one of the best and most used tonics for overall health.
Balanced Colon Digestion
When it comes to supporting digestion in the colon some of the best herbs are Triphala, Psyllium, Bael and Chandrasoor. These herbs have many mechanisms by which they support our wellness including the following ten:
- Increase tone in the colon. Of all of these herbs the tannins in Triphala are the champs here.
- Decreases bile acid absorption in the intestines. The less that bile acid is absorbed in the intestines then the more is caused to be excreted. This then causes the body to make more bile acid, and since the basic building block of bile acid is serum cholesterol and the since bile acids are made in the liver, these herbs support decreases in serum and liver cholesterol. This supports our wellness in this culture so burgeoning with dietary fats.
- Support healthy peristalsis. Many people take harsh herbs like senna and cascara sagrada to invoke peristalsis. However, long term use of these herbs is not desirable. It is much better to use Triphala, Psyllium, Bael and Chandrasoor for this.
- Decrease lipid metabolism into free fatty acids. These herbs tend to decrease how much of dietary lipids are actually metabolized into free fatty acids, thus preventing lipids from entering the blood.
- Decrease lipid absorption into colon cells. These herbs tend to optimize or reduce the amount of dietary lipids that are actually absorbed into the body, and thus more lipids are excreted.
- Decrease lipid diffusion (against gradients) Usually there is a gradient set up in the intestines that supports the flow or diffusion of various molecules, and in the case of dietary lipids, these herbs can slow down their diffusion. This causes more lipids to be excreted or at least delays their metabolism, giving the body more time to properly digest them.
- Feed the colon cells what they really require Psyllium metabolites from intestinal flora metabolism include short chain fatty acids (SCFA) such as butyrate. These SCFAs are very important molecules, especially the butyrate, which is the main source of energy for the cells of the intestine. Dietary sources of butyrate are rare, for instance organic ghee, but certain soluble fibers, like those in Psyllium can be metabolized by intestinal flora to create SCFAs including butyrate.
- Calm agitation in the colon Chandrasoor and Bael are especially great for this. In Ayurvedic parlance this would typically mean excessive Vata in the colon.
- Increase diameter of LDL molecules This may sound like a trite detail but increased diameters of LDL are associated with greater heart health and also maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
- Psyllium makes dietary lipids physically less accessible to enzymes Another facet of psyllium is that it creates a viscous mass that is less permeable to digestive enzymes, such as lipase and bile acids, and the less enzymes there are the less lipids are digested. Thus optimal weight is supported.
Without doubt, the best overall herbs/formula for colon health that the world has seen is 3,000 year old formula Triphala, composed of Amalaki which excels at optimizing digestion in the small intestine and stomach, Bibhitaki (Terminalia belerica) that is especially excellent at supporting digestion in the stomach, and Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) which is one of the best herbs to support digestion in the colon and liver.
Balance Liver Digestion
There are literally dozens of ways that an herb can support liver function to increase healthy digestion and thus help attain optimal weight. The following list are just some of the ways that Kutki, Neem, Turmeric, Kalmegh, Bhumyamalaki, Punarnava, Haritaki and Triphala can accomplish supporting your optimal weight by supporting digestion and liver function.
- Support healthy fat metabolism- All of these herbs are known as hypolipidemics as they all support healthy metabolism of fats via many mechanisms. This is just one way that they support attaining optimal weight.
- Support maintenance of healthy levels of lipids- These herbs help maintain healthy levels of lipids including cholesterol. They help maintain healthy levels serum high density lipoprotein (HDL) which carries cholesterol to liver/adrenals. They also help maintain healthy levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) which carries cholesterol into cell/artery walls causing atherosclerosis. They also all help maintain healthy triglyceride levels
- Assist in maintaining healthy response to allergens- Kutki has been shown to reduce sensitivity to many allergens and support healthy mast cell function.
- Support a healthy endogenous antioxidant function- Many free radicals can decrease organ structure and function via cellular lipid peroxidation (burning holes into cell walls) and the polyphenolic molecules in these herbs support healthy antioxidant function. Increasing the endogeneous liver antioxidants like the glutathione and SOD, is a great gift given by these herbal allies and just one of the ways that they help protect the liver, optimize its function and restore our wellness.
- Support healthy levels of bile (Cholestasis)- An herb that is a choleretic increases amount of bile and also the flow of bile from the liver to the duodenum via the gall bladder and thus helps to properly digest fats.
- Support optimal levels of microbes in the liver and digestive tract- Balanced level of microbes in the liver is one of the most important facets of liver health to ensure and all these herbs support that via many mechanisms.
- Support more energy in the liver- The liver receives its energy from liver mitochondria and these herbs help prevent lipid peroxidation in Liver mitochondria. It is often when an organ is starved of energy that its function wanes.
- Support liver structure- Kutki especially supports liver structure and regeneration, the most marked effects being an increase in mitotic index and nucleic acid and protein synthesis during the early phase of regeneration. The ability of Kutki to accelerate the regeneration of the Liver shows its intelligence to reboot deep organ physiology. Prometheus must have been taking a lot of Kutki (Liver Kidney) Capsules.
- Help maintain healthy levels of liver enzymes- These herbs also help maintain healthy levels of liver enzymes like alanine transferase (ALT/SGPT), serum aspartate transferase (AST/SGOT), ALP and bilirubin in serum.
- Support strong immunity- All of these herbs are fantastic at boosting immunity, both the cell-mediated immunity which is very critical in the management of healthy inflammation response as well as the humoral (molecular tags for imminent destruction) immune response and is capable of sustaining the total antigen specific antibody response
- Support DNA repair- These herbs have many ways of protecting our precious DNA for instance supporting Telemere function and increasing proliferative cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) immunoreactivity, which is very supporting of DNA synthesis and repair.
- Support healthy response to inflammation- There are many ways that these herbs support healthy inflammatory response, for instance, these herbs tend to promote levels of COX-1 which supports healthy levels of protective factors in the GI. Supporting healthy inflammatory response is key to supporting the functionality that will help attain optimal weight.
- Protect against acetaminophen advanced (paracetemol) liver damage- One of the main ways that the liver is damaged in our culture is by consuming acetaminophen. Yes, all those people who take acetaminophen to help them recover from their alcohol binges are actually accomplishing a nasty double whammy. Acetaminophen, also known as paracetemol, is the drug responsible for more acute liver damage than practically any other substance. Because it is so prevalent of a problem, scientists are always testing which herbs support a liver damaged by acetaminophen toxicity.
There are hundreds of articles in the peer reviewed international bioscience literature that confirm these 13 facets of the traditional knowledge and subsequent uses of these herbs. These mechanisms listed above are amongst about 30 main mechanisms of how Kutki, Neem, Turmeric, Kalmegh, Bhumyamalaki, Haritaki and Triphala can accomplish supporting your optimal weight by supporting digestion and liver function.
A Life in Balance
Of course it is becoming increasingly difficult to live a life in balance and one of the quickest ways to see the results of this challenge are imbalances in our digestion and in our weight. As you can see above, herbs will certainly help us in dozens and dozens of ways to support a balanced digestion, a balanced weight, and a balanced life. And know that these herbs are greatly enhanced when consumed in the context of a diet and lifestyle that also supports a balanced life. This of course is a challenge so definitely build support teams to accumulate those allies who want to go in the same direction as you. Jettison punitive and judgmental attitudes and instead make it fun and empowering and delightful, just as a Life in Balance is.