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The Power of Pepper: Trikatu

Herbal Secrets

The most ancient healthcare systems, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, are rooted in nature. In those traditions, the body is regarded as a natural phenomenon, comprising fundamental elements that must exist in harmony for it to realize good health. The earliest health systems, then, do not focus on disease or symptoms, but rather imbalances. One of the key aspects of Ayurveda is digestion —  Ayurveda asserts that when digestive fire is low, we must turn up the heat, and when it is too hot then we must cool it down. 

Trikatu is one of the most recommended Ayurvedic formulas for supporting digestive fire. Regardless of how well we understand Ayurveda, or any other system of health, it is clear how important digestion is when we have a stomach ache or indigestion — our personal experience is our best proof that eating the right foods is beneficial to the mind and body.

The Upanishads teach that we are all food bodies — not only do we require food so that the body can live and thrive, our bodies make the experience of life possible. The wisdom of the early Vedic scholars continues to be confirmed by science, as we now know that digestion provides the fire that fuels life. 

Ayurvedic consultant Marjorie Garces explains that our Agni (digestive fire) is our metaphorical sun. Both the sun and our digestive fire, she writes, “are critical to our existence. We need to tend to and take care of our Agni so that we can be strong, vivacious and radiant.” The three-plant formula, called Trikatu, is central in Ayurveda for nurturing the fire in the belly.

Trikatu roughly translates into “three peppers,” or “three pungents.” The formula combines Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Indian Long Pepper (Piper longum) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale). While the Ayurvedic staple formula Triphala supports the lower GI tract, Trikatu has its primary effects in the upper GI tract, where it helps to break down the foods we consume and then absorbs their nutrients. Ayurvedic practitioners use Trikatu as a warming formula, to awaken Agni and remove Ama (accumulated waste & toxins). 

Ayurvedic doctor Shashikant Patwardhan explains that, according to Ayurvedic theory, “poor quality food and inconsistent eating habits can create a dullness to the upper GI, which, if uncorrected, will result in further deviations from overall health.” This can lead to unhealthy food cravings and create a feedback loop as poor food choices, driven by cravings, reinforce digestive dysfunction.

Because digestion is the mother of bodily functions, according to Ayurvedic wisdom — and because it nurtures and feeds the whole body — when it is fed the right foods and herbs, many other bodily systems are uplifted. Thus, the use of Trikatu addresses quite a few health issues both directly and indirectly related to digestion. The formula helps balance cholesterol, protect the cardiovascular system, and nourish the skin. Trikatu also has anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties, which are valuable for allergies. It has even been shown to help with inflammation caused by monosodium crystal deposits in the joints.

Vachana Murunikkara and his research team of cellular biologists have reported that Trikatu supports the immune system, especially in autoimmune health issues. And pharmaceutical researcher Rahul Kaushik notes that Trikatu has the potential to increase the bioavailability of nutrients. Scientific findings, he writes, strengthen claims of the Indian ancient texts about Trikatu’s health benefits in an array of ways — from anti-inflammatory actions to supporting important organs related to digestion, including the pancreas, gallbladder, and stomach.

Igniting the Digestive Fire

Agni is the Sanskrit word for fire. Related to digestion, Ayurvedic healthcare practitioners refer to Agni as the fire within. Ayurvedic champion and yogi Anna Welle writes that this internal fire is responsible for the digestion, absorption, assimilation, and transformation of food and experiences into energy. Ayurveda classifies 40 different Agnis within the body, with the largest and most significant being jāthara agni – the main digestive fire where the stomach meets the small intestine. When digestion is working optimally, we may notice that our demeanor and body exude a sense of clarity, light(ness), radiance, and energy. But when digestion is unbalanced, the result is Ama, resulting from undigested food, problematic thoughts, and/or emotions being held within the body and causing health issues. For this reason, Trikatu is the go-to Ayurvedic formula to feed the digestive system that feeds the body, mind, and spirit.

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