Ayurveda, which literally translates to “the science of life,” does not diagnose disease or give it a name in the same way that allopathy does. That is the first thing to understand about how Ayurveda goes about preventing and/or managing a condition. Ayurveda diagnoses the current state of one’s constitution and works to bring it back into balance. In that sense, it is difficult for an Ayurvedic practitioner to discuss “diseases” with a client as a name, such as IBS, because it may not hold any clue to the cause and treatments required by the symptoms.
According to Ayurveda, we are composed of the five great elements – space, air, fire, water and earth – each having certain qualities. The combination of the elements is unique to every person, just as our genes are unique, and becomes generalized into three main dosha (or, constitutions): Vata, Pitta and Kapha. (Similar to endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph). We are born with this dosha and it always stays the same; however, events, practices, food, parasites, viruses, etc. may cause these elements to shift in our body. This is how Ayurveda would regard disease. Allopathy may call it IBS, but Ayurveda may simply diagnosis it an increase or decrease in our elements.
Because each dosha has certain qualities, the Ayurvedic practitioner would examine and observe what qualities are being expressed that lie outside of an individual’s natural constitution. For example, with IBS, people given that diagnosis often have contradictory symptoms. Some individuals have diarrhea, some have constipation and some have both! Even if two people have diarrhea, it may have different qualities. In allopathy, it is all lumped together as IBS, whereas in Ayurveda it may be an excess of Vata in one, or a vitiation of Kapha in another. This is where the differential diagnosis called “Rupa” in Ayurveda, comes in. Each symptom is categorized according to its particular quality such as dry, cold, hot, mucus producing and so forth. This is why and how Ayurveda can be so specific and why it treats the same disease name (i.e. IBS) with seemingly contradictory treatments.
However, there is one remedy in particular that is often helpful for IBS symptoms, no matter what a person’s constitution, as it is tridoshic in nature, meaning it is balancing to all 3 doshas. This ancient and most famous of all Ayurvedic preparations is called Triphala. In English it would be called “Three Fruits,” as it is a combination of Amalaki, Haritaki and Bibhitaki, three fruits found in India. Triphala is a toxin digester, a mild laxative (as it directs the flow of air downwards), a rejuvenator, and has traditionally been used for maintaining a healthy digestive tract. Triphala is contraindicated during pregnancy.
No one herb or medicine can fix any established imbalance alone, so diet, lifestyle, and eliminating causes would also need to be addressed. Other herbs may also be helpful depending on the situation. In Ayurveda, “it all depends” is the mantra. Speak with an Ayurvedic practitioner at your neighborhood Peoples location to determine the most effective course of action for you!
by Lorraine Smith, RN, CAP, LMT. Lorraine is available for consultation at Peoples Wellness Center North.