The digestive fire should be protected by every effort because when it is lost the person becomes lost (dies), when it gets seized by the doshas the person gets seized by the group of diseases, when it is normal (Sama Agni) the person enjoys a long life free from disease. – Astanga Hridaya
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects about 10% of the adult population and 70% are women. It is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. The wall of the intestine exhibits rhythmic contractions called the peristaltic movements, which helps move the contents in the tract. In IBS, the walls of the intestine become sensitised to even mild stimulus which causes excess cramps. The intestines and the brain have the common embryonic origin.
The neurotransmitter Serotonin is secreted by both brain and intestine. In fact, intestines secrete more Serotonin than the brain. Some research suggests that IBS patients who suffer mainly from diarrhoea may have increased serotonin levels in the gut, while those with constipation-predominant IBS have decreased amounts. Many, who suffer from IBS, also suffer from depression, negative thoughts, irritability and anxiety. Stress and IBS quite often go together.
What causes IBS?
The cause is not well understood. A combination of physical and mental health is blamed. IBS is more common in people who have strong family history of GI problems. Foods rich in carbohydrates, spicy or fatty foods, coffee, and alcohol all could trigger the symptoms of IBS.
- A lower GI series
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Colonoscopy with or without a biopsy.
- Stool test
- Test for lactose intolerance
There is no satisfactory cure for IBS in modern medicine.
Irritable bowel syndrome treatment in Ayurveda:
In Ayurveda, IBS is called GRAHANI DOSHA, which indicates the pathological state of function and integrity of the intestinal tract (mostly small intestine), known as GRAHANI. It is considered as one among the eight MAHA GADHAS (Diseases, which are difficult to treat)
Grahani is the part of Maha Srotas (Alimentary Tract) which is the seat of digestive fire (Agni) and holds the food until it is digested and then releases it. Charaka Samhita describes that imbalance in the Agni is the root cause of this disease. This incorrect digestive fire causes accumulation of Ama or toxin and weakens the digestive system.
Imbalance in any one or more of the doshas namely Vata, Pitta and Kapha could affect the Agni and trigger the complex Grahani Dosha.
The three types of deranged Agni,
- Vishama Agni – due to aggravated Vata,
- Tikshna Agni – due to aggravated Pitta,
- Manda Agni – due to aggravated Kapha.
However, Grahani may also be caused by untreated chronic diarrhoea.
Symptoms of Grahani caused by Vata:
These symptoms are related to five Vayus, which are as follows:
Prana vayu related symptoms:
- Dryness of the palate,
- Noise in the ears – tinnitus,
- A cough, dyspnoea
Apana vayu related symptoms:
- Frequent bowel movements
- Passing wind on passing a bowel motion,
- Frothy loose motions,
- Painful bowel motions due to intestinal cramping,
- Dry faeces,
- Pain in the rectum.
Samana Vayu related symptoms:
- Variable appetite
- Loose bowel motions due to increased peristalsis in the small intestine.
Vyana vayu related symptoms:
- Chest pain,
- Pain in the sides of the abdomen, thighs, groin and neck.
- Craving for all types of food.
The symptoms of Grahani caused by Pitta:
Ranjaka Pitta imbalance:
- Faeces are of bluish or yellow in colour
- Fetid body odour
Pachaka pitta imbalance:
- Hyperacidity resulting in heartburn and sour belching
- Liquid stool
- Loss of thirst
The symptoms of Grahani caused by Kapha:
Kledaka Kapha imbalance:
- In the stomach causes Manda Agni, low digestive fire
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heaviness in the stomach
- Retention of undigested food in the stomach leading to fermentation and burping with bad smell
- Loss of appetite.
Avalambaka Kapha imbalance:
- A cough with mucus
Bodhaka Kapha imbalance:
- Excess salivation
- Loss of taste.
- Excessive Kapha in the body causes lethargy,
Grahani can also be caused by a combination of two of the doshas or all three. The symptoms in such cases are related to different doshas as mentioned above.
An Ayurvedic Vaidya will be able to pinpoint affected doshas through the Ayurvedic Pulse Reading.
Line of treatment:
- Agni Deepana – (Balancing digestive fire)
- Ama Pachana – (Balancing and digesting the Ama)
- Strengthening Grahani (Gastrointestinal system)
- Balancing the doshas
Irritable bowel syndrome treatments:
- Virechana karma and/ or Basti karma based on the condition of the patient
- External therapies, Abhyanga, Navarakkizi, Shiro Dhara, Chakra Basti, Hrid Basti
- Internal medications; depending on the phase of Grahani
- Deepana – Pachana (Medicines which improve digestive fire and help in easy digestion of food and ama)
- Grahi / Anulomana (Medicines which bind and hold the stools in case of Diarrhoea / mild laxative in case of constipation)
- Specific Yoga Asanas
- Pranayama (breathing techniques)
- Deep relaxation techniques
- Food and lifestyle changes: specific to the individual’s constitution, nature of work and geographical conditions
- An Ayurvedic approach to IBS gives the best results.