Healthy Digestion

Digestion, in the science of Ayurveda, begins the moment your food enters your mouth, and your digestive system starts working, the digestive process begins in the mouth, and the complete cycle lasts for about six hours, according to what you ate. the complete digestive process is classified by six stages, and each of the stages relates to one of the six tastes in Ayurveda. The stages are named Madhura Avastha Paka – Sweet, Amla Avastha Paka – Sour, Lavana Avastha Paka – Salty, Katu Avastha Paka – Pungent, Tikta Avastha Paka – Bitter, and Kashaya Avastha Paka – Astringent. 

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The Different Stages of Digestion

The stages in digestion not only correspond to the six tastes, but to the three Doshas too. In the first two stages of sweet and sour, there is a relation to the Kapha Dosha as these two stages are the heaviest in the digestive process, the Pitta Dosha relates to salty and pungent, which are the next two stages as the stomach and intestine process the food and finally the Vata Dosha ties in with the final two stages which are bitter and astringent as the body turns light once more. 

Irrespective of what your predominant Dosha is, everybody goes through each of the six stages of digestion. When you gain an understanding of all the six stages, you in turn gain a better understanding of your body as a whole.

Often, people will eat again during the six stages, doing so interrupts the digestive cycle by not allowing it to go through all of the stages and can lead to a build up of Ama toxins, and creating various digestive issues or irregular gut functions.

Madhura Avastha Paka – Sweet

As mentioned before, the entire digestive process begins the moment you take your first bite of food, and your food comes into contact with your saliva. Your saliva actually starts the whole process by working on breaking down your food into particles. This is one of the many reasons why Ayurveda advocates mindful eating, by eating slowly and chewing your food thoroughly you  allow your saliva time to work properly. 

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Science has proven what Ayurveda has known for thousands of years, your saliva contains the enzyme amylase, which is responsible for breaking down sugars. In the first hour after eating, your body absorbs the simple sugars found in your food, causing your blood sugar levels to rise, this is the reason why the first stage of digestion is called the sweet stage. 

After a meal you will feel full and satisfied (or heavy if it was a particularly large meal) and the water and earth elements of your body increase, which is why this stage is related to your Kapha Dosha.

Amla Avastha Paka – Sour

This stage of the digestive process begins when your stomach’s hydrochloric acid takes over the digestion process from amylase and starts to work on breaking down any proteins that you have eaten. The hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach begins to denature or breakdown protein molecules, kills off and destroys and traces of dangerous bacteria or viral matter in your food and converts a digestive enzyme called pepsinogen to pepsin, which is it’s active version.

This is the reason why the second stage is named sour, because of all the acid activity in your gut your food literally turns sour in your stomach.  As the stomach becomes increasingly acidic to neutralize any potentially dangerous food pathogens, it corresponds to your Pitta Dosha. People who are predominantly Pitta dosha naturally have very high levels of acid in their stomachs, and consuming animal based proteins increases this. 

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While producing so much hydrochloric acid the stomach also needs to protect itself so that it doesn’t create ulcers or set off other digestive issues such as reflux, this self protection is related to the Kapha dosha. When you are in your second stage of digestion you can feel the food in your stomach and may also still feel full, though not nearly as much as when you’ve just eaten. Your body’s Fire and Earth energies are raised as fire energy relates to Pitta while Kapha corresponds with earth energy.

If you have ever had a food reaction to a meal such as a skin rash or a bout of excessive itching, these came about during the sour stage of digestion and were most probably caused by the fact that you ate too much acidic foods, and didn’t eat enough alkaline foods which contain high levels of Kapha energy to counterbalance them. Excessive Pitta energy during digestion can cause imbalances like eczema and rashes. 

Lavana Avastha Paka – Salty

The salty stage is the third stage of the digestion process. The meal you ate has by now been broken down into different food particles that have been covered by your digestive stomach acid for about half and hour to an hour. Next they move into the duodenum, which is the name for the first part of your small intestine, which prepares the semi digested food particles to become partially absorbed by your small intestine. An alkaline mucus is produced by the innermost layer of the small intestine, called the mucosa, this alkaline mucus is essential in neutralising any hydrochloric acid.

The broken-down food then comes into contact with bile from your gallbladder and liver and is also mixed with pancreatic juices (produced by an area of the pancreas called the islets of Langerhans) to break down the partially digested food even more. A series of stomach contractions now take place, causing smooth waves of movement in the gut that pushes the partially digested food from the duodenum, towards its next destination, which is next part of your small intestine, called the jejunum. This series of contractions is called Peristalsis. 

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Peristalsis takes about an hour to move the food through the entire length of the duodenum, this particular stage of digestion is completely Pitta, and is made up of fire and water energies. This is because your acidic food and bile mixture, which are fire, meet with your pancreatic juices, which are water, they are considered to be salty. That is why this digestive stage is known as salty. 

The combination of acidic and alkaline produces a substance much like saltwater. It’s during the salty stage of digestion that you digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates which are found in your food. The digestion is aided by your pancreatic juices, which consist of (amongst others) trypsin, amylase, chymotrypsin and pancreatic lipase, all of which work on the fats, carbohydrates and proteins you’ve eaten.

Katu Avastha Paka – Pungent

The pungent part of the digestive process occurs in the jejunum, the second part of your small intestine. The fourth stage corresponds to the Pitta and Vata Doshas and is made up of fire and air energies. During this stage, your broken down food is filled with the enzymes.

The reason that this stage is known as pungent is because it is sharp and subtle and occasionally hot.

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People who have excessive Pitta are prone to overheating and skin ailments like rashes and hives in the pungent stage, while people with excessive Vata may suffer from excessive bloating or gas. These are caused by the fire and air energies of this stage.

Tikta Avastha Paka – Bitter

The bitter stage of digestion is the fifth stage, by now, the food you have eaten has travelled down to the ileum, which is the longest and final area of your small intestine. In the ileum, it digests even further with the help of the body’s air and ether energies. These energies are associated with assimilation and movement. Air energy continues the process of peristalsis, while the ether energy governs the absorption and assimilation of the nutrients in food through the villi, which are found in the ileum wall.

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Often during this stage people will think they are hungry again, which comes about because of the the feeling of lightness caused by the air and ether energy, but it is important not to snack or eat again until the full digestive process has run its course and your body can fully absorb the meal you have eaten. 

Some people tend to feel slightly chilly or cold while this stage takes place, and this comes about because of an increase in the Vata energy in your body.

Kashaya Avastha Paka – Astringent

The astringent stage is the sixth and last stage of the digestion process. By now your body has fully processed your food, and has absorbed all the nutrients and turned the food into waste products. This stage is made up of air and earth energies, the air energy creates further peristalsis, which pushes the food along the last portion of your intestine, while earth energies create a stool.

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Your digestive system creates a stool not only of the food you consumed, but also of other toxins present in your body, in order to eliminate them. Once your processed food has passed through your colon and been excreted from your body through elimination, the body starts to feel hungry again.