Tom’s newest Pathways article came out on June 1st, and in it he describes the connection between the digestive system and the immune system, and introduces the three aspects of digestion known in Eastern traditional medicine.
Not to put too fine a point on it, if your gut is weakened, so is your immune system. If you know anyone who suffers from food intolerances as well as Chronic Fatigue (Immunodeficiency) Syndrome, or someone with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, then they can tell you all about the miseries involved. We know that chronic stress can weaken both the digestive function and the immune response, making it very difficult to heal deeply and feel your best.
So what can we do?
We already know that reducing stress is essential, as is good sleep, good food, exercise, drinking enough water, and good ol’ fresh air and sunshine, but with digestive issues on the rise, what else is needed? We need to understand a little bit about each aspect of digestion to be able to pinpoint our own unique issues. Knowing the actions and energetics of the digestive system allow us to find the best herbs and foods to balance our own unique system.
The Large Intestine, Seat of the Air Element
The Large Intestine is where the element of Air tends to collect. The most obvious symptom of this is flatulence! Too much air can also lead to dryness in the mucus membranes (eyes, nose, throat, mouth, vagina, colon, etc.), constipation (especially with dry, hard stool), and low or irregular appetite. When there is too much dryness and Air, what is needed is heat and moisture. Fresh Ginger Root, once again, is a go-to remedy for increasing appetite and improving digestive function and absorption. Triphala, the Ayurvedic blend, can help to moisturize the colon and soften stool to relieve dry, hard constipation. Marshmallow Root is soothing and moisturizing to all the mucus membranes, as is Shatavari Root, another Ayurvedic herb often used for women’s health issues.
Too little Air in the large intestine is actually pretty rare, but it can happen. When that happens, the normal downward movement of the digestion is impaired. Food may stay too long in the intestines or colon, without a sense of urgency to move the bowels. If left long enough, this can lead to toxicity as fecal material is re-absorbed into the body. Low to no appetite, no urge to move the bowels, and foul breath are potential signs of lack of the movement in the gut. The simplest remedy is Triphala taken with warm water. This traditional formula from India is made with three different fruits that treat the whole digestive system. It provides gentle laxative, moisturizing, and stool softening to ease the bowels. Please be aware that lack of movement in the gut should not be ignored. If there is abdominal pain along with the above symptoms it is important to visit an MD because intestinal blockages can be quite serious.
An excess of Air can lead to shaking disorders, anxiety, and pain that moves around. That pain may be general achiness or at its most severe, nerve mis-firing as in Fibromyalgia. Soothing the nervous system with herbs like Skullcap, Lemon Balm, St. John’s Wort, or Milky Oat Tops can ease this excess. Digestive tonics like Ginger Root, Fennel Seed, Triphala and Flax Seed can calm the air in the colon.
So What Does This Have To Do With My Immune System?
An excess of Air can lead to an erratic immune system. Chronic excess can manifest as poor sleep, unpredictable pain, weak and painful joints, fatigue, and an immune system that can both under- and over-react to pathogens. Air can be somewhat unpredictable and hard to pin down as the source of a particular symptom. Many practitioners advise treating Air first, often with Triphala, nervines, and rest, before attending to other imbalances. When in doubt, Triphala and Ginger are a great place to start in bringing balance and peace to the digestive and immune systems!