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 Stomach, Seat of the Earth Element
The stomach is where the element of Earth is predominant. An excess of Earth in the stomach can manifest as too much mucus, causing nausea, bloating, and poor absorption of nutrients. In this situation, kindling the digestive fire, known as Agni in Ayurveda, will help to “heat up” the digestion and reduce the symptoms. Ginger and Lemon are the first herbs to reach for to kindle this fire. In addition, drying (as well as heating) herbs such as Black Pepper and Cayenne can be helpful.
Too little Earth in the stomach can lead to gastric reflux, excessive belching, or lack of appetite. In this case, mild foods are recommended, herbs like Marshmallow root to soothe and cool acid in the stomach, Triphala to reduce belching and acid, or Ginger, again, to stimulate the appetite. (You’ll find Ginger Root mentioned over and over in relation to digestive complaints, it can help in almost any case with poor digestion, and fresh grated Ginger is often what I reach for first.)
As Tom mentioned, an excess of Earth can also manifest as excess weight, especially in the stomach area, and eventually contributes to Type 2 Diabetes. Gymnema, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, and Cinnamon are the herbs to reach for in the case of a slow metabolism, stress leading to excess belly fat, or a tendency to high blood sugar.
So What Does This Have To Do With My Immune System?
Well, if the Earth element is in excess, the immune system may be slow to respond to infection, leaving you prone to re-infection and secondary infection. If your allergies frequently turn into sinus infections, you often have illnesses that leave you with mucus in the lungs and a cough that won’t go away, or if you tend to pick up every bug that passes through, you may have a sluggish immune system due to too much Earth. Immune stimulants, such as Echinacea root, help to get things moving. Elecampagne root is a warming and stimulating herb specific to the lungs, and Trikatu, a traditional Ayurvedic remedy, is warming and drying when there is an excess of mucus.
http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/health-guides/understanding-agni/ for a great article on Agni, the fire of digestion
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/basics/symptoms/con-20022009 lists the primary symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome