Sluggish, lacking in energy, disturbed bowels, lack of proper hunger, excess phlegm or just out-and-out exhaustion.
These are just some of the things you may feel if you have āma. If you recognise any of these symptoms, read on, the prognosis is good.
The majority of my clients have some degree of āma, especially those with ‘IBS’ and other digestive issues, rheumatic joint or muscle pain, autoimmune conditions, weight gain and low energy levels.
The great news is, it is easily dealt with – we just use dietary changes and herbs to digest up the āma in the body. To understand how to deal with it, let’s first find out what it is.
Sticky, undigested toxins which block the essential processes in the body
Āma is unmetabolised sticky waste which can’t be eliminated from the body. It is anything which has been improperly digested or metabolised, is unuseable in the body and has putrified, become sticky and foul smelling. If left to stagnate long enough it becomes poisonous and there are serious health consequences.
Āma can only exist if key metabolic processes are not functioning properly. We refer to these processes in Ayurveda as types of fire. There are three main types of these fires;
- The digestive processes we have in our digestive tract which break down food to a simple form and allow it to be absorbed into the system (digestive-fire)
- The processes in the liver and circulation which transform and sort through the broken down food into useable nutrients and excretable waste (elemental-fires)
- The transformational processes which use these nutrients to synthesise tissues and provide energy for those tissues. (tissue-fires)
Eating food incompatible with your digestive capability and constitution, unhygienic food, strong emotions, stress and withholding urges (e.g. bowel movements, flatus, urine) can all cause these fires to diminish and thus allow āma to form.
Once formed, āma blocks the channels and can cause further reduction in metabolic fires. Thus, a vicious cycle can occur.
Āma in the digestive system causes many common digestive disturbances
If the āma is purely caused by poor digestive power, it may just remain in the digestive tract, causing symptoms such as indigestion, loss of appetite and taste, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, bloating, wind and constipation. Through increasing the digestive fire, this can be digested, passed out of the body and cleared.
If the āma remains in the digestive tract (it isn’t dealt with or the causes of it continue), it can cause chronic complaints such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
The āma can also cross the GI tract membranes and be absorbed into the general circulation, where it can cause further problems.
Āma in the rest of the body weakens us and reduces tissue nutrition
Āma can enter the rest of the body by passing through the GI tract membranes. It can also occur if the deeper metabolic processes (elemental-fires or tissue-fires) aren’t working well.
Initial signs that general systemic āma is present in the body include some or all of:
- Exhaustion, loss of strength, lethargy, heaviness
- Increased saliva or phlegm and a more heavily coated tongue
- Obstruction of channels
From there, āma can go on to cause many other diseases. It is the number 1 cause of disease in the body. The nature of the disease will vary depending on where the āma gets lodged (often at an inherently week part or tissue of the body) and with which doshas it combines.
Āma at a deep tissue / cellular level can be very serious
If the āma remains in the body for a long time, the āma can lodge deep in the tissues and cells and can initiate autoimmune reactions (such as in rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis) and cancer growth.
Get rid of ama and feel yourself again
The body can get rid of āma if given the right help. All it needs is a chance to build up the digestive and metabolic fires so that āma is digested properly and so that no more is created. The vicious cycle is then stopped in its tracks.
- Lighten your diet so that the digestive fire (and others dependent on it) has a chance to burn brighter. For a while (don’t worry, not forever), cut out meat, yoghurt, cheese, wheat, fried food, processed food and sugar. Eat LOTS of green vegetables, healthy grains, many herbs and spices, herbal teas, warm water and mung beans (the easiest pulse to digest).
- Cleanse using a mono-diet of mung bean soup (see here) or kitchari along with green vegetables.
- Consider a fast as this will give your digestive fire a rest and a chance to strengthen.
- Digest up your āma using powerful āma digesting herbs such as trikatu, triphala, neem and tulsi.
- Meditate or have a reflective calming activity each day so that any stress and agitation are reduced (as these affect the body’s fires too).
- Learn about your digestive fire by reading all about it here.
- Seek a consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner if you need a hand.
Avoid ama, remain energetic and healthy
Āma can not form if the digestive fires are strong.
The way to avoid āma and stay healthy is to make sure your digestive fire is looked after which essentially means:
- Eating only when you’re hungry
- Eating until your are just satisfied, about 2/3 full
- Choosing warm food and drinks over cold
- Sipping drinks throughout the day rather than gulping all in one go.
- Having more emphasis in your diet on easier-to-digest foods (pulses, vegetables, fruit, seeds) rather than heavier ones (meat, eggs, yogurt, cheese, wheat, fried food, processed food). You should also make sure the food you eat is appropriate for your constitution, see an Ayurvedic practitioner if you’re not sure what to do here.
- Adding lots of herbs and spices to your diet as these kindle fire.
- Having a regular fast where you reduce your food consumption. For those of a kapha constitution, consider a water-only fast one day a week. For those of a pitta constitution, have one day a week with just juices or green vegetables. For those with a vata constitution, try a day with just porridge and warm soups.
- Having reflective and relaxing activities in your daily life so that you aren’t working under a high level of stress.
For more on understanding and maintaining excellent digestive fire, read more here.
For the ultra curious… foreign agents as ama
If you’ve come this far, I’d put you in the ‘really interested camp’ so you may find this interesting. We’ve talked about āma being the incorrect products of digestion or metabolism. Another form of āma can be unchecked ‘foreign agents’ in the body such as bacteria and free radicals which have entered through the digestive system, inhalation or injection.
If the digestive and metabolic fires are strong, foreign agents entering the body will be digested or broken down swiftly and eliminated. If the fires are weak, these foreign substances are not broken down and are allowed to circulate in the system, causing disruption to the metabolic processes in the body. These are classed as āma because they are improperly processed, unuseable and are sticky (difficult to eliminate). This āma will disrupt the body just as described in the section above.
These concepts of āma and digestive fires, explain why two people may be exposed to the same antigen, but only one will go on to develop an illness.
Stay āma free by nurturing your digestive fire.
Until next time, take care of yourselves.
Author: Kate Siraj, Ayurvedic Practitioner, BSc Ayurveda, MChem (Oxon), MAPA.
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