Proper elimination is an important link in the digestive process and is necessary for overall health. The colon or large intestine is the final organ through which the food we eat passes. It is about five feet in length and frames three sides of the abdominal cavity, beginning at the cecum and ending at the anus.
The large intestine is a sensitive organ that has several turns and pockets. It very important to keep the colon toned, clean and moving regularly to ensure proper elimination.
The main function of the large intestine is the absorption of water, vitamins and ions. The feces, the solid matter leftover from digested food, spends between 12-24 hours in the colon before passing through the rectum.
In Ayurveda, examination of the stool is a diagnostic tool used to understand the health of the digestive and excretory systems in the body. If digestion and absorption are functioning normally, the stool is well-formed, resembling a soft, ripe banana and it will float in water. In healthy elimination, bowels should move regularly, at least once daily without strain or use of laxatives.
If there is improper digestion, the stool sinks and can be sticky, slimy, contain undigested food particles and have a bad odor. This is indicative of ama or toxins within the system. Main causes that damage excretory function are suppression of the urge to defecate, lack of (or too much) fiber in the diet, lack of oils in the diet or abuse of laxatives.
Fiber in the diet is what creates bulk in the stool which supports the walls of the colon and strengthens the contractions of a bowel movement. When there is lack of fiber, the colon narrows, the contractions are more powerful putting pressure on its walls. This encourages the condition of diverticulitis where the mucosa or mucus membrane protrudes through the colon walls.
Diarrhea results when matter rushes through before the large intestine has a chance to absorb the water. In this condition, loose stools pass three or more times per day.
Conversely, when remaining food matter stays in the colon for extended periods of time, the stool becomes hard, dry and difficult to pass, a condition known as constipation. Typically, vata predominant people will experience constipation or have variable movements, fluctuating between normal elimination, diarrhea and constipation.
Pitta predominant people are more prone to loose stools and can sometimes experience burning sensations particularly after eating spicy foods. An excess of pitta dosha will give the stool a yellow or orange color.
Kapha individuals have slow and sluggish elimination tendencies, but their stools are generally well-formed and can be slightly oily.
Ayurveda offers treatment depending on the cause and condition. Sat Isabgol (Psyllium) is used to add bulk to the stool. In cases of diarrhea, astringent herbs are recommended. In cases of extreme constipation senna, rhubarb root or castor oil are used.
To help tonify and cleanse the colon daily, the Ayurvedic formula, Triphala, is recommended for people of all doshas. Triphala is a panacea in Ayurveda. It is best known for its gentle laxative effect for the treatment of mild constipation and also helps to tonify the digestive tract, particularly the walls of the colon. It is a balanced formula, helping to eliminate excess doshas and toxins from the body and keeping the digestion and excretory systems functioning smoothly. Triphala works gradually to purify and rejuvenate the digestive tract, thereby increasing the body's ability to nourish all vital tissues and organs. This formula can be taken daily as a tablet or more traditionally in powder form. The best way to make a Triphala tea is to use 1/4 - 1 teaspoon in a cup of hot water and allow to steep until the powder settles, then drink. Take triphala first thing in the morning or a half hour before bedtime, or both. Take Triphala and notice your stool each day. If there is too much of a laxative effect, decrease the dosage. If you find making the tea inconvenient or if you find the taste to be too unpleasant, triphala tablets are a convenient, highly effective alternative.
Proper elimination is crucial to purifying the body. By supporting this process with Triphala you can maximize digestion and elimination while learning more about the function of the body and moving towards good health.
Shannon Mooney, Author and Graduate of the Ayurvedic Institute