Recognizing Common Pitta Imbalances

By nature, the summer season is hot, bright, sharp, intense, expansive, and transformative – all qualities that characterize pitta.  This is why summer is considered a pitta season.  Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like and that opposites balance, so summertime will naturally tend to increase pitta – especially if pitta is a key player in your constitution.  (If you are unsure of your Ayurvedic body type, try this Banyan Botanicals questionnaire to help you determine your constitution).

By learning to recognize common signs and symptoms of pitta aggravation, you will be able to take steps to restore equilibrium as soon as any imbalances arise – freeing yourself to enjoy and appreciate the summer rather than having to suffer through it.  Mild signs and symptoms will typically occur in the early stages of pitta accumulation, may come and go for some time, and are relatively easy to remedy.  More severe imbalances are generally the result of a long-standing pitta imbalance, are more deeply rooted in the tissues, and are usually more chronic in nature, often requiring the attention of a health care practitioner.  If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you can create a full health plan unique to you with the help of your health care practitioner.  The following list of pitta imbalances is organized by the tissues and systems most affected and is separated into mild and more severe manifestations, because the earlier you can address an imbalance, the easier it will be to correct.

Signs & Symptoms of Pitta Imbalance

In the Mind

Mild Imbalances

Changes in your mental state such as irritability, anger, impatience, judgment, criticism, and jealousy are all associated with increasing pitta and will often be one of your first signs that something is amiss.  Excess pitta in the mind can also cause a tendency toward perfectionism, or a general feeling of dissatisfaction or malcontent.

More Severe Imbalances

If pitta is allowed to accumulate unchecked, it will lead to severe anger, rage, hostility, intense jealousy, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and even depression.

In The Digestive Tract

Mild Imbalances

The digestive tract is one of the first places that aggravated pitta will begin to declare itself.  Early signs of pitta imbalance include intense hunger, excessive thirst, and a sense of insatiability.  As pitta accumulates further, it can cause nausea, vomiting, hiccups, acid reflux, heartburn, loose stools, diarrhea, low blood sugar, and sensitivity to spicy and/or fried foods.  The tongue might have a yellowish coating, there might be a bitter taste, or sour, fetid-smelling breath, and the feces may be greenish or yellowish, sour smelling, and can cause a burning sensation upon elimination.

More Severe Imbalances

Long-standing pitta in the digestive tract can cause severe acid indigestion or heartburn, fatty diarrhea, blood in the stools, inflammation of the stomach or esophagus, appendicitis, and peptic ulcers.

In the Blood, Skin, & Sweat

Mild Imbalances

The blood, skin, and sweat are closely related systems that can indicate when aggravated pitta is starting to spread.  Initially, the skin may just appear red or yellowish in color or may be hot to the touch.  You might also see hives, rash, acne, eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis.  Excess heat in the blood can cause fever, hot flashes, burning or itching sensations, bleeding tendencies, hematomas, and hemorrhoids.  It can cause people to burn or bruise easily and can increase sun sensitivity.  The tongue may appear red or inflamed and there may be bleeding gums, canker sores, or mouth ulcers.  Excessive sweating, acidic perspiration, and strong, fleshy-smelling body odor are other common manifestations of imbalance.

More Severe Imbalances

Signs of more severe disturbance in the blood, skin, and sweat include visible capillary networks, severe bleeding disorders, hemorrhage, jaundice, hepatitis, abscess, gangrene, melanoma, lupus, gout, mononucleosis, blood clots, strokes, and myeloid leukemia.

Elsewhere in the Body

Mild Imbalances

Burning, red, or bloodshot eyes, extreme sensitivity to light, and a yellowish tinge in the whites of the eyes are all signs of excess pitta circulating in the system.  Tendonitis, bursitis, muscle fatigue, intermittent high blood pressure, mild headaches, and hair loss can be caused by excess pitta in the muscles, bones, and joints.  When pitta disturbs the nervous system it can cause dizziness, insomnia, herpes flare-ups, and shingles.  In the urinary and reproductive systems, excess pitta can cause yellow urine, heat and tenderness in the breasts, nipples or testicles, prostatitis, premenstrual irritability, and heavy or painful menstrual bleeding.

More Severe Imbalances

Long-standing pitta disturbance in the eyes can lead to poor vision or blindness.  In the muscles, bones, and joints, it can cause chronic hypertension, fibromyalgia, gout, and inflammatory arthritis.  Bladder and kidney infections are also a sign of high pitta.  In the nervous system, it can cause hyperthyroidism, adrenal exhaustion, migraines, fainting, meningitis, encephalitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disorders, and multiple sclerosis.  In the male reproductive system, high pitta can cause inflammation of the epididymis, inflammation of the penis, and burning pain during ejaculation.  In women, excess pitta can inflame the endometrium and other reproductive tissues.

Promoting Balance During Pitta Season

A seasonally appropriate pitta-pacifying diet and lifestyle can help prevent pitta imbalances from arising in the first place, and can also help to restore balance if pitta has just started to accumulate.  These tips are very useful during the summer season when pitta is more likely to become aggravated, regardless of your constitution.

The Basics of a Pitta-Pacifying Diet

You can easily support pitta by favoring cooling, non-spicy foods and the sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes.  Eat foods that are light and easy to digest and favor small meals.  Drink cool – but not iced – drinks.  Favor herbal teas such as mint, licorice, fennel, and rose, or water with a little lime and natural sugar. Beat the heat with foods that help to cool you from the inside out – watermelon, cucumbers, salads, basmati rice, cottage cheese, milk, and even an occasional creamy sweet like ice cream or rice pudding.  Do your best to avoid excessive oil, salt, fried food, chilies, and fiery spices.

The Basics of a Pitta-Pacifying Lifestyle

Start your day by massaging a light coating of a pitta-soothing oil, like coconut or sunflower oil, on your skin and then rinse the oil off with a refreshing shower – lukewarm, if your climate is particularly hot.  An early morning walk on some cool, dew-soaked grass with bare feet can also be very soothing.  The ideal time for exercise is early in the morning, when it is cool.  If you practice yoga, favor abdominal stretches, twists, forward bends, and standing poses and limit inversions to prevent excess heat from accumulating in the head.  In general, wear cool, loose-fitting clothing, and avoid excessive heat and sun exposure.  If you do spend time outside in the heat of the day, take care to cover your skin, wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and shade yourself as much as possible.  This is a great time of year to swim or relax in some cool, refreshing water.  And a fifteen-minute siesta after lunch (lying on your left side) can go a long way toward preventing heartburn, ulcers, and mental lethargy, especially if you do happen to overeat or indulge in some pitta-provoking foods.

For more detailed information on an Ayurvedic summer routine – with pitta-pacifying diet and lifestyle recommendations for your specific constitution, read Maximize Your Summer Health.

References

1.  Lad, Vasant.  The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies.  Three Rivers Press, 1998.  24-25.

2.  Lad, Vasant.  Textbook of Ayurveda, Volume 2:  A Complete Guide to Clinical Assessment.  The Ayurvedic Press, 2006.  30, 235, 242-279.

3.  Douillard, John.  The 3-Season Diet.  Three Rivers Press, 2000. 130, 148.

4.  Pole, Sebastian.  Ayurvedic Medicine:  The Principles of Traditional Practice.  Churchill Livingston Elsevier, 2006.  51-52.