Triphala: Ayurveda's Tummy Tonic

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In an effort to stay healthy, you probably take strides to keep organs such as the lungs and heart in top form, through practices like pranayama and meditation. But it might pay to set your sights lower.

"Some 80 percent of all degenerative, chronic diseases have their origin in inefficient digestion, assimilation, or metabolism," says Dr. Rama Kant Mishra, an Indian-born Ayurvedic physician and researcher. "If we are unable to properly digest and assimilate the food we eat, the body will not receive the nourishment it needs to maintain and regenerate itself. Moreover, digestive dysfunction creates ama, a toxic byproduct, which can wreak havoc on normal bodily functioning if allowed to accumulate over time."

To strengthen the digestive fires, ayurvedic physicians traditionally recommend a potent herbal mixture called triphala. A combination of amalaki, haritaki, and bibhitaki, triphala strengthens the digestive process, provides nutrients, and pushes out toxins from the body. With a mild laxative effect, it enhances the health of the gastrointestinal tract by rejuvenating the membrane lining of the intestines and by stimulating bile production. Triphala improves liver function, helps purify the blood, and removes accumulated toxins. It is also high in vitamin C and linoleic oil.

Triphala also helps address a wide range of disorders, from irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, constipation, and diarrhea, to anemia, eye disease, skin disorders, yeast infections, and problems related to the female cycle. According to Dr. Mishra, most anyone can benefit from taking triphala, although it is contraindicated for pregnant women, people with chronic liver conditions, and for those taking blood-thinning drugs. In rare cases, if a lot of ama has accumulated in the body, nausea or a skin rash may develop when you first begin taking triphala as impurities are pushed out. If that happens, stop taking the herb and consult with an ayurvedic doctor before taking it again.

Take the herb for about six months at a time, and then take a four-week break before continuing. If you take triphala in powder form, 1/2 teaspoon every evening before bedtime is recommended. If you take it in pill form, follow the recommendations on the bottle. Monitor your daily bowel movements. If they get too loose, it's time to cut back on the dose.