Ayurveda teaches that up to 85% of all health concerns stem from an underlying digestive imbalance. The result of poor digestion is directly linked to the production of the toxic by-products of undigested food, referred to as ama.
Ama includes undigested fats, fat-soluble environmental pollutants, heavy metals, and undigested proteins like gluten in wheat, casein in dairy, and the naturally-occurring, protective anti-nutrients in grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Ideally, these large proteins and fats would be broken down by the upper digestive system and be rendered small enough to enter directly into the intestinal capillary systems and be delivered into the bloodstream. (1-3)
However, these undigested food particles are often too big to be properly absorbed into the bloodstream. In cases where the digestive strength has broken down, they are up-taken into the larger collecting ducts of the lymphatic system that drain the intestines where they can wreak havoc.
While the lymph is equipped with its own array of digestive enzymes to handle a reasonable amount of larger undigested proteins and fats, a steady diet of non-organic, pesticide-laden, highly processed foods can cause ama build-up or lymph congestion. (9)
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In Ayurveda, the study of the lymph is called rasayana or the study of longevity. Understanding how to break up ama and clear the lymphatic system is the Ayurvedic key to health and longevity, and it all starts in the digestive system.
The Ama Destroyer
- Break up ama
- Boost bio-availability of other nutrients
- Turn on the stomach’s digestive fire
The formula is classically called trikatu and is known as Warm Digest at LifeSpa. Trikatu is a Sanskrit word meaning three spices, three peppers, or three pungents:
- Black Pepper – Piper nigrum
- Long Pepper – Piper longum
- Ginger – Zingiber officinale
Most commonly, this formula was used to support healthy stomach function and boost the natural production of hydrochloric acid (HCI), referred to as jathara agni and pachaka pitta in Ayurveda. It was also used to support the liver’s production of bile, the stimulation of bile from the gallbladder, and the healthy secretion and delivery of digestive enzymes (ranjaka pitta) from the pancreas.
This triad—the stomach, liver-gallbladder and pancreas—act synergistically in that each play a role in the function of the other. If one component is out of balance, the whole upper digestive system is out of balance.
Without adequate production of HCI from the stomach, the liver and pancreas will not produce the needed bile and enzymes to buffer the stomach acids. Without bile flow and pancreatic enzyme production to neutralize the stomach acid, the stomach will be reluctant to make the needed HCI and/or hold onto its contents for too long which can result in occasional heartburn.
While Warm Digest (trikatu) is not indicated for heartburn, it is the classic herb used to reset the coordinated function of the stomach, liver-gallbladder and pancreas, thus preventing the production of toxic ama that can build-up in the lower intestines and lymph.
The best way to deal with ama is to not produce it in the first place. This starts with a coordinated effort to care for these three digestive organs with these three digestive spices.
The Original Bio-Enhancer
A bio-enhancer is a substance that helps the body deliver or absorb other needed nutrients. Today, this is a very popular area of research and new studies are always citing ways to boost the bio-availability of certain nutrients.
Turmeric, known to be a difficult-to-absorb herb, gained its fame when researchers added black pepper as a bio-enhancer which boosted its absorption by 200-2000%. (4) Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a curcumin (the extract of turmeric) formula without a bio-enhancer such as a black pepper extract or ginger.
The three ingredients that make up the trikatu formula are all natural bio-enhancers. In fact, black pepper, ginger and long pepper, are the original bio-enhancers. The use of these three spices as bio-enhancers has a long history in Ayurveda. They were commonly used in the 6th and 7th centuries.
In Ayurveda, bio-enhancers are called anupans, or carrying agents. Anupans were used in herbal formulas to deliver or drive the absorption of the primary ingredients in the formula.
Today, trikatu is one of the most common herbal anupans. You’ll find small amounts of it in various Ayurvedic formulas with the purpose of enhancing the delivery of herbs within. (5)
Trikatu is also used to increase the effectiveness of the other herbs within a formula. In Ayurvedic tradition, any substance that could boost the availability or effectiveness of another substance or food that it was taken with was called yogavahi.
This is not just by boosting absorption, but by bio-chemically altering the formula or herbs in a formula to make them more effective. (5)
We have seen this first-hand when we make our Turmeric Plus formula, which is 16 parts organic turmeric and 1 part organic black pepper. We test the bacteria counts on the raw material, and then once again on the finished product. We’ve found that, when these two are combined, the beneficial bacteria count is explosive compared to the bacteria counts found in the turmeric or black pepper alone.
At LifeSpa, we believe that the natural, good bacteria that are found on organically grown, unprocessed whole foods and herbs play a very important role in the bio-availability, bio-chemistry, and effectiveness of the plant. In a sense, they are the original probiotics, as they deliver healthy diversity to our microbiome!
Perhaps due to its role as a bio-enhancer, anupan, yogavahi, and its ability to boost beneficial bacteria counts, studies show that trikatu plays a role in many functions of the body. It has been studied to support healthy joint function. (6) It has also been shown to support cardiovascular health and cholesterol levels already within a normal range. (7,8)
Traditionally, it was also used for supporting immunity, lung health, encouraging fat metabolism and healthy weight loss, staving off gas and bloating, and for all aspects of digestive health except for heartburn or acidity issues, for which it is contraindicated.
Ayurvedic Properties & Energetics of Trikatu
Taste (Rasa): Pungent
Energy (Virya): Heating
Post-Digestive Effect (Vipaka): Pungent
Quality (Guna): Light, dry
Therapeutic Effect (Prabhava): Bio-enhancer, Digestive, (reduces ama toxins in the body)