Posted on: by Alistair
If you live in the West then it is likely you know at least one person who is gluten intolerant or has chosen a gluten-free diet for health reasons. Often when people choose to change their diet and become gluten-free, the intensity of their symptoms decreases and they begin to feel better. As is always the case with any form of treatment, it is important to ask
Has the root cause been removed?
So, does removing gluten from our diet remove the root cause or are we simply removing a food that aggravates our symptoms, making them more apparent? How can we discover the cause and if they are related? To answer these questions, let me begin by putting forward the Ayurvedic view of how we become gluten intolerant.
Ayurveda views gluten intolerance as a form of, and a precursor to, an autoimmune disease. Okay, let me back up a step and perhaps begin by explaining how a person develops an autoimmune disease.
At each meal our body must work to diligently digest the food we are eating. And to achieve complete digestion of food we must co-ordinate several functions of the body – endocrine, lymphatic, muscular and, of course, digestive. Failure to co-ordinate these functions results in the formation of Ama.
Ama is a sanksrit word that translates literally as “undigested food”. Modern science is beginning to appreciate that this literal translation is not a metaphor and is finding that inadequately digested food is the cause of a great deal of autoimmune responses.
The key to using this knowledge is to understand that the autoimmune response is just that, a response. It is not the cause of the disease, instead it is a physiological response to a deeper cause. And this is why the common allopathic treatment for these problems, immunosuppressants, do not provide long term relief.
Let me digress for a moment and use an analogy to simplify my point and to illustrate how gluten becomes a problem, but is not the cause.
Let’s assume you have a road. It’s a fairly busy road with several different types of vehicles traveling along it. Without proper care and maintenance the road gets a little bumpier over time and reaches the point where cars are spilling gasoline on the road as they travel (yes, it’s pretty bumpy).
Pools of gasoline start to form on the road and generally aren’t a problem until a particular kind of vehicle, let’s say a tank, comes down the road. Because of its metal tracks the tank creates sparks as it goes and, eventually, ignites the gasoline causing a tremendous amount of damage.
It makes sense to restrict tanks from the road. However, while this approach will solve the problem (no fires), it will not eliminate the cause (the uneven road). This solution also won’t clear away the highly flammable gasoline that has accumulated in the road.
In case it wasn’t clear – the road is the digestive tract, the cars are the food, the bumpy road is a result of poor diet, the tank is the gluten and gasoline is the Ama.
And this is equivalent to what is happening when we remove gluten from our diet. While we certainly will see a reduction in symptoms, it does not remove the cause and we still need to address the toxins that have accumulated in the digestive tract and the rest of the body. Simply removing gluten will not “detoxify” or allow the body to heal.
So, if removing gluten doesn’t treat the cause, what does?
By balancing Agni (digestive power) we begin to smooth out the road, allowing cars to move more efficiently. With more efficient movement comes more effective digestion and a reduction in Ama – not just in the digestive tract but over the body as a whole.
But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to balancing the digestion and this is where Ayurveda embraces our uniqueness and offers approaches based on our natural constitution and the unique nature of our imbalance. In order for the digestion to find balance it must honor these two principles and it is the wisdom of Ayurveda that provides the key.
To solve this problem for yourself you will need to find an Ayurvedic practitioner who will provide a treatment enabling you to restore balance to the digestive tract and perhaps, in the longer term, adding gluten back into your diet.