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Ayurveda and Celiac Disease

Ayurveda and Celiac Disease
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This blog post is based on a question that was sent to me regarding celiac disease. Here is the question:

“An Ayurvedic practitioner has counseled that gluten sensitivity can be overcome by strengthening agni (fire, light, heat – specifically, digestive fire, or the collected power of digestion), and that it’s not “appropriate” to cater to so many restrictions common in modern health circles (e.g., dairy-free, etc.). For myself, though I found the transitions challenging at first, I feel like I have survived and done as well as I have in no small part due to eating gluten-free (for many years) and largely dairy-free, among other things, and I’ve harbored no expectation of ever reversing. It doesn’t seem likely that my body could ever gain back an ability to digest gluten, or not get flemmy from dairy. What is your perspective?”

To answer the question from the Ayurvedic perspective, the statement is correct. But I can see how it could be invalidating to someone who has been living with this disorder for a long time.

Dr. Vasant Lad, a very well known and respected teacher of Ayurvedic medicine, has described Ayurveda’s approach to celiac disease this way,

“Celiac disease falls under grahani (small intestine) roga (disease), because grahani is the name for the small intestine. Grahani is the container, while agni is the content. If one is affected, the other is also bound to be disturbed.

The functional unit of the small intestine is the villus. The intestinal villi hold food molecules during the digestive process. If agni is strong, the villi are strong and healthy. They maintain their tone, coordination, and rhythmic movement, and correctly perform their actions in the process of digestion, absorption, and assimilation. When there is agni imbalance, the functioning of the villi are affected and the person can get either gluten enteropathy or non-tropical celiac sprue. Any food substances that are heavy, fatty, and gross can suppress agni. Gluten is gross, heavy, sticky, dull, and oily in nature, so it can cause low agni and result in the production of ama (totality of accumulated wastes; “toxins”).”

Many holistic health practitioners regard the increase in reported food sensitivities as an epidemic of imbalance. Addressing that epidemic by removing wheat from the environment doesn’t actually address the problem. It’s a bit like fixing a burst pipe by building an elaborate valve around it, rather than just repairing the leak. From their perspective, the appropriate solution is to fix the pipe by bringing the body back into balance.

Right now, standard treatment for celiac disease is to remove all gluten from that person’s diet. There are other treatment options available in Ayurveda; it’s just that a many people working in mainstream and alternative health may not know about them.

The comment you asked about, then, is a critique of the standard policy of emphasizing a gluten-free environment over resolving the pervasive issue, which is the lack of other readily available options for people who have this disease.

Undergoing a natural healing process to work on addressing an allergy is a long and involved process. If you’re happy with the way things are, then you are under no obligation to anyone to change anything. The job of ANY health practitioner or consultant is to help you to meet your goals and to let you know what resources are available are available. You need to do what makes sense and keeps you healthy and happy. We’re here to help you do that.

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