Triphala for IBS, Constipation and Overall Health
When I think of the root of good health, my mind automatically goes to the gut. After all, the gut is directly responsible for much of our immune function and indirectly responsible for just about all other aspects of health. When your gut is healthy, you will experience increased immune function, a higher level of energy, freedom from chronic illness and disease, hormone balance, efficient metabolism and a pleasant and stable mood. On the flip side, when the intestines are inflamed or permeable, not only can particles of food pass through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream (where they don’t belong), but digestion becomes impaired making it next to impossible to for our cells to absorb the nutrients from our food or supplements. So yes, basically everything about us is tied to the health of our digestive system.
There are lots of nutrients out there that will support the body’s efforts to keep the digestive tract healthy. Probiotics (good bacteria), digestive enzymes, and certain herbs like licorice root that can target specific digestion-related issues each represent part of the foundation of gut health. In addition to these nutritional “tools,” there is one herbal formula that has about 5,000 years of anecdotal and scientific evidence backing its effectiveness as healing support for the gut and the entire body. That herbal formula is called Triphala.
What is Triphala?
Triphala is a popular Ayurvedic herbal formula that is considered to be the most balanced of all herbal compounds and thus has been the cornerstone of herbal therapies in India over thousands of years. The name Triphala means “three fruits” which makes sense because this formula is comprised of the three Indian fruits Amla (Emblica officinalis), Behada (Terminalia belerica), and Harada (Terminalia chebula). The high nutritional value of this powerful combination is what makes Triphala unique in that it is able to cleanse and detoxify the body at the deepest levels while also building the body up or tonifying.
Ayurvedic theory and Triphala.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ayurveda it is a 5,000-year-old system of medicine that originated in the Vedic culture of India. It’s focus is on promoting optimal wellness by maintaining harmony between the mind, body, spirit and the universe. Imbalances are addressed in their infancy through the use of mild herbs and other non-invasive methods. One belief of Ayurveda is that three energies or “doshas” called Vata, Pitta and Kapha control how the body works and, when imbalanced, lead to illness.
Ayurveda theory believes that the three fruits of the Triphala formula – Harada, Amla and Behada – each correspond to one of doshas. Harada, which has a bitter flavor, is associated with vata and the elements of air and space. It is the most laxative of all Triphala fruits but it also has astringent, lubricant, antiparasitic, alterative, antispasmodic and nervine properties. Over the years it’s met with great success for the treatment acute and chronic constipation, nervousness, and anxiety.
Amla (also known as Indian Gooseberry), on the other hand, is sour and corresponds to pitta and the fire element in Ayurvedic medicine. It is a cooling tonic with astringent, mild laxative, alterative, and antipyretic properties. It can do wonders for ulcers, any sort of intestinal or stomach inflammation, diarrhea, liver congestion and infections. Amla also possesses mild anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and is good for the heart. Behind all of these health-supportive properties is a Vitamin C content that is through the roof! Amla is the highest known naturally-occurring source of vitamin C, with 20 times that of an orange!
Behada is astringent, tonic, digestive and anti-spasmodic. It targets kapha imbalances and corresponds to the earth and water elements. Behada purifies and balances excess mucus, treats asthma, bronchial conditions, allergies and hiccups.
Triphala and the gut.
Of the many symptoms that are associated with imbalances within the gut, perhaps one of the most common is constipation. There are many ways to alleviate constipation, some that will support the healthy function of the digestive tract, and others, like stimulant-based laxatives, that will simply “make you go,” to be blunt! But just like with any health issue, although we can simply force the body to do what we want it to do using an herb or drug, it doesn’t mean that’s the best way to solve the root problem. In fact, treating an issue this way makes it likely that we will be bound to the treatment for a very long time. So rather than merely creating the end result that we want, we can use a very gentle but effective Ayurvedic herbal formula called Triphala to help strengthen the gut while supporting bowel regularity.
Triphala is not your "typical" laxative.
There are two main categories of herbal laxatives, the first being the purgatives that include herbs like senna and rhubarb, among others. These contain compounds that actually stimulate peristalsis (the wave-like muscle contractions that help food move through the digestive tract) and encourage bile secretion from the liver and gallbladder. The second category includes the lubricating bulk laxatives – the herbs that protect and moisten the intestinal tract using a mucus-based film. Psyllium and flax are two such laxatives.
Triphala is in a category all its own when it comes to use as a laxative. It doesn’t just provide the desired end result, but while doing so it tones the digestive system by increasing its available energy. And that’s not all! Triphala is known for its blood- and liver-cleansing actions too, probably due largely to its high level of Vitamin C and the presence of linoleic acid. Research has revealed that this formula can significantly reduce serum cholesterol and lipid levels throughout the body and it can often assist with weight loss. So when you take Triphala, you’re not only supporting healthy bowel movements, but also supporting gut health and general health throughout the body.
Triphala’s ability to “balance” and “tonify” makes it an appropriate support compound for almost all of the various root causes of constipation. Typically one type of laxative may be appropriate for one individual, while someone else may need a different type to experience relief. Some folks have a congested liver and gallbladder and, therefore, do better on purgatives. Others may have a very dry intestinal tract due to a nutrient deficiency or a fast metabolic rate, and they would benefit from the lubricating tendency of psyllium or flax. Triphala is useful for any and all of the above. No matter what the issue, Triphala will build rather than deplete, which is not the case when it comes to certain other herbs or conventional, over-the-counter laxatives.
The significance of building up rather than tearing down.
The fact that Triphala possesses a unique balance of herbs that encourage both tonification and elimination provides assurance that the body won’t become even more depleted or congested than it already is. When we focus only on the end-product of elimination and therefore overuse purgative-type laxatives, not only can the body’s stores of minerals and B vitamins become depleted, but an imbalance in gut bacteria can also occur. General weakness, fatigue and anemia could result.. The result is weakness with a likely tendency towards chronic fatigue and anemia. This is not exactly the price I’d want to pay to rid myself of constipation!
Triphala’s combined tonic and eliminative properties also make it generally safe to take even when one has a “deficiency” disease such as anemia, fatigue, candida or poor digestion. The incredible value of this formula to our health can best be summed up with this popular Indian folk saying: “No mother? Do not worry so long as you have Triphala.” Generations of Indian people believe that Triphala is able to care for the internal organs of the body as a mother cares for her children. Now that says something about the benefits Triphala!!
How to take Triphala.
Since this formula is so gentle, there is nothing wrong with taking it over a long period of time. In fact, Ayurvedic theory believes that long-term supplementation with Triphala will gently affect elimination and purification of Ama (see definition here) from the tissues of the entire body. The bottom line is that, taking Triphala regularly, whether once daily or once weekly simply for health maintenance is one smart strategy that will help prevent illness.
Triphala can be taken as a powder or in tablet form. That said, the flavor of the powder can take some getting used to so I’m happy to say that Triphala tablets are readily available! A common dose is 2 tablets 1-3 times daily for adults, with children requiring less of course. That said, even maintaining a one-or-two-tablet-per-week regimen will provide health benefits. The larger the dose, the more laxative it will be, so adjust the dose according to bowel movements. Keep in mind that different people can experience different reactions to the same dose of triphala. For some it may cause bowels that are too loose, while others may feel little or no effect laxative effect. So take two or three days to determine the dose that works best for you.
My personal favorite brand of Triphala is Planetary Herbals Triphala Gold. This and several other brands I carry in my online dispensary (see below) is in capsule form. I also carry powder form for those who may prefer that. Once you are in the dispensary, search on “triphala” and all of the options will appear.
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