Ayurveda Day 21: Digestion Pt.2 – Signs of Poor Digestion

In Ayurveda we have one very clear way to tell when someone is suffering from poor digestion. We use amas to tell us their digestive story.

What is Ama?

It literally translates from sanskrit as “That which harms or weakens or impure and uncooked”. Basically amas are tangible toxins in the body created in the digestive system. You can see them, detect them, measure them. These toxins build up in the body as a consequence of poor digestive processes. If your digestion is too fast, too sluggish, or too variable, your body will produce this gunk, this ama, from the sum total of all the toxic effects from poor digestion. It is not one thing! And just as the food we eat becomes the cells and tissues of our body, if we eat unhealthy foods and our digestion is not optimal, these amas get absorbed and mixed into our cells and tissues as well. It goes both ways. You literally are what you eat!

The easiest ways to detect Ama are as follows:

– coated tongue
– bad breath
– excessive body odour

These three are the body’s way of trying to get the amas out. But we also need to feed our body with proper fuel (healthy foods) that won’t produce ama in the body.

There are also two other ways to detect amas – indigestion and fatigue. Although these two signs also could be indicative of something other than amas in the body.

When we digest food, our body absorbs what it needs and sends it via channels to where it needs to go. There are 7 main body systems that need what’s in our food:

– The lymphatic system (Rasavaha Srota)
– The circulatory system (Raktavaha Srota)
– The muscular system (Mamsavaha Srota)
– The adipose system (Medovaha Srota)
– The skeletal system (Asthivaha Srota)
– The nervous system (Majjavaha Srota)
– The reproductive system (Shukravaha Srota)

(Side note – 5000 years ago before written language and technology in India the Rishis were able to figure out we had complex systems in our body and how they work and function best. They must have been extremely intelligent to come up with such a thorough understanding without all the tools we have at our disposal today)

The food we eat takes time to get absorbed by the body. Ayurveda teaches that it takes around 5 days for each system in succession to absorb what it needs. The whole cycle for all the nutrients from the food we eat to be completely processed by all 7 systems takes a total of 35 days or so (5 at each level). Anything that is left over at the end of this process, if any at all, becomes our reserves or our storehouse of energy. These storehouses are called Ojas, and are a topic unto themselves.

When we eat food that carries toxins in it or has very little nutritional value – popcorn, soda, fast food, processed foods, etc, our body doesn’t always know what to do with it. If our digestion is already poor, as most of our digestion is, then we create a buildup of ama in our body at a cellular level. At each level, the body tries to absorb what it can from the foods, but because our digestion isn’t optimal, we accumulate more and more toxins from these foods. Instead of building up a storehouse of ojas, we bog down the system with amas.

If it takes 35 days for all these systems in our body to get what they need, imagine how it must be for our bodies when we eat bad food. We aren’t just putting it through the ringer for one bad night on the toilet. Our body is making that food into us! For a month it suffers with this process. Now imagine making bad choices in food isn’t just a blip in your routine, but indeed it is the routine, and healthy choices are the blip. How could the body possibly create anything but amas? When does it have time to create reserves of energy for you?

We are constantly told that we need to eat healthy, avoid fast foods, blah blah blah. I know, we’ve been told it so many times. And every time we hear it, we know it’s true but we believe that we are the exception to the rule and are going to be just fine because we are aware of it. We tell ourselves it won’t cause that much a problem. We deny that we are addicted to these quick and easy ways of eating. These excuses carry a high price.

If we make eating healthier the routine, and have blips of unhealthy eating along the way, our body has more reserves to use to combat the amas in our body. If you are showing any of the signs of ama that I stated above, maybe it’s time to start making some healthier choices. Start small. Be forgiving of yourself. Try to make a manageable goal. Maybe for you that means eating 1 meal a day healthy. Or it could mean eating one snack a day that’s healthy. Wherever you choose to begin, be thankful to yourself for taking the time to intentionally support your health. As time goes on, the bad habit will diminish and the good habit you are slowly replacing it with will take over.

Trust yourself! You can do it! Get rid of those amas!

With gratitude,



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