Ama: The Undigested Toxin
In Sanskrit, the term “Amaya” refers to disease. Ama (ah muh), derived from Amaya, means ‘unripe’ or ‘incomplete.’ The undigested waste which is formed inside the gastrointestinal tract (koshtha) as a toxin and cannot be utilized by the body, is called ama.
What is ama?
When the digestive fire (agni) is unable to metabolize food (ahara), it stagnates inside the body for a prolonged period. As a result, the undigested food gets fermented within the stomach (amashaya), and this is how ama is formed. When such fermented ama upsurges in the gastrointestinal tract, it flows into the channels (strotas) and tissues (dhatus) of the body, which ultimately vitiates the doshas or causes an imbalance within the health mechanisms (dosha dushti). As per Ayurveda, dosha dushti are the leading factor in many diseases. The nutritive part of food after metabolism is called Sara; however, in ama-related conditions, Sara is partly processed due to the minimal functioning of the digestive fire (manda agni). Thus, Ama is considered a waste that should be eliminated from the body (kitta).
Factors that cause ama
Factors, which enhance ama formation of ama are usually involved in diminishing the agni. Thus, to understand these causative factors, we need to comprehend the characteristic features of agni as well as ama. Here, are basic comparative features of agni and ama as defined in Ayurveda:
|is attributed to be|
|Agni||Hot, Light, Dry, Subtle, Clear, and Aromatic|
|Ama||Cold, Heavy, Greasy, Gross, Sticky, Slimy, and Foul-smelling|
When we experience or consume food that compromises agni, it is the initial step in the formation of ama. For example, poor dietary habits such as binge eating; prolonged fasting; consuming heavy, oily, cold, excessively sweet, and fried foods; eating contrasting food combinations (viruddh ahara) including milk with fruits, fish with milk, and others are at risk factors that increase ama build-up in the body. Moreover, lifestyle practices such as eating when stressed out, in anger, or when feeling dejected; eating while watching television, neglecting the dietary rules (refer to article on Immunity & Ayurveda), eating prior to complete digestion of a previous meal, sleeping during the day, lacking physical exercise, and other sedentary lifestyles are additional leading factors that can cause an ama-related imbalance in the body.
Signs and symptoms of ama
Common clinical signs and symptoms of ama include:
- Pain in the abdomen
- A feeling of fullness/heaviness
- Blocking of channels
- Abnormal taste
- Specific signs are observed based on the nature of tridosha (vata, pitta, and kapha).
When ama is experienced with vitiated Vata dosha, it causes pain mainly focused on the lower part of the abdomen (namely, the large intestine), and may be accompanied by joint pains or constipation. In the case of pitta dosha dominance, ama impairs the functions of the small intestine and liver; thereby, allowing ama to flow into blood, which then might emit a foul smell from the body. Further, such ama can cause heartburn, fever, or nausea Ama with vitiated Kapha dosha causes pain in the upper part of the abdomen such as the stomach or around the chest region. It accumulates in these places from where it cannot be easily expectorated and thus, produces a sweet or salty taste.
Line of treatment to eliminate ama
The first line of treatment when the body is impaired by any disease should be fasting. The concept of fasting is to relax the gastrointestinal tract and expel out the ama, which is accumulated inside the body. People with a specific constitution should be careful while fasting. Thus, it is not advised for all to eliminate ama by fasting.
The most efficient way to prevent as well as eliminate ama from the body is to routinely perform yoga for at least 15 minutes (refer to blogs of our yoga expert, Hetal Trivedi). Yoga causes mild sweating and stretching, which helps to twist the dhatus that have accumulated ama. Warming the body loosens the ama adhered within tissues and helps to move it along the digestive tract; thereby, making it easier to eliminate. Ama creates an imbalance between rajas and tamas qualities within us, and thus, it is necessary to escalate sattva and attain balance through yoga.
Cleansing therapies (shodhana karma)
When ama has been diagnosed to have accumulated deep within tissues, cleansing therapies such as purgation (virechana), enema (basti), and emesis (vaman) may be practised. It should be performed only under a trained practitioner when suggested by the doctor. The purpose is to remove excess ama, vata, pitta, and kapha from tissues.
Diet plays a significant role in eliminating ama. Foods that taste pungent, bitter, and/or astringent; herbal teas (prepared using ginger, cinnamon, or cardamom); and green leafy vegetables have been suggested to support in elimination of ama. On the other hand, heavy foods such as meat, sugar, cold beverages, and processed and starchy grains like bread and pastries escalate ama. Furthermore, 5-10 minutes of walking after a meal or sleeping for 10 minutes on the left side have been known to help digestion by stimulating agni.
Herbal remedies as suggested by doctors focus on enhancing agni, which in turn, expels ama. Thus, these herbs might be hot, bitter, and astringent in nature such as dried ginger (sunth), cinnamon (dalchini), garlic (rason), and black pepper (maricha).
Ama is routinely eliminated by the body and thus, in the initial stage of ama-related symptoms (when accumulated in the digestive tract) are treatable without major difficulty. However, as ama enters deeper into the tissues and blocks the channels, it causes an imbalance in the physiological process of the body. Thus, always follow a healthy diet and lifestyle to prevent ama and its associated diseases.