The Problem with Excess Pitta

It has always been a conundrum to me that Athletes and people with type A personalities are Pitta types because these are the types of people that are the most susceptible to inflammation which would compromise their athletic performance and cognitive function. Not necessarily from the increased demands that they put on their bodies and minds on a daily basis, but because of their tendency to respond to imbalance through inflammation. This is the cornerstone of imbalanced pitta and let’s look at how this inflammatory response often occurs.

There is a natural inflammatory response that can occur in muscle or joint tissue that comes with hard training or an injury. This type of inflammation is felt after working out as an ache in your muscles or joints and then resolves. However the seat of Pitta is in the small intestine and by the time inflammation in this area of the body becomes noticeable it is often too late. Your gut lining is considered the most important half inch in the body because it is like the skin in that it protects you from foreign invaders. This half inch houses 70-80% of the immune system. The reason that so much of the immune system is here is because it is the first line of defense against external toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals in tap water, artificial colors or preservatives. In addition to this it processes internal toxins that come from the digestion of foods.

The primary weapon of the immune system is inflammation and this is also what is used when there are food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities to different foods. Just like repeatedly injuring a muscle or joint, repeated exposure to certain foods can create inflammation within the gut which can spread to the rest of the body. This is why Pitta’s seat is in the small intestine and this chronic inflammation is the cause of leaky gut because it allows things in the blood stream that don’t belong there.

In addition to inflammatory foods intense physical exercise of any kind for at least one hour can cause short-term intestinal injury and lead to leaky gut.1 This is why my preferred exercise is yoga. You may have experienced this correlation if you have ever had GI distress shortly before or after a workout. Sometimes this is referred to as “the runner’s trots”. Just like exposure to gluten takes 5-7 days for the intestinal lining to heal there is a necessary recovery time between intense bouts of exercise in order to minimize any long term inflammatory effects.

Chronic inflammation requires such a full spectrum response of the immune system, and the body as a whole that the ability to absorb and utilize vital nutrients from good foods is often compromised. This results in bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diffuse joint pain, fatigue and poor sleep.  In more severe cases it can also result in a lack of mental clarity, headaches, irritability, anxiety and depression. The more sever conditions often occur because approximately 95% of serotonin (key neurotransmitter for nervous system function) production occurs in the gut. Serotonin has an impact on mood, mental focus, sleep quality and the release of human growth hormone (HGH).

That is why the health of the gut can so strongly affect brain function and physical strength.

This is why you want to manage your pitta effectively especially if you are an athlete. Choosing pitta pacifying foods as outlined in my Pitta food guide can help. Avoiding rich, spicy foods is also helpful. Antioxidants can be helpful in reducing the inflammation but they are not the full solution. I hope that this understanding of Pitta helps you improve your performance in life.  

1. Van Wijck K, Van Eijk HM, Buurman WA, Dejong CH. Exercise-induced splanchnic hypo-
perfusion results in gut dysfunction in healthy men. PLoS One. 2011;6(7);E22366.
2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, “Mayo Clinic Discovers New
Genetic Candidates for Irritable Bowel Syndrome,
July 22, 2011.