Ever wondered why you get all this sneezing, itchy eyes and breathing issues in spring or autumn while others seem to enjoy the season? Its your immune system trying to be over smart. No other bodily system represents the complex and frail balance of ‘doshas’ in our body, than the immune system. When in balance and working as intended, the immune system protects us from the invaders- be it bacteria, virus or other harmful particles which may harm our wellbeing. If the immune system is under functioning, it will make our body prone to infections. Then how about having an extra strong immune system? That is also bad, because it will react excessively to substances which are not really harmful to us, causing allergies. Sometimes, it can also attack our own cells and tissues causing grave diseases, termed autoimmunity. Both an over functioning or under functioning immune system are best addressed by the methodical and wholistic approach of ayurveda. To address problems of immunity and allergies, Ayurveda considers the different aspects like ‘agni’ (metabolism), state of the immune system and lifestyle. So don’t be disheartened by not getting desired results with steroid medications and antihistamines. Choose ayurveda for allergy. Allergies are the strong reactions of an overactive immune system to substances which are not harmful or which are only mildly harmful to us. The body can sometimes react to totally harmless or even beneficial substances. For example some food items like nuts or wheat may cause such reactions in some of us. On other occasions, the immune system overreacts to some materials like pollen, animal hair or dust. Those are not the best if inhaled, but not threatening enough to warrant a strong immune reaction. Nonetheless those substances are understood as threats and a strong response is created. These strong reactions can cause a range of symptoms from sneezing and itchy eyes to even breathing difficulties, eczema or anaphylaxis. The hyperactive state of the immune system is called atopy and what we experience as allergies are the symptoms from the reaction. Seasonal allergies are confined to the second mechanism - that is, some of us tend to over react to certain substances which are not very harmful to the body. Let us try to understand why. Why do some of us get allergies: The susceptibility to get seasonal allergies is attributed to our genes. In people with allergies, certain genes make the body produce more of some chemicals and cells dealing with immune reactions. Antibody called IgE, a type of white blood cells called T-h lymphocytes etc are examples of such chemicals and cells. Over exposure to irritant industrial pollutants like smoke, chemicals and particulates will also trigger the immune system to become hyperactive. Sometimes certain viral and bacterial infections also trigger the disarray of the immune system to make us allergic afterwards. (1) Another theory is related to excessive hygiene during childhood. Exposure to disease causing microbes and potential allergens during early childhood is important for the maturation of good immune response. With our hygiene obsessed lifestyle, this training for the immune system is restricted, leading to a tendency to allergies. (2) Agni (The Gut) and allergies - ayurvedic and modern views: Ayurveda has always insisted upon the importance of maintaining proper ‘agni’ (metabolic health) as key to overall health, especially resistance against diseases. Modern medical researches are uncovering more evidence that links allergies and hypersensitivity to the ‘Gut’ or digestive system. Allergies can be triggered or aggravated by a condition called ‘leaky gut syndrome’. (3) Leaky gut is the term given to the condition when the tight junctions between cells of our intestines are ‘leaking’. The intestinal lining is supposed to be selectively permeable. That means it should allow the nutrients from food to pass through to the blood. But it should filter out the unwanted molecules and micro organisms like bacteria, fungus etc. But this filtering system may get less efficient, resulting in passage of the above mentioned particles into the circulation. This leakage of the intestine or ‘leaky gut’ is the result of certain wrong choices in food and lifestyle. The excess of refined flour, sugar and gluten in food is known to cause inflammation of the gut lining, leading to leaky gut. Also the overuse of certain drugs like steroids, NSAIDs, antibiotics etc will lead to the issue. The unwanted molecules in circulation will cause inflammatory responses in the body. The immune system will become ‘disoriented’ and start to become over reactive - a prerequisite for allergies. The mechanism of allergy (for nerds): When a predisposed person (someone with an overactive immune system) is exposed to a potential allergen (like pollen) for the first time, immune cells called B Lymphocytes get activated. They produce a chemical called the IgE antibody. The IgE antibody circulates and attaches to another type of immune cells called the mast cells. Mast cells are mostly found on mucous membranes (linings of airways, digestive tract, lungs, eyes), skin, between neurons etc. This first exposure won’t cause any reactions or symptoms. But subsequent encounter with the same allergen will trigger the IgE antibodies and cause activation of the mast cells. Mast cells are packed with chemicals like histamine which cause inflammatory responses. These chemicals are released into the circulation and surrounding cells upon activation. This results in symptoms like inflammation, excess mucus secretion, constriction of airways, itching, redness etc. For some people, this inflammatory response subsides when the trigger is avoided. But sometimes this response can become a permanent situation - if the trigger is prolonged or because of our genetic peculiarity. This later stage is often difficult to treat with antihistamine medications. (2) Ayurveda for allergy and atopy: In ayurvedic view, a person becomes predisposed to allergy due to weak ‘agni’, accumulation of ‘aama’ (metabolic toxins), ‘prakruthi’ (dosha constitution and genetic peculiarity), and deficiency in ‘ojas’ (nutritional factors contributing to immunity). Potential allergens cause an imbalance of ‘doshas’, with ‘pitha’ in the forefront. The vitiated ‘pitha’ affects other ‘dosha’ and expresses symptoms according to your body constitution or ‘prakruthi’. For example, when ‘vata’ is involved you may get symptoms like dry cough, intestinal bloating, dry eyes, skin lesions with dryness and flaking etc. ‘Pita’ will express redness in skin or eyes, acidity, diarrhoea, burning sensation on skin or digestive system, oozing eczemas etc. ‘Kapha’ will cause a productive cough, airway congestion, itching, oedema etc. In treating allergies, ayurveda tries to balance the ‘dosha’ which is prominent in expressing the symptoms, and then ‘pitha’ and ‘agni’. The correction of ‘agni’ (basic metabolism) and ‘ojas’ is important in preventing the frequent recurrence of allergies. As correcting metabolism is important in addressing seasonal allergies, we often prescribe a diet plan according to your body type, to balance the ‘dosha’ and also improve the strength of ‘agni’. Most often in our clinical experience, it is observed that people with allergies have a lot of accumulated ‘aama’ (metabolic toxins). If that is the case, panchakarma therapies like ‘vamana’, ‘virechana’ or ‘vasti’ choosen according to your ‘dosha’ will give excellent results. ‘Nasya’ (nasal cleaning) is found to be instrumental in seasonal allergies causing respiratory congestion and eye problems. Kerala ayurvedic medicine like ‘anu tailam’, ‘shadbindhu tailam’ etc are commonly used as nasal drops to clean the airways and reduce congestion. As we discussed in the beginning, neither lowering the immune system nor strengthening it will relieve allergies. What we require is ‘immune modulation’. Speaking in modern scientific jargon, the pro inflammatory immune response should be mediated to more anti-inflammatory inflammatory response. Herbs like ginger, pepper, garlic, turmeric, indian gooseberry and many others are found to have this effect on the immune system. These herbs work better when combined together scientifically, because it will mitigate and modify the effect of each other. This will prevent excess suppression or activation of the immune cells and chemicals. All Kerala ayurveda products for immunity are combinations of these herbs in different proportions to provide specific results according to the symptoms and ‘doshas’. Some of the best medicines for seasonal allergies include Indukantham kashayam tablets, allerkhand, haridrakhandam, vilwadi tablets etc. It is recommended to take consultation from a qualified ayurvedic doctor before starting ayurvedic medicine for allergies. Ayurveda treatments online are available to clear doubts from doctors. Feel free to drop a comment if you have any further queries about allergies and how to get rid of them. References:
Robbins Basic Pathology. Tenth Edition, Page 137. Elsevier.
Davidson’s principles and practice of medicine. 22nd Edition. Page 89. Elsevier