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Allergies and Ayurveda

by Sebastian Pole(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 124 - June 2006

The Ayurvedic approach to allergies is the regulation of the body's ability to accept or reject the ingested substances that cause or prevent allergies.

The word allergy is derived from the Greek allos meaning different and ergos meaning action. Allergy roughly refers to an altered reaction.

One aim of our immune system is to move to the site of any invasion and destroy the invader. This is achieved by creating protective proteins – antibodies – specifically targeted against particular foreign substances, known as antigens. These antibodies, or immunoglobulins (IgG, IgM, IgA, IgD), help destroy a foreign particle by attaching to its surface, making it easier for other immune cells to destroy it. However, the allergic person develops a specific type of antibody, immunoglobulin E, or IgE, in response to normally harmless foreign substances, such as tree pollen.

The IgE secreting cell attaches to mast cells most prevalent in the respiratory tract, GI tract and skin. The mast cells promptly release mediator chemicals – histamine, leukotrienes and cytokines – producing rashes, inflammatory swellings, swelling and irritation of nasal and respiratory mucus membranes, bronchial constriction, hyper secretion of mucus, watering eyes and dark swellings under the eyes (allergic shiners').

Causes include pollen, house dust or mites, air pollution, industrial chemicals, foods, drugs, dander, latex, plants, dyes, metals (nickel) and cosmetics. Any of these can trigger eczema, contact dermatitis, asthma, hives, hayfever, perennial rhinitis and digestive intolerances.

In Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of health and wellbeing, the causation factor is the digestive fire, agni. The state of agni determines our body's ability to 'digest' what it experiences. Agni protects our immunity by generating sufficient life-force (prana), life-vitality (tejas) and life-strength (ojas) to protect and nourish the body. If the digestive fire is low, unmetabolized toxins known as ama can form. If there is strong digestive fire an allergy is virtually impossible as the digestive fire neutralizes any 'incoming' substances and prevents the formation of toxic ama.

Unmetabolized toxins (ama) result from poor digestion, poor elimination of wastes and poor assimilation of life's experiences. These unmetabolized toxins are sticky, clogging and prevent the free-flow of the life-force in the whole body-mind complex. This may lead to allergic reactions.

Constitutional Tendency: Prakriti

Individual constitution (prakriti) determines the response to invading allergens (ama). There are three constitutions or doshas in Ayurveda: vata, pitta and kapha, each a particular combination of the essential elements of nature, Space, Air, Fire, Water, Earth.

The Air Constitution – Vata

Vata is the energy responsible for movement, circulation, the transport of nervous impulses and the life-force, prana. People born with high amounts of vata may feel spacey, anxiety-ridden and isolated when out of balance. They are not good at managing their energy levels. They are prone to dry skin, constipation, pain, panic attacks, anorexia, addictions and sciatica. When in balance, they are creative, clear, spontaneous, funny and always planning a trip somewhere new.

The Fire Constitution – Pitta

Pitta is the energy responsible for metabolism, digestive fire, metabolic processes, enzyme production and heat. People born with high amounts of pitta tend to feel irritated, jealous, critical, self-critical, competitive, impatient and bitter when out of balance. They are prone to inflammations, skin, liver and eye disorders, heartburn, and sensitive teeth. They manage their energy well. When in balance they are highly intellectual, leaders, brave, teachers and love being the centre of attention.

The Water Constitution – Kapha

Kapha is the energy responsible for storage, protection, lubrication, mucus and the production of fats and oils. People born with high amounts of kapha may be greedy, apathetic, slow, heavy and cloudy-headed when out of balance. They are prone to hypothyroidism, obesity, clogged arteries, oily skin, and diabetes. They tend to hoard and store their energy. When in balance they are compassionate, steady, articulate, healthy, sweet and reliable, love food, sleep and laughter.

Allergic Response

The allergic response depends on where toxins are located in the body and which constitutional type is predominant: e.g. someone with a watery kapha constitution will be more likely to contract allergies to watery and heavy substances such as milk, dairy, wheat.

A further factor in allergic manifestation is the current state of health circulating within the tissues. How much excessive vata, pitta or kapha is within the body-mind will also influence the response. If kapha is balanced, exposure to a kapha allergen (e.g. milk) will be minimal. If kapha is high, exposure to a kapha type allergen may be excessive.

The type of allergen will also influence the response; there are vata, pitta and kapha types of allergens; e.g. animal dander is a vata allergen, acidic citrus fruits are a pitta allergen and mucus-forming dairy is a kapha allergen. The quantity of that specific allergen that is ingested is also critical in determining the response to it. If there is a large volume of allergen it will overpower even the strongest digestive fire.

General Treatment

• Avoid the cause and modify the environment;
• Strengthen agni and promote the intestinal integrity;
• Clear ama and reduce toxic overload;
• Purify the body of any excessive dosha accumulation;
• Rejuvenate the whole system, increase ojas.

So, avoiding allergies is all about keeping your digestion strong, avoiding a toxic overload and strengthening the immune system. Help yourself to 'digest' the challenges you face and you will be allergy free.

Case Study

Respiratory Allergies and Hayfever
As the digestive fire is weak, mucus kapha toxins accumulate. Kapha overflows into its seat in the lungs and respiratory system, flooding out of the nose and lungs. The reason this type of hayfever occurs early in the spring is that, as the warmth of spring increases, it causes the kapha built up over the winter to melt. Like spring floods, the rivers burst their banks, and excess mucus flows out of the body.

There may also be concurrent inflammation due to the irritation of the invading allergen causing pitta to accumulate in the blood stream and then overflow at the kapha sites.

Kapha signs: Sinus congestion, watery eyes, copious mucus, itchy nose.

Pitta signs: Red eyes, itchy eyes, inflamed nose and mucus membranes, headache.

Kapha treatment

Trikatu means the Three Pungents and it is used to stimulate the system, warm the digestion and improve assimilation of nutrients. It is traditionally used for lung and nasal problems. It is specific for allergic rhinitis, hayfever and colds. Best taken with warm ginger tea and honey;
Triphala is used to clear unmetabolized toxins. Take three capsules at night;
• Steam of eucalyptus and basil essential oils;
• Rejuvenate with Ashwagandha, superb for allergic rhinitis.

Pitta treatment

• Cooling treatments including Aloe vera juice;
Triphala Plus at night to clear the bowels;
Rose water eye washes to prevent itching;
Omega 3-6-9 anti-inflammatory oils: hemp seed oil.

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About Sebastian Pole

Sebastian Pole Lic OHM Ayur HC MAPA MRCHM MURHP is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Herbal Director of Pukka Herbs which offers 100% organic Ayurvedic remedies and teas, produced to high ethical standards, from herbs grown by farmers who are paid a fair wage. For more information, see www.pukkaherbs.com  or Tel: 0117 9640944. Sebastian's clinic is Tel:  01225 466944 or see his website for more information www.sebastianpole.com/

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