Allergies: A Common Health Complaint
Statistics show that over 50 million people nationwide suffer from various forms of allergies. This condition, however, is not easy to understand and treat effectively. Modern conventional treatments are mainly through the use of allergy shots, over the counter anti-histamines, and steroidal sinus sprays, which all act as temporary band-aids and often have undesirable side effects. Ayurveda offers a well rounded approach with medicinal herbs, specific dietary and lifestyle guidelines, and cleansing therapies to help you cope with allergy symptoms while also addressing their underlying cause.
Why an Allergic Reaction?
An allergy can be described as an adverse reaction to any substance that your body perceives as harmful, including certain foods, pollens, dust, mold, and pet dander, as well as chemicals, detergents, artificial food additives, pharmaceutical medicines, and much more. From a modern medical perspective, the body attempts to protect itself from the substance by producing antibodies, which in turn trigger certain cells to release chemicals, most notably histamine, into the bloodstream. The release of histamine is responsible for the common allergy symptoms like itchy, burning eyes, skin reactions, scratchy throat, sinus congestion, and so on, but in severe allergic reactions asthmatic and anaphylactic attacks can also occur. If these uncomfortable symptoms are the body’s attempt to deal with an allergen, then avoiding the allergen, when possible, may be necessary. Yet this can be difficult if not impossible for people who are allergic to a wide variety of substances.
The Ayurvedic approach to Allergies
From an Ayurvedic perspective, the primary cause of allergies is due to the accumulation of ama (toxins, or metabolic waste products) caused by an imbalance of the digestive fire. Here, toxins can be viewed as an antigen triggering an immune response, which in turn leads to low immunity. Of course, many factors can affect this situation, including inappropriate diet and lifestyle, stress, overwork, seasonal changes, chronic diseases, and strong feelings of anger, worry, and grief. This is why in order to address allergies more effectively, a holistic approach is required.
How allergies manifest in the body is often influenced by the individual constitution, and current state of doshas. In other words, how the allergy manifests can be viewed as a doshic response to a particular allergen. So symptoms will have characteristics relating to the three doshas vata, pitta or kapha. When the excess dosha associates with the spreading toxins (ama), it moves into the tissues and channels of the body, dictating how the allergy manifests.
The predominant dosha in the constitution is often responsible for how the body reacts to certain allergens. However, factors such as diet, lifestyle, environment, and exposure to modern synthetic chemicals, can cause other non-characteristic allergic reactions that trigger the secondary or least predominant doshas. Of course, if more than one dosha is aggravated the allergic symptoms will be mixed, making the condition more confusing and difficult to treat.
When certain doshic qualities are already in excess and more of these qualities are forced upon the organism, the immune system keeps producing antibodies to contend with the invading toxins. As a result, even the slightest exposure to the specific allergen will unleash an allergic response. It is the system trying to get rid of excess ama (toxins) and excess dosha.
Management of Allergies According to Dosha
Vata type of allergies are more common in the fall, especially at the changing of seasons, when vata is most vulnerable. Aggravating factors include dust, mold, wind, cold, and dryness. Typical vata symptoms such as gas and bloating, abdominal discomfort, intestinal colic, ringing in the ears, and insomnia may be present along with wheezing, sneezing, dry cough, and runny nose. In cases where breathing is affected there is usually less mucus and more constriction of the bronchial tree. Vata is prone to digestive irregularity, which may lead to food intolerances, especially toward vata provoking foods, such as gas forming foods, including larger legumes like black, pinto, garbanzo, or kidney beans, as well as vegetables in the Brassica family like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, especially when eaten raw.
For vata types of allergies, you should avoid eating vata provoking foods. If cooked and well spiced, then you can have some in moderation, providing they do not disturb your digestion. Nightshade vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant can also aggravate vata allergies when consumed regularly, so eat those in moderation and avoid them during attacks. Cold foods and drinks and dried or dehydrated foods will also provoke the cold, dry, and rough qualities of vata. It is essential to rest and not skip meals and become deficient or under weight, as this will affect your immunity.
Pitta type of allergies manifest more on the skin and are worse during the hot seasons, especially toward late summer. If exposed to allergens such as chemicals (especially those with a strong odor), ragweed, house dust, or even synthetic fabrics, this may cause pitta dosha to move to the surface due to its spreading, hot, and sharp qualities, causing hives, rash, urticaria, red and burning eyes, yellowish mucus, fever, headaches, allergic types of dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis, all of which are fiery in nature.
For pitta type of allergies it is important to avoid eating sour, acidic and fermented foods, hot spicy foods, aged cheeses, excess salt, heavy and fatty meats, deep fried foods, vinegars, hard alcohol, and red wine. Sour fruits such as citrus or even strawberries are common triggers to pitta related food allergies. To keep pitta in balance, it is important to keep cool. Exercise only during the coolest times of day, take cool showers, especially during the warm seasons. Eating well balanced meals and getting snacks when needed will help you keep your strong appetite both satisfied and balanced.
Kapha type of allergies are triggered by mold and in the springtime, when all the plants and trees are pollinating and the dense, wet, cold kapha starts to thaw and flow in the body. They are characterized by general dullness and heaviness, as well as irritated mucous membranes, cough, colds, and profuse white or clear congestion, repeated sinus infections, and asthma.
To manage such conditions it is crucial to remove excess sweet, sour and salty tastes, cold drinks, rich foods, and desserts from your diet. Staying active during the day, eating light, easy to digest meals, and getting vigorous daily exercise is necessary to keep kapha within a healthy range. It is also important to avoid cold drinks and to sip on hot water throughout the day to support metabolic energy and prevent the accumulation of toxins. Using warming culinary spices such as black pepper, fenugreek, ginger, turmeric, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, and mustard seeds can help you digest starches and proteins, and prevent the accumulation of toxins that can contribute to the cause of allergies. Drinking ginger tea either before, during, or after meals stimulates agni, improves digestion, and burns toxins.
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Individualized Treatment & Cleansing
To shed light on the doshic influences of an allergic reaction, many factors need to be taken into consideration. The management guidelines mentioned above are just a very general approach. Vata or pitta types may also experience early springtime allergies and kapha types late summer allergies, because we are all influenced by the seasonal changes and the qualitative effect that these changes have on the system. Since Ayurveda is a holistic science, it is hard to generalize any treatment.
Hay fever can be triggered by pollens from grasses and weeds, airborne dust, and mold spores. Although this is considered a pitta and kapha disorder, anyone can suffer from it. Typical symptoms include sinus inflammation, congestion, post-nasal drip, watery bloodshot eyes, headache, sensations of plugged ears, itching of throat, ears and eyes, and general fatigue. Kapha types tend to be affected in the early spring during pollination, whereas pitta types are more prone to it in the summer, during ragweed season. Rotting leaves in the fall are a common allergen as well.
Allergies and their symptoms vary as much as those who suffer them. They are deeply rooted in the individual physiology, so a holistic approach is necessary to deal with them effectively. To get the best results you must search the advice of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner and follow an individualized program with more specific dietary guidelines and herbal treatments.
Yet if your organism is loaded with toxins, it can be difficult to get great results from any therapeutic approach, which is also true for any other condition. As mentioned before, toxins are considered the main cause of allergies. This is why Ayurveda offers the cleansing and rejuvenating therapies known as Panchakarma. Once the excess toxins have been cleansed and the digestive fire rekindled through Panchakarma therapies, your organism will respond more efficiently to an Ayurvedic program or any other type of therapy.
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General Diet & Lifestyle Guidelines
Things to Do:
Keep a daily routine
Practice daily pranayama (bhastrika, kapola bhati, agnisar dhauti)
Practice daily meditation and yoga asana
Sip warm water throughout the day
Eat the biggest meal at mid-day
Use digestive spices like turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, bay leaves, mustard seeds, fenugreek, black pepper, and cilantro
Get regular exercise
Go to sleep by 10 pm
Take Triphala every night
Do seasonal cleansing
Things to Avoid:
Cold foods and drinks
Sugar and sweet baked goods
Tomatoes, chilies, bananas
Excess dairy products
Excess hot spicy foods
Soy, wheat, corn (only if allergic)
Excess sour, pungent, and sweet tastes
Nightshade vegetables, ie., potatoes, eggplant, peppers
Excessive intake of ghee
Eating dinner after 7 pm
Counteract Excess Mucus Formation
* Avoid dairy products
* Avoid sugar and sweets
* Avoid tropical fruits
* Avoid tomatoes
* Avoid cold drinks
* Drink warm ginger tea
* Cook with warming spices
* Eat light meals
* Do not eat if not hungry
* Do heating pranayama daily (bhastrika, agnisar dhauti)
Benefits of Panchakarma
* It eliminates allergy causing toxins
* It strengthens your immune system
* It promotes energy and well being
* It promotes your healing process naturally
* It brings about clarity and spiritual insight
* It brings about deep relaxation
* It promotes cellular rejuvenation
* It promotes longevity
Ayurvedic Remedies for Immune Support:
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