Sujal Torgal Patil
It is quite unnerving to find that you can’t wear your favourite perfume or are unable to enjoy a certain cuisine because your body reacts negatively to it much against your will. Although some people are increasingly prone to this phenomenon, every individual has the potential to undergo such a reaction at some time in their life. Allergic reactions are sudden, unexpectedly overwhelming and they tend to make your life revolve around them.
An allergy itself is not a disease. It is an abnormal immunological response that can escalate into a disorder like asthma, eczema, urticaria, conjunctivitis, skin rashes, etc. It is a negative response produced in the body to a certain external factor which is known as an allergen. Usually an individual reacts similarly to that allergen throughout their life or there are certain allergies which can flare up or go with the lapse of time. Our immune system provides several layers of protection to the body. Physical structures like the skin, mucosal lining of the mouth, nose, stomach, intestines and colon provide protection from the outside onslaught. The next layer of protection is provided by mast cells that conduct surveillance of these structures of the body. Mast cells are one of the first components of the immune system to come in contact with threats or allergens. When a pathogen like a parasite, bacteria, virus, fungus and or an allergen comes in contact with the body, it is encountered by surface antibodies called the IgE. When bound to the pathogen, IgE antibody signals the mast cell to activate its defensive mechanisms. The activated mast cells can kill the pathogen directly by swallowing it and destroying it through oxidative damage, or the mast cell releases a histamine and creates an inflammatory response to help it deal with the threat. This is how an allergy works.
There is a wide range of substances which could be termed as allergens. These allergens come in contact with the human body either through inhalation, injection or simple contact. Common allergens are food articles like milk, eggs, shellfish, soybean, chocolates; strong smells, synthetic or wool material, cosmetics, soaps, certain medications, metals, fancy jewellery; pollen, dust, certain plant or animal touch; physical agents like heat, cold, pressure, radiation, etc. Most allergies are identified when one is young and as one ages the severity reduces. However, there are a few allergies that can flare up at any stage of life and regress after a temporary phase of an attack. The severity of an allergy depends on the contact of the allergen with the body or the chronicity of that particular allergy. The process through which the body is trying to tell us about the incompatibility of a certain food or substance and the ultimate reaction could be termed as an allergic reaction.
Ayurveda interprets an allergy as the body’s way to combat and throw out the accumulated endotoxins. These endotoxins are produced in the body due to faulty digestion. So basically, the core of almost all allergies is the digestive system or the gut. According to ayurveda, the concept of dooshi visha and ama visha could explain the mechanism of hypersensitivity displayed by the body to certain specific allergens. Dooshi visha or ama visha are toxins which aren’t as potent as active poisons but still possess the same qualities and are latent in the body. They only cause issues when suitable conditions arise and the body becomes vulnerable to them. They can be referred to as cumulative toxins which are products of faulty metabolism or are introduced into the body externally through air pollutants, or heavy metals through food or cosmetics that we use for a prolonged period, etc.
Usually in any kind of allergic reaction the agni is low and causes improper digestion and build up of toxins (ama visha or dooshi visha) in the body. These are circulated all over the body and are lodged in specific systems or throughout the body in weakened or vulnerable spots thus develping an allergic symptoms. Disorders which are allergic in nature are sudden and spread faster throughout the body just like poison. Ayurveda compares these toxins with visha. Stress also plays a vital role as it signals the nervous system to trigger immune responses that culminate in an allergy.
The concept of viruddha aahar and vihar states that the inappropriate combination of food articles (meat and milk) causes adverse reactions due to toxin build up and leads to allergic reactions. Many patients suffering from specific protein allergies were found to be combining incompatible food items in their meals. This means they aren’t allergic to the food item in general but to the way they eat it. Similarly, faulty lifestyle also triggers such reactions. Many patients with sinusitis were found to be exposed to extremely cold (AC) temperatures immediately after having a hot shower.
The best way to deal with allergies is the reversal of hypersensitivity by neutralising the harmful endotoxins. The ayurvedic way of managing allergies is completely different from the modern approach wherein immuno suppressants are used to manage the condition. According to ayurveda the approach is to rectify the immune response and neutralise endotoxins.
To be continued…
(Writer is chief medical officer and director of operations at Traya Natural Health Centre and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )