Allergies are hypersensitive (exaggerated) responses by our immune system to certain environmental or dietary triggers. An allergy can be instigated by ‘allergens’ such as pollen, house dust and cosmetics for example. These allergens can trigger allergic reactions such as eczema, hayfever and digestive intolerances.
The word allergy is derived from the Greek allos meaning different and ergos meaning action. Allergy roughly refers to an altered reaction.
Allergies are hypersensitive (exaggerated) responses to certain environmental or dietary trigger. It has been thought that allergies originated as an evolutionary remnant of the immune system’s response to parasitic worms.
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 known as antibodies which specifically target foreign substances, known as antigens. These antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins (IgG, IgM, IgA, IgD) help destroy foreign substances by attaching to their surface and making it easier for other immune cells to destroy them.
In individuals with an allergy, they develop a specific type of antibody known as, immunoglobulin E, or IgE, in response to a normally harmless foreign substance such as tree pollen.
IgE attaches to mast cells within the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal (GIT) tract and skin. The mast cells release mediator chemicals known as histamine, leukotrienes and cytokines that produce 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 also known as allergic ‘shiners’.
An allergy can be instigated by ‘allergens’ such as pollen, house dust or mites, air pollution, industrial chemicals, foods, drugs, dander, latex, plants, dyes, metals (nickel) and cosmetics. These allergens can trigger allergic reactions such as eczema, contact dermatitis, asthma, hives, hayfever, perennial rhinitis and digestive intolerances.
The Ayurvedic Perspective
In Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of health and well-being, the onset of an allergy is instigated by the digestive fire, or ‘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, unmetabolised toxins known as ‘ama’will form. If there is strong agni’ an allergy is virtually impossible as the digestive fire neutralises any ‘incoming’ substances and prevents the formation of toxic ama.
Unmetabolised toxins (ama) form as a result of poor digestion, poor elimination of wastes and poor assimilation of life’s experiences. These unmetabolised toxins are sticky, clogging and prevent the free-flow of the life-force in the whole body-mind complex, which can influence the onset of chronic allergies.
The Ayurvedic doshas Constitutional tendency: prakriti
In Ayurveda, there are three doshas which are used to describe an individual’s constitution, known as prakriti. Your dosha will determine your response to any invading allergens. The three constitutions or doshas are vata, pitta and kapha.
Vata is the energy responsible for movement, circulation, the transport of nervous impulses and the life force. People born with high amounts of vata may feel spacey, anxious and isolated when out of balance. They are not good at managing their energy levels and 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.
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 and when in balance they are highly intellectual, leaders, brave, teachers and love being the centre of attention.
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. They love food, sleep and laughter.
The Ayurvedic allergic response
For each dosha, the allergic response depends on where toxins are located in the body and which constitutional type is predominant. For example, someone with a watery kapha constitution will be more likely to contract allergies to watery, heavy substances such as milk, dairy and wheat.
The level of allergic reaction will also depend upon the individual’s current health status and dosha balance. For example, if kapha is balanced, exposure to a kapha allergen like dairy will be minimal. If kapha is high, exposure to a kapha type allergen may be excessive and a full allergic response may result.
The type of allergen will also influence the response. When considering the three doshas, there are vata, pitta and kapha types of allergens. For example, animal dander is a vata allergen, acidic citrus fruits are pitta allergens and mucus-forming dairy products are kapha allergens. 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.
Allergies can be effectively treated through the regulation of the body’s ability to accept or reject the ingested substances that cause or prevent the allergy itself.
There are a few keys points that can help reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction:
- Avoid the cause and modify the environment accordingly
- Strengthen the digestive tract
- Perform a detox to help clear any existing congestion from the digestive tract. If the allergy if hayfever, it would be advisable to perform this just before the hayfever season begins
- Support the digestive tract through a nutritious, healthy diet
There is a key theme here; keeping the digestive tract healthy. If you can help yourself to ‘digest’ the challenges your body faces, you could be allergy free.
Respiratory allergies and hayfever
Hayfever is often seen as a reflection of the change in seasons that occurs during the transition from winter through to spring. As the warmth of spring increases, it also warms the body influencing a ‘melting’ of congestion and toxic accumulation that has occurred over the winter period. A good way to think about it would be to think of spring floods and rivers bursting their banks causing excess fluids to rush out of the body – in this case, in the form of mucous.
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen released primarily by grasses, but can also be triggered by pollen released from trees. Pollen particles contain a protein that cause inflammation, irritation and swelling of the nasal passages, but can also affect the eyes and the throat. The pollen (the allergen) causes the release of a substance known as an inflammatory mediator called histamine. It is the histamine that influences the symptoms of ‘hay fever’ in the body.
Typical symptoms of hayfever are:
- Alternate blocking and clearing of nasal passages
- Symptoms appearing and disappearing suddenly
- Nasal discharge
- Heavy head
- Itchy eyes, nose and throat
- Frequent sneezing
- Difficulty breathing due to congestion of nasal passages
- Weakness and fatigue
The symptoms of hayfever can often be split into two categories:
- Sinus congestion, watery eyes, copious mucus, itchy nose
- Red eyes, itchy eyes, inflamed nose and mucus membranes, headache
These are a reflection of an individual’s current state of health. Individuals that are more prone to mucous accumulations will tend to suffer more from runny eyes and nose. Those who perhaps have a greater tendency towards hot, irritated and itching skin conditions will suffer more from itching and red eyes, ears and throat.
Symptom class 1:
- Ginger, Long Pepper and Black Pepper (Trikatu): Naturally hot, spicy and stimulating, these herbs either in combination or separately will stimulate the system, warm the digestion and improve nutrient assimilation. The combination of these three herbs is a specific remedy for allergic rhinitis, hayfever and colds. They also work well when taken with warm ginger tea and honey. Having a natural affinity for the lungs it is a superb remedy for hay fever and allergic rhinnitis as an immediate way of drying up nasal secretions.
- Triphala (Amalaki, Bibhitaki and Haritaki): A traditional Ayurvedic formulation that is particularly effective at detoxifying and cleansing a congested digestive tract. It will often work best when taken at night.
- Fennel: Fennel is an excellent cleanser for the digestive tract in addition to improving nutrient assimilation and stimulating the production of digestive enzymes.
- Steam of eucalyptus and basil essential oils.
- Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an excellent rejuvenative tonic to the whole body and can be a very supportive herb to take after a digestive cleanse to help nourish the digestive tract.
- Peppermint: An excellent herb for releasing stuck congestion and mucous around the nose and a ‘heavy head’.
Symptom class 2:
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera is a natural cooling anti-inflammatory, soothing hot and irritated mucous membranes throughout the body. It a natural way of cleansing your liver and helping to reduce allergic response from the immune system.Organic Aloe Vera does not contain sodium benzoate that is so often a causative factor in allergies.
- Amalaki, Bibhitaki and Haritaki (Triphala): A traditional Ayurvedic formulation that is particularly effective at detoxifying and cleansing a congested digestive tract. It will often work best when taken at night.
- Rose/Rosewater: Rose is a drying, cooling anti-inflammatory with an affinity for the skin and eyes. It can be taken internally as a tincture, but a spray or drop of rosewater on the face and also in the eyes can be particularly effective at relieving itching and inflammation.
- Omega 3-6-9 and Hemp Seed Oil: Hemp seed oil is naturally high in a range of omegas’ which are highly anti-inflammatory, particularly for the skin.
- Peppermint: An excellent herb for releasing stuck congestion and mucous around the nose and a ‘heavy head’.
- For 3-5 days drink plenty of hot water with grated fresh ginger or honey, this will help to digest toxins and regulate digestion.
- Favour foods that are warm and nourishing but easy to digest such as soups, grains and leafy green vegetables.
- Avoid substances which are mucus producing such as dairy products and sugar.
- Avoid cold foods such as salads and iced water. These reduce digestive capacity and can create stagnation.