An allergy is a reaction the body has to a particular food or substance (8). The difference between an intolerance or sensitivity and an allergy is that an allergy will trigger an immune system reaction that can affect numerous organs of the body (11).
Over the last 50 years the incidence of allergies has increased exponentially. Worldwide about 1/3 of people experience some sort of allergy with this increasing to half in the western world. This is quite shocking considering that 100 years ago allergies were much rarer. In places where people still live subsistence lifestyles allergies are practically non-existent. This changes where a more western style of living is embraced. The UK, Europe, Australia and the USA have the highest rate of allergies (2).
40% of children in the UK have been diagnosed with an allergy. Back in 2010 it was reported that 44% of British adults were diagnosed with at least one allergy. The number of people living with allergies in the UK rises by 5% every year (3).
How do allergies work?
Adults and children may experience allergies caused by a variety of things. Environmental or inhalant allergies caused by pollen, dust or animal dander, often referred to as hay fever. Food allergies are common with triggers such as nuts, shellfish, eggs. Chemical allergies to synthetic substances like food additives, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and household cleaners are also common (12).
The ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ has been put forward as to why allergies are far more common in the western world. The possibility of the “clean” surroundings, immunizations and antibiotics that are prevalent in these countries reduce children’s exposure to infections. It is thought that the IgE system, which is part of the immune response that causes allergy symptoms, evolved as a defence against intestinal parasites, which are still common in many less economically developed countries. If the immune system isn’t exposed to infections, it then focuses on dust or pollen or food, which in reality are not a threat at all (12).
Understanding the root
From an Ayurvedic perspective, the underlying cause of allergies is the accumulation of toxins and low immunity (1).
70% of our immune system is in our gut. Ayurveda places great importance on how good digestion is vital for optimum health. Incomplete digestion or digestive disorders contribute to the formation of ama, a toxic residue that can stagnate and ferment in the gut. When agni (digestive fire) is strong our food is digested and absorbed which provides nourishment for all of our cells. The digested food that is not required is removed via the elimination pathways (malas). Eating the wrong foods for our unique mix of doshas (vata, pitta and kapha), incompatible food combinations and unaddressed stress or emotions can weaken agni and lead to the formation of ama (5).
If the doshas are out of balance and combine with ama it becomes known as sama (sama vata, sama pitta and sama kapha) (5).
If ama is not cleared from the body and continues to build up, it can travel via the channels of circulation (strotas) and settle in weak areas of the body, which could be the respiratory system or other areas prone to allergies (1).
Overtime this settled ama will mix with sub-doshas, malas or dhatus (tissues) to become amavisha, a far more toxic and reactive form of ama (7).
Whilst ama is sticky, clogs channels and can create imbalances in the doshas, it doesn’t affect the chemical balance of the immune system. Amavisha’s reactive nature disrupts the immune system resulting in its loss of ability to deal with sudden change (4).
During the change of seasons, for example as winter turns to spring, the kapha that accumulates in our bodies over winter starts to liquefy weakening agni. Pollen is also being released by newly blossoming plants. These both can contribute to an immune response, formation of congestion and allergy symptoms due to already challenged immune system with amavisha (9).
Amavisha reacts with pollen or other potential allergens making it hard for cells to function properly at that site of the body. If this reactions affects the skin it could result in rashes or irritation, in the lungs it can cause respiratory issues (4).
It is important to understand that it is not the allergens causing the reaction but the presence of amavisha. It is possible to prevent these reactions by undertaking cleanses at the change of season (4).
Amavisha is also the root cause behind allergies that arise later in life with foods and environmental irritants. Here it is not necessary to wait for the change in season to cleanse, it can be started straight away (4).
According to Ayurveda, the reason more children are experiencing allergies today is that they are not being fed a nutritious diet full of the intelligence of nature, instead living on a diet of frozen, canned, packaged and ultra-processed foods. Their diets also lack spices and herbs that aid digestion and promote good gut health. Children’s immune systems also need to be challenged with time spent outside interacting with earth and water with exposure to fresh air and the sun (4).
Signs and symptoms
Allergic reactions usually happen quickly within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen (8). They can cause:
- a runny or blocked nose
- red, itchy, watery eyes
- wheezing and coughing
- a red, itchy rash
- worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms
Ama is cold and heavy. It can be cleared using heat such as sipping on warm water throughout the day and using warming spices. Amavisha is very hot so needs to be removed with care using cooling herbs and spices.
Amavisha detoxing tea
Boil 1 liter water and steep the following for 20 minutes
- ½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon slippery elm powder
- ½ teaspoon licorice powder
Coriander pulls out amavisha and directs it to urine to be removed away from the skin
Slippery elm and licorice lubricate the channels so they don’t rupture or become inflamed as the hot toxin is removed (10).
These formulas contain herbs and spices that are warming, help to stimulate the digestive fire (agni) and will clear ama (toxins) therefore reducing the likelihood of allergies.
- Trikatu: A classic Ayurvedic blend of ginger, long pepper and black pepper
- Trikulu: A lovely blend of clove, cinnamon and cardamom
- Hingwashtaka churna: A formulation consisting of long pepper, black pepper, ginger, celery seed, cumin seed, caraway seed, asafoetida and rock salt
Curcuma longa (turmeric): When used in moderation helps to balance agni and removes ama from the strotas. It is a good anti-inflammatory and protects from environmental toxins
Coriandrum sativum (Coriander): Balances all doshas, cools hot, inflammatory conditions, stimulates agni and clears ama
Shunthi (dried ginger): Clears blockages due to ama or kapha, increases agni, relieves congestion, is anti-inflammatory and enhances immunity
Tinospora cordifolia (Guduchi): Stimulates agni, promotes good gut flora while removing ama from the gut and strotas. Protects the liver, clears heat, toxins and enhances immunity
Piper longum (long pepper): Used for kapha conditions such as congestion and allergies, increases circulation to the lungs, increase agni and clears ama
Urtica dioica (Nettle): Excellent detoxing remedy for a spring cleanse, removes excess kapha from winter and reduces pitta in preparation for spring or summer heat, clears ama and is an excellent anti-histamine
Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion): Good for including in spring detoxes as reduces kapha by flushing out excess fluids and toxins. Increases agni but cools excess pitta in the liver and supports the liver in its detoxifying work
Albizzia lebbeck (Albizzia): Excellent ability to clear ama, excess pitta and kapha. Good for itching, inflammation and infection
For seasonal allergies Ayurveda recommends cleansing just before the arrival of spring to remove the kapha and impurities accumulated over winter. Another cleanse is recommended as autumn arrives.
Eat a light, nourishing diet of cooked, lightly-spiced organic, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and dhal soups for protein. Ensure all food is warm, fresh, spiced with small amounts of ghee. Avoid heavy foods such as red meat, hard cheese, cold foods or ultra-processed foods containing chemicals and preservatives.
Sip warm water throughout the day to help remove ama.
- Eat lighter meals that don’t overburden the digestive system
- Don’t overeat and only eat when hungry
- Eat your largest meal at lunch time when agni is strongest
- Eat mindfully focusing on your food without any technology distractions
- Eat freshly cooked foods
Mindfulness, meditation and pranayama breathing exercises help to reduce stress and enhance the cleaning process of emotional ama.
Fill a neti pot with warm water, add a pinch of salt and rinse the nasal cavity. This helps to remove irritants, reduce inflammation and congestion. It also helps to keep the mucus membranes healthy so that they can trap dust, pollen, viruses and bacteria.
This is the application of herbal oils to the nasal passage. The oil helps dry or inflamed nasal passages and reduces symptoms of allergies. Nasaya also helps to keep the mind and senses sharp.
Increase indoor air quality with spider plants and holy basil. Avoid exposure to pesticides by eating organic foods as much as possible, use chemical free household products and body care products, use a good quality water filter.
- Sharma, V., 2018. Ayurveda and Allergy Cure All Type Of Allergies Naturally by Vipul Sharma. [online] Boloji.com. Available at: <https://www.boloji.com/blog/1989/ayurveda-and-allergy> [Accessed 17 February 2022].
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- Natasha Allergy Research Foundation. 2019. Why are Allergies on the Rise? Allergy Statistics — Natasha Allergy Research Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.narf.org.uk/the-allergy-explosion> [Accessed 19 February 2022].
- Mapi.com. n.d. Allergens: The Ayurvedic Solution| Maharishi AyurVeda. [online] Available at: <https://mapi.com/blogs/articles/allergens-the-ayurvedic-solution> [Accessed 16 February 2022].
- McIntyre, A., 2012. The Ayurveda bible. Alresford: Godsfield, pp.196-224.
- Lad. and Frawley., 2001. The Yoga of Herbs. Lanham: Lotus Press.
- Precision Ayurveda for Disease Care & Sustained Wellbeing. n.d. Allergies. [online] Available at: <https://ayurvaid.com/allergies> [Accessed 17 February 2022].
- nhs.uk. n.d. Allergies. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergies/> [Accessed 19 February 2022].
- Vine Professional, 2014. Allergies: The Ayurvedic Picture. [online] Banyanbotanicals.com. Available at: <https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/blog-banyan-vine/details/allergies-the-ayurvedic-picture/> [Accessed 20 February 2022].
- Teitelbaum, M., 2019. Healing the Thyroid with Ayurveda. 1st ed. Vermont: Healing Arts Press, pp.64-67.
- Li, J., n.d. Food allergy vs. food intolerance: What’s the difference?. [online] Mayo Clinic. Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/expert-answers/food-allergy/faq-20058538> [Accessed 21 February 2022].
- Okada H, Kuhn C, Feillet H, Bach JF. The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ for autoimmune and allergic diseases: an update. Clin Exp Immunol. 2010;160(1):1-9. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2010.04139.x