Ayurvedic Immunity Reminders
How does Ayurveda address immunity? The branch of Ayurvedic science dedicated to longevity and robust immunity is called rasayana, or the study of rasa (lymph).
What is rasa? Rasa originates in the digestive tract as a substance called ahara rasa. Ahara rasa creates and maintains gut immunity, which governs 70% of our overall immunity. 50% of rasayana (immunity therapy) has much to do with foods and herbs, while 50% has to do with healthy lifestyle and behavior.4
Four Main Types of Rasayana for Immunity5
- Ahara rasayana: food
- Vihara rasayana: lifestyle
- Acharya rasayana: behavior
- Aushadha rasayana: herbs
Sattva for Microbiome, Mood + Respiratory Immunity
One of the goals of rasayana therapy is to boost sattva, an environment of peace and calm. Sattva is created by the quality of the foods you eat and the mental and emotional attitude created by your lifestyle and behavior. We now know unwholesome foods, along with mental and emotional stress, can impact the health of the microbiome (called krimi in Ayurveda), which can negatively affect gut immunity. The connection between the gut’s microbiome and mental and emotion stress is bidirectional: one can affect the other and both independently have been shown to compromise immunity.6
Studies find robust gut immunity linked to robust respiratory immunity. The connection is due to a bidirectional relationship between the microbiome in the gut and the newly discovered microbiome in the respiratory tract. Previously, the lungs were thought to be sterile, but they are now understood to sport a powerful microbiome that respiratory immunity depends on.7
Address Foreign Microbes
When foreign microbes enter the body, they can inject genetic reproductive material into the epithelial cells of the gut and/or respiratory epithelium. Ayurveda suggests infectious krimi are best treated by altering the host (the individual) or the prakriti (qualities) of the krimi (pathogen), rather than targeting the invader, the way Western medicine does with such things as antibiotics.1
This is done in part by supporting the digestive and tissue agnis (metabolism), as well as the respiratory and epithelial environment that boosts innate immunity and humoral immunity. Fresh ginger, found in LifeSpa’s Warm Digest, for example, has been shown to boost the primary digestive fire, called jathara agni. Strong jathara agni can help prevent a pathogen from attaching to the respiratory tract, while stimulating innate immune cells to secrete IFN-B (an immune-boosting cytokine).2
Neem plays a similar role in supporting a healthy microbiome and intestinal tract epithelial lining. In addition to breaking down toxic biofilms in the gut, in one study, neem supported the body’s natural antimicrobial response by supporting the intestinal lining to block entry of certain viruses into the cell. Neem has also been shown to support regulation of cytokines during an immune event. In another study, neem leaf extract was shown to support cytokine-driven pro-inflammatory immune cell signaling response and the immune system’s natural programmed cell death of pathogens.1
Regulating immune response is critical in managing an immune event. Ginger and neem, as well as other Ayurvedic herbs, act as natural immunomodulators, suggesting that they manage a potentially overzealous immune response, which can allow immune cells to be infected and then attack healthy immune cells, creating a deadly storm.
In a handful of studies, triphala has been shown to be a powerful immunomodulator. Triphala also boosts immunity by increasing release of neutrophils and killer T cells to the immune event site. When the immune system becomes overzealous, triphala supports immunosuppression by helping slow down humoral immunity, cell-mediated immunity, and lymphocyte proliferation. Stimulation and suppression of the immune system is part of its natural feedback mechanism, keeping immunity strong.3
Ayurvedic Immunity Reminders
What are you doing to protect your immunity?