Allergies and Ayurveda
By Noah Volz
Allergies occur when a person’s immune system mistakenly believes an antigen (allergen) is harmful. The dust, pollen, and even the smell of roses are attacked by the immune system. Antibodies are produced in response to these environmental allergens. Each antibody is specific to the dust, pollen, mold or dander that it is trying to protect the body from. When antibodies detect the substances in the body they alert the mast cells and basophils to release chemicals such as histamines. This hypersensitivity reaction results in the sneezing, sniffling, and pile of tissues that surrounds some of us in the spring and fall .
In Ayurveda allergic symptoms are rarely caused by the allergens themselves. It is how our immune system reacts to these allergens that cause the vasodilatation, smooth muscle spasm, swelling and glandular secretions that characterize an allergic response. In Ayurveda the main causative factor of allergies is from improperly digested food called Ama . Ama is a toxic substance that can block the channels of circulation which are the body’s main lines of communication. These lines of communication must be cleared so that the body can respond without the hyper-vigilance and overly defensive attacks to these harmless substances.
Ayurveda clears the Ama in different ways depending on the unique characteristics of the person and their symptoms. Every allergy sufferer is different and Ayurvedic treatment will emphasize four steps uniquely tailored to the individual. These are to boost the digestive fire, adjust the diet to support full digestion, detoxify, and restore the strength of the immune system .
The science of Ayurveda recognizes three primary physical and energetic principles that govern the universe. These are the three Doshas of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. How a person with allergies approaches a treatment depends on the predominance of one of these Doshas in that person’s body.
Vata types often experience dryness of the eyes and sinuses. As Vata types are already dry there is not much of a buffer of mucous to protect the tissues before they become irritated by the allergens. The first line of allergic immunity is the production of mucous. Symptoms are often chronic and constant due to the deep mucosal dryness.
Pitta types create a hypermetabolic state in order to burn off the Ama in the blood.
This heat rises into the head and neck causing irritability and anger. The heat also finds its way to the sinuses causing dryness and infection. These mucous lined air cavities respond by excreting excessive amounts of mucous.
Kapha types are classically the most susceptible to allergies because the symptoms of allergies are Kapha in nature. Symptoms of Kapha include congestion, fatigue, and malaise. While these symptoms are Kapha in nature they are often the result of dryness, caused by a Vata or Pitta imbalance, resulting in the over excretion of mucous. Therefore, this diagnosis is crucial .
In all cases we must remember that the condition is a systemic reflection of an internal weakness and not a localized event. Long term treatment includes these four steps: boost the digestive fire, adjust the diet to support full digestion, detoxify, and restore the strength of the immune system . Symptomatic relief can be gained by taking green or black tea as a sympathomimetic. Sympatomimetics relax smooth muscle tissue spasms alleviating both asthmatic bronchiole constriction and the increase in blood pressure. Another important treatment would be the administration of Vitamin C which acts as a antihistamine. The dose should be increased until loose stools occur and then reduced below that threshold. Other herbs that are beneficial for allergies include licorice, stinging nettle, frankincense, and turmeric. Licorice acts as an anti-inflammatory, an expectorant, and a restorative for the weakened adrenal glands. The role of adrenal fatigue in allergies has not been clearly established, but my clinical experience leads me to believe there is a connection. Stinging Nettle has been found to be an anti-inflammatory and diuretic. It contains a small amount of histamine which acts like a vaccine to help the body realize that the dust and dander are not toxic to the body. Frankincense is an anti-inflammatory, astringent, diaphoretic, and stimulant. A study of 40 patients showed it to be beneficial in the treatment of asthma, reducing markers of inflammation and eosinophil counts . Turmeric has a wide range of reported uses. It is an anti-inflammatory, an antiviral, a hypoglycemic, and a hepato-protective. Well documented anecdotal evidence has shown it to be effective in symptomatic relief of allergies .
For long term care a few Dosha specific guidelines can be followed.
Acute treatment for Vata is three to four cups of ginger or Chai Spice tea per day to improve digestion. Each day, a ½ tsp Triphala can be taken before bed for detoxification. Long term treatment of Vata includes replacing dairy and with fruit and veggies and drinking warm or hot water with lemon.
To enhance digestion have 1/3 tsp of Cumin seed either roasted or raw before each meal. After meals, prepare a drink with a ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder in warm rice milk. This helps clean the blood of any toxicity. Placing a ½ teaspoon of Neem powder in a sip of water and drinking it between meals can also be used as a potent detoxifier.
If it is determined that Kapha is causing allergies they can be eliminated by maintaining a liquid diet one day a week, especially during allergy season. A liquid diet consists of blended vegetable soups and room temperature fruit and vegetable smoothies. Drink these at your normal meal times. Symptomatic relief can be achieved by drinking ginger and black pepper tea with honey. For the best results drink at least three cups per day. To help with wheezing lungs 1 teaspoon of Licorice powder can be taken with warm water, after meals.
In conclusion, it is important to determine the root cause of the allergies and administer appropriate treatment. There are many effective herbal strategies to remove allergies, but an approach that does not treat the root cause may make the symptoms worse. Consider visiting a trained professional who will utilize Ayurvedic pulse and tongue diagnosis to determine the root cause. Once this is determined, an effective four step strategy can lead you towards long term relief.
 Marc Halpern, Clinical Ayurvedic Medicine . 4 th ed. (Grass Valley : California College of Ayurveda, 2002). 7:21.
 John Douillard, Allergies, (Life Spa, 2003). 1
 Niika Quistgard-DeVivo, Sneeze-free, Naturally, (Yoga Journal, March/April 2005). 1
 Douillard, 3
 Halpern, 7:27