Immunity, as we understand it through modern medicine, is the function of certain cells, enzymes and immunomodulatory chemicals that attack pathogens and prevent them from creating diseases. This concept of invasion from microorganisms and a biological defense system against it led to the development of the range of antibiotics and vaccines in the 20th century. Various developments in the last decade, like the emergence of auto-immune issues, widespread antibiotic resistance in microbes, and wider understanding of friendly bacteria and its functions, especially inside our gut, have forced us to rethink the unidirectional concept of the immune system.
In Ayurveda, diseases are broadly classified as Nija and Aganthu. Nija diseases are those which are caused by an imbalance that has originated within one’s body and can be mostly prevented from occurring by understanding one’s natural tendencies. Aganthu is caused by an external factor, which may include various injuries, both physical and mental trauma, and lack of focused health and hygiene policies within a particular society.
Even though the understanding of microbes came more recently, ancient Ayurvedic texts acknowledge the presence of widespread communicable diseases in societies with improper nutritional guidance and lack of sanitation facilities. This concept of an epidemic caused in a community due to common external factor was mentioned in the text of Charaka Samhita in 2nd century AD. Charaka, the author, mentions the important sources of microbe spread as air, water, and land. This is most relevant in the current era, not just because of the infections which spread through these means, but the overall impact of soil, water and air due to human exploitation, climate change and excessive usage of antibiotics and other chemicals.
The preventive aspect of our immunity function is strongly connected to our digestive system. Balancing the doshas, or bio-energies, through cleansing, is essential for proper resistance to illness. The concept of Ojas explains the direct correlation between digestion and immunity. Ojas is the final product of physiological transformation happening in our body as part of tissue nourishment.
For a truly holistic concept of immunity we must consider the mind. The influence of mind and emotion on our immunity is a very new system that is being studied in the past four or five decades, known as Psychoneuroimmunology. This studies the effect of the central nervous system on various factors responsible for immune response. The Ayurvedic concept of Ojas also explains the impact of immunity caused by excessive anger, craving, worry, sadness, and exertion. This interconnected understanding of digestion, mind, and immunity in Ayurveda helps us develop natural remedies that influence all three positively. The ability to withstand change can only be developed by maintaining a state of equilibrium in the body, mind and soul.
Ayurveda and Immunity
by Jill Palmer