Relevance of Ayurveda On Improving Immunity
Viruses have a fascinating evolution: they are inanimate complex organic matter that have perfected the art of surviving without actually living, hijacking a living organism to create millions of copies of itself. Today the world seems to have come to a screeching halt i covid19 n front of one such virus: a small packet of genetic material, one-tenth the width of our eyelash, COVID-19, which has been declared a global pandemic by WHO.
The Spread of COVID-19
In the current era of globalisation, humans, animals, and food are moving around frequently and more easily than ever before. This intercontinental flow of goods, information, and people pose a great threat of spreading infections across the globe within a few days and it becomes difficult to contain it within specific geographical areas. One example is malaria: twenty years ago, only 20% of the world population was living in areas where malaria was endemic, and now the numbers have risen to 40%. While in the past, it took months or years for a pandemic to spread, it is now only a matter of a few days because of more interaction among people of different races and cultures. Just look at the present scenario: what started as few unusual cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, has now spread to 213 countries, killing more than 652,600 people. The COVID-19 probably originated in bats, then jumping onto an intermediate host which then ultimately infected humans. This is not the first time that a virus has jumped from animals to humans. SARS, MERS are other examples of infections previously unknown to humans which are speculated to have a zoonotic origin.
As medical science is constantly progressing, we have developed vaccines for a variety of deadly illnesses like smallpox, but because disease-causing organisms are evolving at a fast rate, it becomes difficult to provide immunity against many diseases. There is a huge surge in new diseases along with the re-emergence of old infectious diseases. According to the 2007 report of WHO, infectious diseases are emerging at an alarming rate. Cross-species transmission of unknown strains of viruses has led to a host of new infections unknown to us, like the first major epidemic of the 21st century: SARS. Coronaviruses were previously mostly known for causing the common cold, but SARS became the game-changer: and a deadly coronavirus with pandemic potential was discovered. This also opened gates to a variety of studies in which viruses could jump from animal reservoirs to humans, like the Nipah and Hendra virus. Constant mixing of different viruses creates a great opportunity for dangerous new pathogens to emerge.
As the world is currently fighting the COVID-19, medical science seems to be struggling to give a permanent solution to all the new rapidly emerging infectious diseases, without any treatment protocols available as of now. Viruses mutate very quickly which is also an area of concern. The world has come to a standstill after the pandemic of COVID-19 as many countries have imposed a complete lockdown and segregating those who are sick or might be sick to control the infection from spreading. But is this the only solution we have? Why can’t we equip our bodies better to fight this pandemic rather than running away from it?
Our understanding of the immune system dates back to 1798 when Edward Jenner published a report that smallpox can be prevented if a needle dipped in pus from cowpox boil. From there on, we have discovered about antigens and antibodies: antigens are any foreign body that initiates an immune response and antibodies are the body’s response to these antigens; the disease-fighting ability. Our body has two types of immunity: innate (non- specific) and adaptive (specific). Innate immunity is the first line of defence, which we are born with and is a more general response to any kind of infection. Every cell in our body makes interferons or anti-viral molecules that stop viruses from replicating. This innate response causes fever and inflammation.
Adaptive immunity is the second line of defence in case the pathogen is stronger or is acquired through vaccines. The problem with COVID-19 is that we don’t have antibodies or adaptive immune system against it. The virus goes into overdrive and rams up inflammation, especially of the lungs, which leads to pneumonia. This is why we have to amp up our innate immunity. Our immune system has been programmed to fight infections and viruses, but stress, toxins, and unhealthy lifestyle have hampered the disease-fighting abilities of our bodies. As the coronavirus is spreading across the globe, we are just focusing on how to reduce exposure, but what we are not discussing is how to boost our immunity in case we get exposed to the virus.
Ayurveda aspect of immunity
Ayurveda has discussed epidemics in Janapadodhamsaneeya adhyaaya in Charaka samhita. The spread of epidemics is majorly attributed to vitiated air, water, land and season. Abnormality in seasons might lead to decreased potency in herbs and so it is clearly mentioned to collect herbs before the onset of diseases and administer medicines to people before the epidemics spread, as a preventive measure.
It is astonishing that long before the discovery of the immune system, the ancient medical science of Ayurveda has detailed discussions about immunity and epidemics. Discussed in various contexts by different synonyms like vyadhi kshamtvam, ojas, tejas, prana and bala, which is a by-product of a string agni and good digestion, Ojas or vigour is the subtle essence of all the bodily tissues (sapta dhathus), which is considered the seat of prana or the vital force.
Being the ultrafine essence of bodily tissues, the first step towards building a healthy immune system is consuming a healthy, wholesome diet which is based on one’s prakriti and seasonal changes as prescribed according to the Ayurvedic regimen. A daily routine based on the principles of Ayurveda will help you to calm your senses and relieving stress, which can be an important step towards building a strong immune system. Traditional herbal blend of certain Ayurvedic medicines helps in detoxifying the blood and improving the immunity of the body and is naturally rejuvenating. Yoga, pranayama and other procedures mentioned in daily regimens in Ayurveda and practised by our ancestors needs to be re-introduced into our lives to help fight stress and bringing in inner peace which will foster a better and stronger body with an improved immune system.
Considering what Ayurveda has to offer, the need of the hour is definitely that both modern medicine and Ayurveda work hand in hand to help curb the spread of this pandemic. The vast potential of Ayurveda still remains untapped and an integrated approach has to be explored more for the greater good. Rather than merely waiting for vaccines to be developed against the ever-growing list of new infectious diseases, we should start focussing on ourselves; not the pathogen and try to rebuild the inner and the most potent anti-viral which we have: our immune system.