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Expert Article: Concept Of Immunity In Ayurveda

The immunity or homeostasis principle regulates the status of health. The homeostasis principle maintains the body rhythm and regulates the status of tissues of the body, thus maintaining the healthy status. This is referred to in Ayurveda as Dhatu Samyata. The science of Ayurveda is evolved to maintain the status of Dhatu Samya or maintain homeostasis.

The term literally immunity means a complex biological entity that can recognise and tolerate self and others. This identifies a friend from foe and fights against the foe. Typical foes to the human body were pathological microbes, matured & decaying body tissues, allergens, etc. The immunity ensures the health status of the individual.

The knowledge and importance of immunity have been recognised for ages; the same proof is found in ancient Ayurveda classic Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. Immunity has been referred to as Oja or Bala in Ayurveda classics. Bala, or strength to maintain equilibrium, regulates all types of body functions in the body.

What is Oja or Ojus?

Oja or Ojus is referred to as immunity; it is the first to be formed at the time of conception and is also formed as the essence of seven Dhatus of the body. The former is the vital essence, and depletion leads to death. The latter restricts diseases, heals diseases, regulates homeostasis, and its depletion leads to increased illness. Oja or Ojus can't be compared with a single entity, but the different cells and phenomenon's that regulates health can be taken as the Ojus.

For instance, phagocytic action of white blood cells, immunoglobulin formation, white blood cells and their five subtypes, lymph & lymphatics, immunologic functions of the skin, nasal secretions, saliva, etc., are included under the Ojus. This has even more function, i.e. maintaining livelihood or vitality, which can't be compared with physical entities known to date.

Types of Ojus

Oja is believed of two types viz. are named as Para Ojas and Apara Ojus. As narrated above, the Para Oja is the vital essence placed in Hridya (heart). In contrast, Apara Ojus is formed as the essence of seven Dhatus (the seven Dhatus of the body were - Rasa, Rakta, Mamsa, Medas, Asthi, Majja and Sukra).

Types of Bala

Furthermore, the immunity is classified into two on the basis of its actions, i.e. Vyadhi Utpadaka Pratibandhakatva and Vyadhi Bala Viroditatva. The former Vyadhi Utpad Pratibandhakatv Bala means the strength that arrests the oncoming disease; this is considered best because it doesn't allow the disease to occur. This means it will not allow the evident clinical disease and subclinical disease. The second type of Bala is Vyadhi Bala Virodhitatva treats the disease and maintains homeostasis.

On the basis of origin, Bala is classified as Sahaj (inherited), Kalaj (seasonal factors) and Yuktikruta (obtained or acquired). Sahaj Bala is inherited from the genetic makeup. Kalaj Bala is acquired by the effect of season & age. Lastly, the Yuktikruta (acquired) Bala is acquired by the medication, Rasayana, therapeutic purification, seasonal regimens, etc.

Factors That Affect Immunity

The factors that immunity was the individual constitution, body built wholesome diet, stress-free life, following mental peace, observing Aachar Rasayana.

Aachar Rasayana is the behavioural science that guides ideal interpersonal, personal, intrapersonal, social relations. It has been said that if a person observes Aachara Rasayana, i.e. ideal behaviour has a positive impact on the individual's health, and if a person is not observing this ideal behaviour, no immunomodulator or immunity enhancers can possess good results.

Stress, an unwholesome diet, excessive work, working at odd hours, working in a stressful atmosphere, not following do's & don'ts of circadian rhythm, excessive exposure of sense organs, and even excessive sexual intercourse can lead to depleting immunity, and one may fall ill.

Suzanne C. Segerstrom and their team opined in 300 different articles that stress has an adverse effect on the immune system.

Furthermore, they described that acute stress (recent exposure to stress) leads to downgrading changes in specific immunity, and chronic stress alters cellular and immunologic immunity.

Factors That Improve Immunity

The factors that improve immunity were a wholesome diet, observing daily routine procedures, seasonal measures, stress management, exercise as per personal strength, light yogic exercise, walking, breathing exercise, Pranayam, meditation and Rasayana medication.

Diet should be taken according to the individual constitution, season, the timing of the day, individual work pattern, and certain special needs.

Pratimarsha Nasya (administration of oil by nasal route), Abhyanga (oil massage), Anjana are important procedures that improve non-specific immunity; they have rejuvenator actions and have health promotive actions.

Concept of Specific Immunity in Ayurveda

Specific immunity is highly specific and very effectively neutralises foreign antigens; this is often referred immunologic immunity, and the other non-specific immunity is less specific and acts on a bigger spectrum of the microbial threat; it is mostly governed by different tissues that including skin, nose, adenoids, tonsils, lymphatics, body secretions, and white blood cells. Therefore, it is often referred to as cellular immunity.

The former is considered most potent but has the biggest limitation is that it acts only on a specific antigen that means if there are minor changes in the antigen setup of microbe, this may take a longer time to act, and the latter can play to majority of pathogenic microbes and certain metabolic disease like cancer.

Immunoglobulin synthesis is a very complex process that is targeted to specific needs. This process may be explained with this illustration - microbes enter the body, the body tissues identifies the pathogenic identity of microbe (it may be genomic/ cellular component/ surface protein/ etc.) after identification of the antigen, liver and immunologic cells produce proteins that neutralise the toxin (antigenic toxins). Suppose a person gets infected by the same microbe (having the same antigenic identity). In that case, the body synthesises immunoglobulin in excess, detoxifying toxins (that lead to disease). In the first exposure of infection, the body immune system has a lot of things to process to synthesise immunoglobulin.

The important event that happens in the first exposure of microbe is the development of memory of the antigen of the microbe. This memory is stored in specialised white blood cells known as memory cells. When the individual gets infected with the same microbe, i.e. the microbe with the same antigen, then the body's immune response produces more than enough immunoglobulin that can arrest the onset of disease or heal the disease effectively.

It is evident that ancient Ayurveda scholar Acharya Sushruta understood this same phenomenon.

Immunity can be improved by the vaccine, i.e. the acquired immunity. The first vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner, who observed that the individuals who got infected by mild cowpox don't get infected by fatal smallpox. This simple observation for the development of the vaccine when the Nelmes's cow developed cowpox blisters; these blisters were rubbed to James Phipps (never contracted to smallpox or cowpox); James developed cowpox when the fever subsided. Edward Jenner inoculated him with live smallpox, and James didn't get smallpox.

The fundamental principle of inoculation were described in hydrophobia in Sushruta Samhita. The narration is - कर्तव्यो भिषजाऽवश्यमलर्कविषनाशनः | कुप्येत् स्वयं विषं यस्य न स जीवति मानवः ||५८|| तस्मात् प्रकोपयेदाशु स्वयं यावत् प्रकुप्यति |५९|

A physician ought to produce symptoms of hydrophobia using a medication or other means that can prevent from producing full blow of disease, and patient survival chance can be improved, but if the symptoms of hydrophobia occur by the toxin, then no medicine can prevent a fatality.

The concept of inoculation and vaccine was not new to Ayurveda though this is not practised now a day. This can be the work of today to search for the medicaments that can produce characteristic changes in body tissues so that the non-specific & specific immunity combinedly restores natural homeostasis of the body tissue and thus the health of an individual.

This is nothing but increasing Vyadhi Utpadapratibandhaka Bala.

Rasayana Therapy to Improve Immunity

Rasayana medication is employed for increasing immunity. Rasayana offers preventive, promotive and curative health care in different diseases and their prevention. This may be performed as indoor procedures and outdoor procedures viz. Kutipraveskhi Rasayana and Vatatpika Rasayana.

The former Rasayana can be performed in the middle age after proper purification and then admitting the patient in a controlled atmosphere (limited light & ventilated and conditioned room having three covering. The typical three shelled cottage were used for the procedures having criss-cross ventilation is known as Kuti. A typical treatment may be of a fortnight to two months.

The other Vatatpika Rasayana is an outdoor procedure that can be done using medicaments for a long time while continuing the routines. The topic will be dealt with in upcoming articles.

Disclaimer: Brief information is presented on Immunity and Ayurveda in this article. You may consult a qualified Ayurvedic physician or Ayurveda hospital for more details.