I just bumped into a chair the other day and have a wonderful bluish black bruise. Accidentally nixed my finger while chopping veggies, a bit of bleeding and I have a red, painful bump as a trophy. We don’t pay attention to these. But consider this:
A young lady falls sick with the common cold virus and gets bronchitis. She is now coughing, has a mild headache, low grade fever, body aches, and is miserable. There is a (normal) acute inflammation response in the body and she gets better in a couple of weeks though her cough lingers.
Now what if her immunity is low, she is stressed, her lifestyle and diet choices are sub-optimal, she smokes, she lives in a very polluted city, and for a variety of reasons her cough is productive, lingers for days and days become months and then years; she has other symptoms like wheezing with inflammation in her airways, fatigue, nasal congestion, chest pain, frequent headaches and the occasional bacterial infection. She starts taking steroids and bronchodilators for COPD and has to take antibiotics periodically as she gets bacterial infections more often. She has chronic inflammation.
What can we do to make the quality of her life better? How can we trace the etiopathogenesis of her condition and what interventions can we make? How can Ayurveda help?
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural, healthy immune response of the body to injury, stress, or subjection to toxins or pathogens. Simply put, the body initiates a healing response (to return to its original state or homeostasis) which releases antibodies and proteins to fight infectious diseases, stressors, and invaders. These antibodies and proteins are then supposed to be purged out of the body. Infections and wounds heal because of inflammation, though the warmth, redness, and swelling of the skin and associated pain can be uncomfortable. If inflammation is prolonged, not checked, or chronic, and the chemicals are not expelled—or attack the host tissue instead—this can cause other disorders.
It is theorized that the underlying cause of many diseases—from cancer to the common cold—is inflammation. How do we test for chronic inflammation? In modern medicine a blood test measures the C-reactive protein, produced by the liver which rises abnormally in response to inflammation.
Severe reactions to viruses are associated with a hyperactive immune response called a cytokine storm. Some infections, faulty genes, or autoimmune disorders in which the body thinks its own tissues are invaders, cause cytokines to rampage through the bloodstream attacking healthy tissues. A pre-existing condition that involves chronic inflammation—like obesity—makes people even more vulnerable in pandemics.
Causes of Inflammation
Inflammation builds up when people are stressed, their diet and lifestyle are unhealthy, and they don’t get adequate sleep and exercise. Eating food at irregular times, junk food, processed food, sodas, fruit juices, too much alcohol, fried food, refined sugar, flour, excessive consumption of caffeine, too many pungent spices, nightshades, food additives, preservatives, dyes, smoking, recreational drugs, environmental toxins, pollutants and chemicals, obesity, parasitic infections, certain contagious diseases, low grade infections, and exposure to allergens (and often, a pitta-provoking lifestyle) can cause inflammation. There can also be a genetic predisposition that increases its risk.
Symptoms of Inflammation
The symptoms and manifestation of inflammation differ based on the Prakriti (body constitution) and Vikrati (imbalance) of a Rogi (client). However, redness, irritation, heat, some measure of immobility, swelling, pain, tenderness, edema, painful joints, abdominal or chest pain, sore muscles, rashes, frequent infections, fevers, fatigue, insomnia, weight fluctuations, and mood disorders are common symptoms of inflammation. The inflammation could manifest in the GI tract (constipation, diarrhea, reflux and irritable bowel syndrome), skin (psoriasis, rashes, and eczema), respiratory system (allergies and asthma), joints or any other organs or combination of organ systems.
Common Conditions as a Result of Inflammation
Inflammation has been implicated in arthritis (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis), asthma, sinusitis, allergies, dermatitis, diabetes, cardiac disorders, cancer, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disorders (colitis, peptic ulcers, Crohn’s disease, IBS), periodontitis, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune conditions, and mood disorders such as depression.
How Can Ayurveda Help?
Modern medicine is now acknowledging the significant role of stress, an imbalance in circadian rhythms, diet, and lifestyle in causing and aggravating many disorders. Individualized medicine—where it is recognized that there isn’t one standard solution to a disorder—is also a new buzzword.
The 5000-year-old science of Ayurveda is holistic and works at the root cause of disease to attain long-term and lasting relief. This is as opposed to symptomatic relief with medication that may have side effects and suppresses symptoms temporarily; for instance, the use of NSAIDs in arthritis (which could also be needed in some circumstances and that is why integrative medicine is relevant). Studies have found that the long-term use of turmeric is far more effective in such cases.
Here are some ways the Ayurvedic process deals with inflammation.
- Prakriti and Vikrati—Ayurveda takes into account what a person’s individualized body constitution (Prakriti) is at the time of conception based on the composition of doshas (vata, pitta and kapha) and what doshas are out of balance (Vikrati). This is useful in both preventative health and management of disorders.
- Agni and Ama—Generally, Ayurveda acknowledges the importance of gut in etiopathogenesis of disorders; in understanding the disease process, the status of digestive and metabolic fire, also called Agni is taken into account. An important consideration is whether there is any Ama (toxins) we are dealing with. Indeed Ama is considered as one of the major causes of inflammation in Ayurveda.
- Mind-body-spirit nexus and its importance in prevention or eliminating the cause of inflammation and healing is recognized.
- Nutrition is reset to follow what can be correlated to an anti-inflammatory diet; and sleep and lifestyle tips are provided to take care of the Ayurvedic trayostambh (three pillars of health).
- Yoga, breathwork, meditation, and exercise strategies are taught for de-stressing which can significantly reduce the body’s inflammation response.
- Setting a daily regimen (dinacharya) and seasonal regimen (ritucharya) for aligning with circadian and seasonal rhythms for greater resilience and immunity are discussed.
- Examining our connection with our self, family, community, and nature and increasing sattva; keeping good company, doing some service and connecting with nature—all of which enhance health and well-being—are other recommendations.
- Anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger, turmeric, gugglu, ashwagandha, and holy basil are suggested.
- Use of oils (and other herbal remedies and decoctions) in abhyanga or self-massage (or more intense therapies like kati vasti). Examples of anti-inflammatory oils are Mahanarayan, Dhanwantaram, Kottam Chukadi Thailam, Pinda Thailam, etc.
- Cleansing. Mild cleanses, seasonal cleansing, and Panchakarma, an intense and rejuvenating cleanse, can be very beneficial in managing chronic inflammation and the diseases that arise as a result.
Managing Inflammation Workshop
The Managing Inflammation Workshop will help you find out your Prakriti and impart guidelines in preventing and dealing with inflammation. While it will provide general principals, individualized advice and protocols based on Doshas will be given as well.
Ayurveda considers inflammation the symptom of a disease, an independent disease, or the complication of a disorder. Shotha or edematous inflammation for instance could be a symptom of a metabolic disorder like diabetes or obesity; it could be a disease in itself caused by imbalances in any of the doshas, or exogeneous factors (Agantuja factors like burns or trauma). It could even be a complication of a disorder like an enlarged spleen or peritonitis.
Chronic and degenerative diseases, metabolic syndrome, and cancers share common pathological features and that is inflammation. Earlier, aging was considered to be one of the causes of degenerative disorders but our stressful and irregular lifestyle has triggered inflammation in many younger people who are now at risk for so many of these conditions. Ayurveda believes that Ama (digestive or metabolic toxins) clogs micro channel circulation (Sroto Dushti) and causes inflammation, loss of homeostasis and tissue damage and Ama management is therefore one of the primary ways to deal with inflammation. Once Ama has been removed, in what is called the Nirama (absence of Ama) stage of diseases, appropriate interventions are made.
Take the case of the lady with chronic bronchitis. A thorough analysis of her case and a holistic approach would be needed to change her diet and lifestyle; with targeted herbs and therapies, as well as support in quitting smoking, her immunity can be significantly improved.
How would it help you to attend a workshop and gain principals to prevent and manage inflammation?
Consider the statistics. We often ignore it, but chronic inflammation is a serious matter; in 2015 the CRP levels and mortality rates of 160,000 Scottish citizens were studied, almost two-thirds of them were under 65. It concluded that those with high CRP were two to seven times more likely to die in an 8-year period. 6 in 10 Americans suffer from a lifestyle based disorder that could have inflammation as an underlying cause. This level is not normally measured and we either ignore it or get overwhelmed when we address it or realize its importance. Yet, the fact is that we can manage inflammation very well with Ayurveda.
Ayurveda’s strength lies in preventative health to ensure that we do not fall sick down the road by inculcating good health practices and an immunity building regimen now. It’s comprehensive approach with diet, lifestyle, herbs, and a daily regimen that incorporates yoga, breathwork, and meditation can offer solutions in avoiding and alleviating inflammation and consequent health conditions. For people who have mild to debilitating symptoms as a result, it can significantly improve their quality of life. While our longevity has improved, Ayurveda can help us improve the quality of our longevity and lives through simple yet profound principals to enhance our health and well-being.
Managing Inflammation Retreat