Ayurveda for Asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes severe inflammation in the airways. Asthma “attacks” are usually triggered by environmental factors, as is the case with inhaled allergens like pollen or pollution, and in some cases due to food allergies. During an asthma attack, the airways in the lungs become inflamed, constricting air flow. Symptoms include wheezing and coughing, sometimes combined with a feeling of constriction in the chest. Ayurveda, one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world, views asthma and other diseases as a result of a person being out of harmony with the universe. Disruptions can be physical, spiritual, and/or emotional. The Ayurvedic treatment during an acute asthmatic attack involves relieving the distress of breathing. This provides a good strategy for remaining calm and easing symptoms of an attack when they begin, but these attacks can have serious health consequences and should also be treated by a Western Medical Doctor. Ayurvedic medicine offers therapies that reduce the symptoms of, or even help eliminate, asthma over time, helping to control the chronic condition. Integrating Ayurvedic medicine with modern Western medicine can lead to an effective treatment for asthma.

How Can Ayurveda Help with Asthma?

If one's mind and body are in harmony, and one's interaction with the universe is natural and wholesome, you are more likely to be healthy and experience fewer asthma attacks. The goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to rebalance and integrate the body, mind, and spirit to promote health. A variety of techniques and products are used to cleanse the body and restore balance. These Ayurvedic treatments are grounded in concepts of universal interconnectedness of the body's physical and psychological characteristics (prakriti) and life energies (doshas). An imbalance in a dosha will produce symptoms that are specific to that dosha.

Asthma, from an Ayurvedic perspective, is primarily a Kapha (water) dosha syndrome. Kapha-type asthma has symptoms of cough and wheezing with abundant clear or white phlegm. The lungs will be full of water, producing a crackling or rattling sound. Attacks occur during morning and evening.

Cardiac asthma is usually associated with the Pitta (fire) dosha. Pitta-type asthma involves coughing and wheezing with yellow phlegm. Other symptoms include fever, sweating, irritability, and a need for cool air. Attacks come around noon and midnight.

A Vata dosha–type of asthma has symptoms of dry cough and wheezing, dry mouth, dry skin, thirst, constipation, anxiety, and craving for warm drinks. Attacks occur mostly at dawn and dusk.

Goals of Ayurveda for Treating Asthma

Treatment using the Ayurvedic approach is determined by the particular dosha imbalance experienced by the asthmatic individual. Patients need to actively participate and be willing to alter diet, lifestyle, and habits for treatments to be effective. Treatments include reducing symptoms, eliminating impurities, reducing anxiety, increasing disease resistance, and increasing harmony in the patient's life.

A variety of methods are used, including:

  • Reducing symptoms. The Ayurvedic practitioner may suggest dietary changes, physical exercises, stretching, breathing exercises, meditation, massage, and/or lying in the sun. Herbs might be prescribed, along with tiny amounts of metal and mineral preparations, such as gold or iron.
  • Eliminating impurities. A process called panchakarma is used to cleanse the body by eliminating undigested food that interferes with healthy functioning of the body. Panchakarma focuses on both the digestive and respiratory systems. Enemas, massage, medical oils administered in a nasal spray, and other methods may be used.
  • Increasing disease resistance. The Ayurvedic practitioner may combine several herbs, vitamins, proteins, or minerals in tonics to improve digestion and increase appetite and immunity.
  • Improving harmony and decreasing anxiety. Ayurvedic practitioners may recommend avoiding situations that cause worry and using techniques to release negative emotions.

Some Ayurvedic Medicines and Prescriptions for Treating Asthma

Two widely known Ayurvedic preparations for treating chronic asthma are Chyawanaprash and Agastya Rasayana. The primary ingredient of Chyawanprash is a fruit called amla, which is the richest source of vitamin C in nature. This remedy is especially helpful for emaciated sufferers. Agastya Rasayana is prescribed when the patient is constipated. These remedies increase the amount of time between asthma attacks.

Other useful preparations include Sitopaladi Churna, Swasha-Kasa-Chintamani Rasa, Suvarna-Pushpasuga Rasa, and Kanalwsava.

Several herbs are used to manage asthma include:

  • Piper Lungum builds up resistance against respiratory tract constriction and inflammation. Taken over a period of time, it builds a strong immunity against allergens.
  • Adhatoda Vasica manages allergic disorders and bronchial asthma. Research indicates that the alkaloids in the leaves stimulate respiratory activity.
  • Thylophora Asthmatica is an anti-inflammatory and acts as an expectorant. It also suppresses unnecessary immune responses and may boost other types of immunity.
  • Terminalia Chebula or Gall Nut has rejuvenative, laxative, and expectorant effects.

Patients are advised to avoid curd, butter, milk, bananas, guavas, alcohol, fried foods, and sour foods. Excessive physical exercise and exposure to damp and cold and should also be avoided.

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurvedic medicine, also called Ayurveda, originated in India thousands of years ago. The term Ayurveda combines the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge); therefore Ayurveda is "the science of life."

What to Expect When Meeting with an Ayurvedic Practitioner

An Ayurvedic practitioner will first determine the patient's primary dosha and the balance among the three doshas by:

  • Asking about recent illnesses, diet, behavior, and resilience to disease
  • Observing physical characteristics, including skin, eyes, weight, teeth, and tongue
  • Checking the patient's stool, urine, speech, voice, and pulse (each dosha is believed to have a certain type of pulse)

Then a treatment regimen will be selected that is highly individualized to meet the specific needs of the patient.

Finding an Ayurvedic Practitioner

First, it is always important to obtain a proper Western medical diagnosis, especially when experiencing breathing difficulties. Proven conventional treatments should not be replaced with an alternative treatments for asthma. There are experienced Ayurveda practitioners throughout the world. Before using Ayurvedic treatment, ask about the practitioner's training and experience. The United States has no national standard for training or certifying Ayurvedic medical practitioners; however some schools, such as the Ayurveda Institute, offer certification programs.

Cautions Concerning Ayurvedic Medications

In the United States, Ayurvedic medications are treated as dietary supplements, so they are not required to meet the safety and efficacy standards for conventional medicines. Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you are using to manage your asthma. This is especially important for pregnant and nursing women, as well as children. Discuss all treatments with the health care provider to help ensure coordinated and safe care. Find out whether any rigorous scientific studies have been done on particular therapies. Some products may be harmful if used improperly or without the direction of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner. For example, Ashwagandha and some other Ayurvedic herbal remedies may interfere with conventional prescription drugs.

Additional Resources

Ayurvedic treatment for bronchial asthma” from ayurvedic-medicines.org.

Article on Asthma from the Holistic Directory.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine article on Ayurvedic medicine.

Asthma Secrets from Ayurveda” by Yolande Manson, specifically discussing children with asthma.

Bronchial Asthma Care in Ayurveda and Holistic Systems, by P. H. Kulkarni (ed.).

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