The immune system discerns what is “your body” and “not your body” – and keeps what’s harmful out. From birth, our innate immunity has the ability to reject and resist potentially damaging substances. During life, this in-built filter pairs with an adaptive immunity that constantly adjusts to ward off new “predators” in our ever-changing environment.
To preserve health and longevity, the immune system is multi-faceted. Its functions extend from the five senses (which monitor and select from the external environment), to the entire digestive system, the body’s deeper tissues, and our inner sense of self. Healthy immunity is alert and integrated. Troubled immunity produces responses that are delayed, reduced, over-reactive, inappropriate, or absent.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, there are several reasons why intelligent immune functions falter. One prime driver is ama, or undigested toxins. Today’s noxious environments constantly assault metabolism and immunity. Agricultural residues, heavy metals, petrochemical and plastic contamination, airborne pollutants, pharmaceutical drugs including antibiotics, fake hormones, food additives and “de-natured” foods.
In its instinct toward balance, the body does its best to adapt and uphold integrity. But when the contaminants are constantly restocked through diet and lifestyle, and are deep and not easily removed, sooner or later the metabolism weakens. As the body’s intelligence begins to falter, it becomes poorer at distinguishing what is and isn’t the body, and keeping what is not you out. Sometimes “normal allergens” such as pollen, dust and fungus spores can produce hyper-reactions. Or useful cells and tissues may be perceived as pathogens. Or, in the process of attacking invaders, the body also attacks itself.
Supporting the intelligence that prevents and responds to health intruders is central to Ayurveda.
How to Support Immune Functions
Say NO to Toxins
From an Ayurvedic perspective, only by removing or reducing exposure to aggravating factors can healing begin and endure.
Reduce or stop eating highly processed foods and ingredients. Limit foods sprayed with agrochemicals, and commercially-farmed animals and their products. Minimize the use of plastics as food wraps and heating or storage vessels. Avoid cheap/old non-stick pan coatings, and aluminium vessels. Limit bottled water. Rethink the health and beauty products you use. Don’t abuse personal and household disinfectants (!). Avoid antibiotics for minor issues; look to natural remedies instead.
Limit Foods that are Hard to Digest
Avoid if you can’t comfortably digest—dairy, meats and animal products; oily foods, oils and fats; yeasted breads; nightshade vegetables (potato, tomato, capsicum, and eggplant); or nuts or legumes.
Avoid Foods that Cause Intolerance or Allergy
Dairy and wheat are common contenders. But sometimes troublesome foods stimulate the release of stress-moderating hormones that can actually help us feel better. Then the culprit’s actions are masked, and addictions are generated. Explore the following:
- Follow a five-day modified fast of simple foods such as kitchari, followed by a test meal of the suspected food, then monitor. A slight rise in heart-rate after eating suggests sensitivity.
- Undertake an elimination diet guided by an experienced health professional.
- Undergo kinesiology or methods of energy testing.
- Get skin-prick testing.
To discontinue incompatible foods, reduce quantities by one quarter each week over a four-week period, while introducing appropriate replacements. Over time, some problematic foods may be reintroduced.
Remove Built-Up Toxins
This is another key area that is best tailored to your unique issues and constitution. Consult an Ayurvedic physician.
Support & Balance the Digestion
A robust digestion burns up unwanted toxins and wholly digests and assimilates foods to nourish, vitalise and sustain the body’s tissues and support disease resistance. Ayurveda sees that complete digestion creates the subtle yet powerful essence known as ojas, a strong supporter of immunity.
Two great all-round digestive stimulants and cleansers are fresh ginger root and cumin seeds. Chew a little before eating, use in cooking, or steep to make a post-meal tea.
Nurture the Gut Microbiome
It’s estimated that the physical body consists of around ten trillion cells—and one hundred trillion single-celled microbes—the majority of which reside in the gut. Our physical being, it turns out, is not only wholly dependent on bacteria and fungi, we are largely bacteria and fungi ourselves!
Known collectively as the gut microbiome, this biomass helps to break down and digest food; manufacture nutrients; assist immune functions, internal communication and adaptation to external environments; support brain and mitochondrial functions; detoxify and cleanse the body; and form a rich compost from digestive remains.
To feed the microbiome, enjoy small regular amounts of raw fermented foods before or main meals, including pickled vegetables and chutneys, vinegars and curd. And avoid antibiotics.
Immune-boosting benefits of exercise include greater lymphatic drainage, enhanced circulation and tissue oxygenation, improved waste elimination, and stress release. As well as raising a sweat, spend time in Mother Nature. Walk barefoot on moist grass, sand, earth, pebbles. Swim in natural waters. Sunbathe. Dance. But don’t overdo anything (including sex); adequate rest and sleep are also essential.
Support the Mind & Senses
Immune functions are depressed by strong emotions such as fear, hate, anger and depression; over-stimulation by bright lights, too much screen time, loud noises; excess gossip; and acute and chronic mental stress. Reduce your exposure to potential stressors, including too much daily news.
Nurture positive, loving outlooks. Sing or listen to harmonious music. Get an in-house massage. Instead of chasing external desires, cultivate inner listening, and meditation.
To support long-term immune function, tried and tested Ayurvedic herbs include Guduchi (Tinispora cordifolia), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Amalaki (Emblica officinalis), Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) and Bala (Sida cordifolia; Country Mallow). Also check out the homeopathic remedy “Arsenicum Album” (30CH).
Support Overall Balance
As immunity is multi-faceted, the best focus is to balance your unique constitution or dosha. Understanding and harmonising our metabolic constitution through appropriate foods, regular lifestyle habits, and herbs supports all aspects of health, immunity, vitality, and intelligence.