Tuberculosis, also known as TB (which is short for tubercle bacillus), and as raja yakshma, or king’s disease by Ayurveda, is a highly infectious condition caused by various strains of bacteria, most commonly Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Most often, these bacteria congregate in and attacks the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body such as the lymph glands, intestines and bones. If tuberculosis is left untreated it is often fatal, killing a significant percentage of those infected.
How does infection occur?
Typically, the tuberculosis bacteria are spread through the air. This occurs when a person with an active TB infection coughs, sneezes, or otherwise sends fluids from their lungs in to the atmosphere, and they are inhaled by another person.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, behaviours such as over-exertion, the suppression of natural urges (of urination, flatus, etc.), and too much loss of semen (shukra), ojas (the nutritive essence of the tissues) or sneha (unctuousness, the lubricating material of the tissues) are primary causes.
All three doshas—vata, pitta and kapha—can create a favourable environment for the tuberculosis bacteria to take hold in the body. The main causes of dosha and system imbalance that increase the risk of catching and developing TB, as well as the above, include a poor diet high in over-processed, refined and difficult-to-digest foods, including poor food combinations.
Low immunity, which also occurs due to poor diet, and also many other reasons such as chronic stress and lack of exercise and rest, also increases our risk that if exposed, the body will not be able to fight off spread of the TB bacteria.
What does infection look like?
Early symptoms of tuberculosis include nasal catarrh, sneezing, excess salivation, change in the voice, weakness (including weakness of the digestive fire or agni), nausea, vomiting, loss of taste and/or appetite, loss of weight and constant fatigue.
As TB develops it can also cause shortness of breath, cough—which can discharge blood, night sweats and fever, and pain in the shoulders, head or sides.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, once infected, TB causes symptoms of both inflammation (aggravated pitta dosha) and tissue depletion (aggravated vata dosha). The fast, strong reduction of tissues is the reason TB is also known as “consumption”—because it literally consumes the tissues.
In particular, tuberculosis driven by high vata dosha tends to involve lung dryness and wheezing, hoarseness of voice, aching pain in the chest, inflammation, fever, a quick onset and variable symptoms. When pitta dosha is most involved there will be burning in the lungs, high fever and inflammation, congestion and coughing with expectoration of blood, and a more rapid onset. Kapha dosha tends to involve high levels of congestion, mucus production and coughing, feelings of fullness or a lump in the throat, plus some inflammation accompanied by a low-grade fever. The onset of the disease is often slow. As well as individual doshas, all three doshas can also be affected simultaneously.
Treatments for Tuberculosis
As tuberculosis is a life-threatening disease and tends to result in fast wasting (a rapid loss of tissue), getting to treatment early is a high priority. From an Ayurvedic perspective, diet and lifestyle are very important (and are highlighted below), with the immediate priority being to build the digestion. Herbs also play a vital role.
The herbs that are most used include plants that are anti-viral, and also those that help to remove congestion from the lungs (called expectorants), and those that help to support the health and strength of the lungs and body in general (known as rasayanas).
Examples of useful herbs include Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and Guduci (Tinospora cordifolia). Dashamoola powder is also useful (in ghee, or as a decoction) to calm vata dosha and nourish the body. Chayawan Prasha is also very helpful to boost digestion and strength. In general, Ayurveda gives low doses frequently, and over long periods to ensure the tissues have strengthened and healed. All herbs are best selected according to the individual and their symptoms.
In addition, herbs should be taken in a “vehicle” that helps to absorb them, and hydrate the body. For this purpose, fresh ginger root tea can be used, and also sipped throughout the day to boost digestion, keep the person hydrated and help to clear the lungs.
Each patient should consume a digestible, nourishing diet as per their unique constitution, and modified according to their current imbalance. Foods that can be universally helpful include:
- Dried fruits, especially sultanas
- Goat’s milk
- Meat soups/broths, especially goat
Avoid curd and bananas.
Prioritise plenty of physical and mental rest.
Perform pranayama (breathing exercises) every day, such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing). Ideally, work with a qualified yoga teacher or therapist.