Human beings are born with a basic immune system that is weak. Through constant interaction with the microbes in our environment, and within our gut, we learn to fight against new microbes, which helps to strengthen the immune system.
In the last 40 years or so, excessive microbicidal use in the name of hygiene and lack of constant interaction with plants, soil and other organisms has gradually made our immune system weaker, even though our overall health and lifespan has increased.
Immunity, as we understand it through modern medicine, is the function of certain cells, enzymes and immunomodulatory chemicals that attack pathogens and prevent them from creating diseases. This concept of invasion from microorganisms and a biological defense system against it led to the development of the range of antibiotics and vaccines in the 20th century. Various developments in the last decade, like the emergence of auto-immune issues, widespread antibiotic resistance in microbes, and a wider understanding of friendly bacteria and its functions, especially inside our gut, have forced us to rethink the unidirectional concept of the immune system.
In Ayurveda, diseases are broadly classified as Nija and Aganthu. Nija diseases are those which are caused by an imbalance that has originated within one’s body and can be mostly prevented from occurring by understanding one’s natural tendencies. Aganthu is caused by an external factor, which may include various injuries, both physical and mental trauma, and a lack of focused health and hygiene policies within a particular society.
Even though the understanding of microbes came much recently, Ayurveda books do acknowledge the presence of widespread communicable diseases in societies with improper nutritional guidance and lack of sanitation facilities, created by local governing bodies known as Janapadaudhwamsa. This concept of an epidemic caused in a community due to common external factors was mentioned in the text of Charaka Samhita in the 2nd century AD. Charaka, the author, mentions the important sources of microbe spread as air, water, and land. This is most relevant in the current era, not just because of the infections which spread through these means, but the overall impact of soil, water and air due to human exploitation, climate change and excessive usage of antibiotics and other chemicals.
Ayurveda concepts related to immune system functions
Immunity is a concept explained in Ayurveda under multiple topics. The most important ones are Bala or the concept of strength, Vyadhi Kshamathwa or the concept of resistance to illness development, and Ojas or the concept of supreme resilience. The concept of Bala explains the ability of the system to repair and nourish itself and be effective in disease prevention, whereas Vyadhi Kshamatwa is the ability of the immune system to fight against the disease-causing pathogens. While former is a product of the overall balance of body functions, tissues, digestion, and elimination, the latter is purely denoting the function of our immune system and recovery after coming in contact with pathogenic organisms.
The preventive aspect of our immunity function is majorly related to our digestive system. Balanced doshas or bio-energies, through cleansing, are also essential for proper resistance to illness. The concept of Ojas explains the direct correlation between digestion and immunity. Ojas is the final product of physiological transformation happening in our body as part of tissue nourishment. The seven layers of tissues are nourished one by one as a result of properly functioning metabolic pathways and the result of this process is Ojas. Ojas is considered as the essence of the food we consume, and a healthy level of Ojas indicates proper tissue nourishment. The function of Ojas is not just explained as resistance to disease but it is resilience to any form of unfavorable physical, mental or environmental change which would normally create an imbalance, leading to disease, but is otherwise dealt with effectively due to the presence of Ojas.
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