What is Immunity?
Immunity is the immune system's response or the body’s ability to defend itself against microbes and other foreign substances. We are exposed to different kinds of substances and germs throughout the day, many of which can cause illnesses. The body’s immune system identifies these potentially harmful substances or microbes and eliminates them from the body.
The immune system comprises the following:
White blood cells
Peyer patches (lymphoid tissue present in the small intestine)
Apart from these organs, the skin, lungs, digestive tract and other defence mechanisms like tears are adapted to protect the body and prevent diseases.
Can immunity be Developed or Enhanced?
We often hear about ‘How can we develop immunity?’, ‘Ways to strengthen our immunity’. But can immunity be developed or enhanced? To answer this question, we must understand what different types of immunity are.
We are all born with some form of immunity, including physical barriers, defence mechanisms like saliva and gastric acid and generalised immune response like inflammation. This is innate immunity.
Since the immune system does not know the kind of pathogen or foreign substance entering the body, innate immunity is non-specific. This immunity quickly identifies the foreign particle and defends the body against it.
Acquired Immunity (Adaptive Immunity)
As the name suggests, this type of immunity develops when the body attains immunological memory after being exposed to a pathogen or foreign body (called antigens). When the body is exposed to these antigens the first time, the immune system releases antibodies to counter them. The next time the antigen invades, the body’s immune system already has antibodies to fight the antigen.
A classic example of acquired immunity is vaccines and diseases like chickenpox or measles.
When antibodies develop after one’s immune system is exposed to the antigen via disease or a vaccination (like a flu shot), it is active immunity. This type of immunity lasts long, sometimes even a lifetime.
This is a form of ‘borrowed’ immunity. A classic example of this form of immunity is given by a mother to a child via breast milk immediately after birth. Antibodies and immunoglobulin therapies are a type of passive immunity.
Ayurveda's Take on Immunity and Ways to Improve It
Immunology is a part of modern medicine but has always been an integral part of Ayurveda for centuries. Termed as ‘Vyadhishamatwam’ in Charaka Samhita, Ayurveda describes immunity as the body’s inherent ability to fight pathogens and overcome diseases. ‘Ojas’ is described as the optimum health state in Ayurvedic terminology. It results from eating healthy, wholesome food and influences the digestive fire (called Agni) and the driving force(or Vata).
According to Ayurveda, the body’s balance allows the immune system to function efficiently to prevent infections and diseases. Treatment of various diseases is based on the Tridosha system, wherein the body does not kill the microbe but strengthens its immune system to fight them.
It is also important to note that the body’s immune system cannot be strengthened overnight and requires a daily regime and regular dietary intake. Ayurveda recommends rules and regimes that can help boost your immunity, such as Nasya and Kavala Gandusha.
Some herbs, spices and foods that are known to boost immunity are:
Kumara (aloe vera)
These herbs are blood purifiers that restore the pitta balance in the body. Also, combinations like Triphala churna, gandharvaharitaki, eranda tel (castor oil) helps cleanse bowels and subsequently strengthen gut immunity.
Other drugs that are known to boost immunity and fight respiratory conditions include:
Here’s how you can strengthen your immunity using Ayurvedic principles:
Eat a well-balanced, nourishing diet that comprises six tastes, based on the doshas
Practise yoga regularly
Include different herbs and spices in your diet
Follow regular detox and fasting (once a month)
Yearly detox ritual of panchakarma
Consume Rasayana herbs like amla and ashwagandha
Drinking amla juice, a concoction of tulsi, pippali and ginger in your tea, avoiding meats, and drinking warm water throughout the day are a few ways to stimulate your immune system and keep it healthy.
Ayurveda is a storehouse of health, wellness and medicine-related information that guides us to lead a good quality of life. By following Ayurvedic principles and regimes, we can boost or enhance our immunity and empower our bodies to fight microbes and infections.