Immunity and Wellness
Biological Understanding of the Immune System
The awareness about Health and Wellness is increasing with rising challenges of diseases. Our body comes with a natural mechanism to fight infections with the help of our Immune system. Without the immune system, different kinds of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites can attack our body and cause multiple diseases. The crucial role of the immune system is to distinguish our tissue from foreign tissues.
In biomedical terms, the word ‘immunity’ is defined as a state of physiological protection from infectious diseases. It is broadly classified into two components, Innate and Adaptive Immunity which encounter and clear any diseases threatening to harm the body. Innate immunity, being the first line of defense, is relatively general and less-specific and is present in the system even before the onset of any disease. Its function is to attach to and neutralize any non-specific infectious agents and not to target only a specific pathogen. Adaptive immunity, on the other hand, is highly specific comprising of B and T lymphocytes which come into action only after a particular antigen has been recognized and targeted. Adaptive immunity is referred to as the second line of defense. The B lymphocytes, also called humoral immunity, comprise of antibodies from body fluids like serum, while the T lymphocytes, also called cell-mediated immunity, produce a variety of cells to act against harmful pathogens.
Ayurvedic Understanding of Immunity
Ayurveda too has a very clear and systemic perspective on immunity that correlates with the objective of modern immunology. These Ayurvedic concepts of immunity are termed as Ojas, Bala, Vyadikshamatwa, and Swasthya. The immune system (Bala) is classified as innate or natural immunity (Sahaja), adaptive or seasonal immunity (Ka/aja), and enhanced or passive immunity (Yuktikriya). The action of improving the immune system (Balaaya hitam balyam) occurs through the nourishment of muscle and strength (Mamsa Bala), improving immunity and maintaining balance (Vyadikshamtwa), and increasing cellular fluid (Prakrita kapha). To enhance the immune system, a holistic approach is followed which involves nourishment of the systemic pathways at a generalized level.
Modern Medicine and Ayurvedic Approach to Immunity
The complexity of the Immune system described by both systems of knowledge seems to have a similarity of objectives although the big difference lies in their perspectives. According to modern science, the perspective is largely focused on the body, while Ayurveda approaches immunity as a systemic that includes both physiological and mental functions. The classification of Innate, Adaptive, and Acquired immunity is the common ground for exploring collaboration between the two systems.
Immune disorders (Bala dosha), according to modern science, are classified as Hypersensitivity action, Autoimmunity, and Immunodeficiency, similar to Ayurvedic classification of these disorders as Ojavyapat, Ojavisramya, and Ojaksyaya. Utilizing the pre-existing clinical practices of Ayurveda treatment modalities for immunity in suitably designed bioassays can result in the emergence of new science.
Wellness Explained: Western medicine vs Ayurveda
Wellness is defined by modern science as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Modern medicine, however, has not yet developed a scientific understanding of wellness as a state of cellular, molecular, systemic, physiological, and mental equilibrium. As complementary and alternative healthcare areas such as Mind-Body medicine emerge, practices such as meditation are used to form a connection of the mind, body, and behavior with the intent to affect physical health and promote health and well-being.
The sophisticated Ayurvedic term for wellness is Swasthya which is further described as the state of balance at multiple biological levels, such as balanced physiological functions (sama dosha), proper quality of tissues (sama dhatu), efficiency of metabolism (sama agni), optimum excretory process (sama malakriya), efficient working of sense organs (prasanna indriya), cheerful mind (prasanna mana), and peaceful mind (prasanna atma). This equilibrium changes according to the season, age, and change of habitat. Ayurveda views the whole system equilibrium, both body and mind, to describe individualized wellness. This is because every individual embodies a unique phenotype.
A challenging and promising integration of the holistic framework of Ayurveda knowledge and the molecular framework of modern science will aid in the amalgamation of two knowledge systems to help explore potential new groundbreaking pathways, scientific concepts, address unanswered questions, and create a new integrative science of immunity.