Expert Advice on Immunity
In her insightful 1996 book, The Rebellious Body: Reclaim Your Life from Environmental Illness or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (New York; Insight Books), Janice Strubbe Wittenberg, R.N., says; "It is vital to treat allergies, even hidden allergies, because they constantly drain and overburden the immune system."
Whenever we speak about allergies, the subject of asthma normally comes up in the same context since asthma represents one type of allergic response. Asthma -- particularly -- bronchial, has been linked to the over-release of certain biochemicals, such as prostaglandins and the over-reaction of certain cells, such as mast cells, eosinophils, and macrophages.
Asthmatic brochospasms, constricting of the airway passages, are what characterize bronchial asthma. The biochemical root of the actual spasms stems partly from over-expression (over-release) of a biochemical called histamine, and partly as a result of a confluence of effects caused by the over-release of all of the aforementioned cells and biochemicals. Allergic rhinitis, a related condition, is marked by swelling of the mucous membrane inside the nasal passage (causing a great deal of sneezing and noseblowing).
Traditional medicines to the rescue
A great number of plants which can alleviate the symptoms of bronchial asthma have been used traditionally for centuries and, in some cases, have also appeared in medical texts of Ayurvedic Medicine, Tibetan Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Interestingly enough, many of the early Western "drugs" used for asthma were derived form plants, such as Ipecac, Belladonna, Vasaka, Lobelia, Stramonium, etc.
Three Ayurvedic botanicals which can truly help relieve asthmatic symptoms are: Tylophora Indica, Picrorhiza Kurroa, and Piper Longum.
Tylophora indica (also called Tylophora asthmatica). Growing widely in the plains of Southern and Eastern India, the modern "story" of research into this perennial climbing plant begins in 1980, with an article by Kunda V. Gore, and colleagues, that appeared in the Indian Journal of Medical Research (71: 144-148).
They looked at 11 patients with bronchial asthma (and 18 without) to figure out why the plant acts the way it does. Those who were given T. indica experienced significant benefits", which may, the authors speculate, come from this botanical's "indirect and prolonged activity" in stimulating the adrenal gland to release steroid hormones, body chemicals which help reopen constricted airway passages.
If we trace the research back to 1978, we can look at a study by K.V. Thiruvengadam, and others, comparing the benefits of T. indica and a standard anti-asthma drug. In those who took the Ayurvedic extract, "there was a sustained rise in maximum breathing capacity (MBC)" and other indicators of improved lung function.
Picrorhiza kurroa. This mountain-dwelling herb is an important liver-protector and immune regulator. The over-reaction of mast cells, in particular (mentioned earlier), in asthma and inflammation has been shown to be halted by supplementation with P. kurroa, a finding that was reported by B.L. Pandey and P.K. Das in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology (32:289-292, 1988). These authors found that P. kurroa extract holds back excess activity of pro-inflammatory cells.
A study by R. Yegnanarayanan, and colleagues, that appeared in 1982, looked at 20 patients with bronchial asthma who were given P. kurroa extract. The results were: reduced frequency and severity of asthmatic attacks; reduction in the need to use bronchodilators; and better pulmonary performance.
Piper longum. Shown traditionally to be effective in decreasing the frequency and severity of attacks in childhood asthma, Sharadini Dahanukar, and colleagues, observed 20 pediatric patients with bronchial asthma who were given P. longum extract over a five-week period in 1983.
The authors found that, at the end of the five weeks -- in reference to such indicators as allergic sensitivity, serum immunoglobulin E and breathing functions -- "all showed significant improvement. At one year there was excellent response in 11" and a moderately beneficial response in 3, which means that 70 percent of the patients responded favorably.
These three botanicals clearly hold a great deal of promise for reducing the incidence, duration, and severity of allergic reactions, particularly bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis, and childhood asthma. As with all approaches to wellness which produce real physiological responses, appropriate advice should be sought from a holistic, naturopathic, or Ayurvedic healthcare practitioner.