Ayurvedic Management of Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic Fibrosis is an inherited disease of the mucous and sweat glands, which affects mostly the lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, sinuses and genitalia. This condition is also known as CF, Fibrocystic Disease or Mucoviscidosis, affects mostly Europeans, particularly those tracing their ancestry to the British isles and most especially Ireland, wherein it is the leading inheritable disease capable of causing death and affects about 1 in 19 people.

CF is caused by a defect in the gene which produces the protein cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) in the body, causing a dysregulation of sodium and water metabolism across cell membranes.

Approximately 30,000 Americans have CF, making it one of the most common life-shortening inherited diseases in the United States.

The hallmark symptoms of cystic fibrosis are salty tasting skin, poor growth and poor weight gain despite a normal food intake, accumulation of thick, sticky mucus, frequent chest infections and coughing or shortness of breath. Males can be infertile due to congenital absence of the vas deferens. Symptoms often appear in infancy and childhood, such as bowel obstruction due to meconium ileus in newborn. The poor growth in children typically presents as an inability to gain weight or height at the same rate as their peers and is occasionally not diagnosed until investigation is initiated for poor growth. The causes of growth failure are multi-factorial and include chronic lung infection, poor absorption of nutrients through the gastrointestinal tract, and increased metabolic demand due to chronic illness.

Individuals with cystic fibrosis can be diagnosed before birth by genetic testing, or by a sweat test in early childhood. Ultimately, lung transplantation is often necessary as CF worsens.

Alternative therapies can help. By using alternative therapies it is often possible to drastically reduce symptoms and in some cases substantially increase lifespan.
Both Yoga and Ayurveda (along with other modalities) have been used for countless ages to help treat patients with chronic diseases. These can be used in conjunction with conventional medicine to give the patient the best opportunity for enhanced longevity and an improved quality of life, with minimal risk of undesired side-effects.

The practice of Hatha Yoga can help through the utilization of pranayama (breathing techniques), asana (yoga poses), and meditation. Pranayama practiced under the guidance of a professional teacher can assist in preventing mucus from stagnating in the lungs and helps to remove stagnant carbon dioxide to allow fresh oxygen to reach the tissues affected. It also strengthens the lungs by strengthening the muscles of the abdomen and allows the patient to breath properly through the abdomen in a technique called belly, or diaphragmatic, breathing.

Asanas or yogic postures can help people with CF by emphasizing movements and poses that open up the chest, allowing air to flow freely through the lungs. Asanas also help by keeping the flow of energy ("prana") active in the body and by enhancing the drainage of the lymphatic system.

Meditation can often help a patient dealing with CF by calming the mind and releasing stress from their life. Meditation and positive thinking can connect one with what is important in life and focus on the positive. Through the use of pranayama, asana and meditation patients can begin to feel comfort in their own bodies.

Cystic fibrosis does not exist as a diagnostic category within Ayurvedic science.
Ayurveda instead considers as its treatment objective the symptoms of cystic fibrosis rather than its Western diagnostic category and the syndrome that category implies. Whichever symptoms present in any individual patient indicate the treatment protocols to be employed. Ayurveda also considers the individual patient's unique prakruti (and vikruti) and affords treatments specifically tailored for that individual. Ayurvedic protocols ordinarily may include diet, an herbal/mineral medication regimen, physical treatments involving sudation, manipulation and oleation, psychological and spiritual counseling, and lifestyle guidance or any combination of the foregoing.

Ayurvedic dietary protocols emphasize doshically-appropriate foods that strengthen the immune system and include foods that will pacify kapha. Generally speaking, Kapha or mucus is built up in the system and causes channels to be blocked, in the case of CF specifically the udakavaha, meddavaha and pranavaha srotamsi. These blocked channels (srotorodha) create a tissue "terrain" enabling a susceptibility to infections in the lungs. Easy to digest, whole, preferably organic foods would make up the majority of the diet, and care must often be taken to stimulate and regularize agni (digestive fire) so as to ensure maximum absorption of nutrients. A particular challenge for the Ayurvedic practitioner is the implementation of a kapha- and aam-controlling dietary plan whilst keeping in view the metabolic demands that CF places on it's subject, necessitating a higher-than-normal caloric intake rich in healthy fats.

Ayurvedic physiotherapeutic measures that can be taken on a regular basis to help keep the system free of toxins and the tissues free of stress include massage, sedation and, in appropriate cases modified to the individual patient's needs, pancha karma therapy. Massage helps to keep the lymphatic system flushed and can be deeply relaxing for the patient. When accompanied by appropriately medicated oils it can add strength to the body and enhance internal oleation through transdermal absorption. Massage will also help aid the skin in its natural process of acting as a barrier to environmental toxins. Sedation (steaming) can also be beneficial at aiding the body to rid itself of unwanted toxins. Through the process of steaming, mucus is deprived of its adhesive property, loosened from dense, peripheral tissues and easily removed from the body.

Ayurvedic herbal and mineral agents aimed at liquefying accumulated mucus, preventing srota blockage and preventing and controlling infection include Indrayav (Holharrhina antidysentrica), Patol (Tricosanthe dioica), Kutki (Picrorrhiza kurroa), Saariva (Hemidesmus indicus), Patha ( Cissampelos pareira) and Musta (Cyperus rotundus). Multi herbal formulations which are useful include Arogya-Vardhini, Triphala-Guggulu, Punarnavadi-Guggulu, Gokshuradi-Guggulu and Panch-Tikta-Ghrut-Guggulu, Trikatu; and Triphala. In managing this condition, these often have to be given on a long-term basis, sometimes life-long, in small doses.

Since this is an inherited and lifelong disorder, life-style changes almost invariably need to be made and prescribed measures rigorously adhered to. Good self care includes eating a healthy diet, exercising frequently, drinking an ample quantity of fluids, doing chest physical therapy regularly and taking medications as prescribed. It is important that all such patients be under the regular care and supervision of a practitioner who is knowledgable in the management of Cystic Fibrosis and who works regularly with CF patients.

Article provided by William Courson, BVSA, D.Ayur., CH, an Ayurvedic Practitioner, faculty member and the College Dean of Institutional Development at Sai Ayurvedic College & Ayurvedic Wellness Center in Miami, FL.

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