Dealing with Respiratory Infections Ayurvedically

It’s now nearly half-way into the school year. The holidays are behind us, homework is keeping everyone up too late, the weather is getting cooler and the season for upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, coughs, colds and even influenza is indisputably here. It’s been an unseasonably warm fall overall, but still pediatricians are warning parents to be especially vigilant.

Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are the most common acute complaint seen in the ambulatory health-care settings and are also the syndrome most consistently mismanaged by primary care providers. Variably described as homely, prosaic and plebian in the medical literature, the topic is rarely perceived as exciting or controversial. Nonetheless, it is clear that physicians continue to overuse antibiotics in the treatment of URI and that this "prescriptive promiscuity" has directly contributed to the widespread emergence of antibiotic resistance.

Estimates are that nearly half of the population will develop URI-linked illnesses: while generally rather innocuous with mild symptoms and self-limiting duration, some among us are particularly vulnerable to complications: the immunocompromised, the aged, any age with chronic medical conditions, and very young children. It is these groups that warrant a close eye kept on the severity and duration of symptoms.

A number of factors probably contribute to why URI viruses spread so avidly during these months: an abbreviated number of daylight hours, cooler temperatures, holiday binge eating and drinking, the closer contact between youngsters attending school, increased blood viscosity and an increased exposure to pathogenic microbes and viruses all serve to place us in a position of heightened vulnerability.

Is there anything that can be done to curtail this vulnerability and protect ourselves from the miseries of URIs and the flu that threaten us over the coming months? The ancient healing arts of Ayurveda answers "yes, there is."

There is a principal in Ayurveda known as Kala parinaama," which means to live one's life in synchronicity with the cycles of nature. This means, for us, eating foods, wearing clothing, and engaging in activities that are appropriate for the season. In winter, in most parts of the country, we wear warmer clothing, engage in outdoor activities appropriate to the climate, and eat foods that are warm, nutritionally dense, and sustaining. Whether you live in Florida or Maine, the same principles hold: dress, eat and live appropriately to the season (which also means, eating foods grown as locally as possible, fresh foods and in-season produce). The strawberry or raspberry that looks so delicious and succulent in the middle of February and that has been flown here from Chile or Brazil is not an appropriate food for midwinter in North America. It presents an insurmountable challenge to a digestive system ill prepared to deal with a food best consumed in a hotter climate. The same kind of challenge would apply to an individual consuming, say, a really spicy “Thai dish under the blazing noontime sun of July in Miami."

Ensuring an adequate degree of internal and external cleanliness is essential. The bowels should be kept regular, ideally through good seasonal nutritional observances, but if needed through the use of herbal compounds such as Triphala, a mild aperient and detoxifying agent that has been used by Ayurveda for thousands of years: it does a superlative job of heightening digestive efficiency, diminishing blood viscosity tonifying the entire digestive tract.

A good winter regimen includes heightened awareness of external hygiene: washing hands, particularly after contact with others, covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, and keeping one’s hands away from one’s face and mouth are essential in minimizing the factors that transmit influenza, including of course avoiding close contact with persons known to be infected.

Article provided by William Courson, BVSA, Dpl. Ayur., C.H. an Ayurvedic Practitioner, faculty member and the College Dean of Institutional Development at Sai Ayurvedic College & Ayurvedic Wellness Center.

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