Asthma is a chronic condition of the airways or bronchioles which transport air to and from the lungs. Asthma causes inflammation and narrowing inside the lung which restricts air supply and makes it difficult to breathe. Thankfully, Ayurveda can help in managing asthma with Ayurvedic remedies.
The symptoms of asthma often present in periodic attacks or episodes of tightness in the chest, wheezing, breathlessness, and coughing.
In a person with asthma, the inside walls of the airways, known as bronchial tubes, become swollen or inflamed. This swelling or inflammation makes the airways extremely sensitive to irritations and increases their susceptibility to an allergic reaction.
In an allergic reaction, the airways swell, and the muscles around the airways tighten, making it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs.
Western medicine can manage the symptoms of asthma and can help someone with asthma lead a full and active life but a complete cure is not available for this condition.
What Ayurveda Says About Asthma
A detailed description and differential diagnosis of a group of disorders involving respiratory distress are mentioned in all three of the major Ayurvedic texts.
These diseases are collectively known as swasa roga (respiratory disorder) which includes the following.
- Maha swasa
- Urdhva swasa
- Chinna swasa
- Kshudra swasa
- Tamaka swasa
The last variety, tamaka swasa is a form of swasa roga (respiratory disorder). It roughly corresponds to chronic bronchial asthma in western medicine.
Curing such a condition is possible only if it has recently occurred and the individual is otherwise strong and healthy. In a weak individual, however, only palliative management is advised.
In Ayurveda, it is considered to be the only type of respiratory disorder which can be controlled but not fully cured. The Ayurvedic scholar Charaka has mentioned that asthma is not easily curable but can be managed.
Tamaka Swasa is a pranavaha shroto vikar (respiratory tract disorder) characterized by dyspnea, cough, airflow obstruction, and wheezing. Similar characteristics are found in chronic bronchial asthma in conventional medicine.
Ayurveda clearly describes this condition as being multifactorial. It includes environmental and emotional factors as well.
Causes Of Asthma According To Ayurveda
Renowned Ayurvedic scholar Vagbhata has given a clear explanation of the causes and onset of asthma. According to Vaghbata, all cases of asthma involve an aggravation of both Vata and Kapha doshas.
Possible causes of asthma include
- Indulgence in a Kapha and Vata vitiating diet and lifestyle
- An excessive intake of salt, cold water/ fluids, yogurt, and milk causing an obstruction in the abhishyandi (body channels)
- Prolonged indigestion causing aam (accumulation of metabolic waste) in the body
- Exposure to smoke, dust, and irritants.
- Living in cold, damp, and humid areas.
Acharya Vagbhata has also mentioned possible causes of asthma like chronic diarrhea, excessive vomiting, poisoning, anemia, fevers, excessive exposure to dust, smoke or strong wind, trauma to the vital organs, and drinking very cold water.1
Clinical Features Of Asthma
An aggravated Vata goes in the upward direction in the passages, carries increased Kapha due to various causes, and reaches the head and throat region. This results in the following clinical features as described in the Ayurvedic text Astanga Sangraha.
- Pain in the chest and flanks.
- Coughing with wheezing sounds.
- Delusional state of mind.
- Loss of appetite.
- Desires to drink hot/warm fluids.
- Runny nose or a chronic nasal discharge.
- Stiffness in the head and neck.
- Fast, audible, and labored breathing.
- Expelling the obstructing phlegm provides temporary relief.
- Difficulty breathing while lying down.
- Upwards gaze (eyes wide open) with perspiration on the forehead.
The condition is further aggravated by changes in weather like the onset of clouds, rain, cold breeze, and easterly winds.
Diet and lifestyle choices that are ‘cold’ in nature also aggravate this condition.
Tamaka swasa is controllable but usually persists lifelong if not properly managed on time. It is curable but only if its onset is recent and affects an otherwise strong and healthy person.2
If further aggravated and left untreated, the Kapha obstructs the movement of Vata in the chest area.
Due to this obstruction, Vata spills out of its normal channels (srotas) and spreads in all directions, carrying the vitiated Kapha dosha.
As a result, the three major channels in the chest area become blocked and, to a greater or lesser degree, become dysfunctional. These channels are Prana Vaha Srota (governs respiration), Anna Vaha Srota (governs digestion of food), and Udaka Vaha Srota (governs water distribution).
At this point, the disease no longer stays in its incipient stage and asthma or tamaka swasa manifests.
Types of Asthma In Western Medicine
- Atopic-Extrinsic: Precipitated by an allergen.
- Non-atopic-Intrinsic: Non-allergic asthma.
Ayurvedic Management And Remedies For Asthma
Ayurvedic classification of Tamaka Swasa
- Pratamak Swasa
- Santamak Swasa
- Kshudra Swasa
Recommended Dietary Changes For Managing Asthma
- Avoid sour food
- Avoid processed foods having preservatives
- Avoid foods which are cooling in nature like rice, lentils, yogurt, buttermilk, bananas, or anything that increases Kapha dosha
- Avoid heavy meals
- Eat a light dinner
Ayurvedic Home Remedies For Asthma
- Mix black pepper with dry ginger powder, add 3-4 cloves and boil. When ¼ th (quarter) is left, strain and take sip while warm.
- 10 basil leaves, boiled with a pinch of turmeric, strain and drink 3-4 times a day
- Paste of black resins, dates, long pepper, licorice-1 teaspoon mixed with honey.
- Drink a cup of warm milk boiled with a teaspoon of turmeric and ¼ (quarter) teaspoon of sunthi (dry ginger powder) at night.
- Boil licorice with dry ginger in a glass of water till ¼ (quarter) remains. Sip while warm throughout the day.
Asthma or swasa roga is highly variable in its course. Therefore, managing asthma with Ayurvedic remedies also needs a very individualized approach, depending on its possible causes. The two primary lines of treatment in Ayurvedic medicine are the following.
- Purification therapies (Panchkarma) to eliminate vitiated doshas
- Using herbs to normalize physiological functions in the affected tissues and organs
The general Ayurvedic approach and remedies for treating swasa roga or asthma are to first gain control of the disease as quickly possible with strong Vata and Kapha purification measures followed by appropriate herbal therapies. Ayurveda aims to treat the root causes of asthma as well.
The patient also has to undergo oleation(snehan) and fomentation(swedan) before undergoing purgation(virechan) or therapeutic vomiting(vaman).
After panchakarma (Purificatory Procedure), various herbs are used to normalize the physiology. Here are some of the herbs used. Panchakarma is a very well known remedy for asthma.
Anantmool or Indian Sarsaparilla
Tylophora asthmatica or Tylophora indica (Anantamool) is an Ayurvedic medicine that is believed to treat respiratory disorders associated with mucus accumulation.
The leaves of Anantmul or Indian sarsaparilla are used in remedies for managing asthma, bronchitis, common cold, dysentery, and rheumatism.
It is believed to possess cathartic, diaphoretic, emetic, and expectorant effects. This indigenous plant is recognized as a bronchodilator.
Scientific Research on Anantamool
Dhananjayan and his co-workers (1975) conducted an extensive study on the pharmacological effects of the plant.3
They observed that the plant extracts produced muscle relaxant effect, antagonism of smooth muscle stimulants and immunosuppressive effects in different species of laboratory animals.
In another study, pre-treatment with the plant extracts prevented bronchospasm induced by Freund’s adjuvant and bovine albumin in rats. In recent years, the leaves have been used in the treatment of bronchial asthma.
The anti-asthmatic activity of the plant is attributed to the presence of phenanthroindolizidine alkaloids. An alkaloid mixture (0.17%) has been isolated from the aerial parts of the plant.
Tylophorine, the major alkaloid, has been studied extensively. The presence of tylophorine in the roots of the plant was first described in 1891. Subsequently, two crystalline alkaloids tylophorine and tylophorinidine were isolated.
Anantmool extracts produced muscle relaxant effect, antagonism of smooth muscle stimulants and immunosuppressive effects
Several studies confirmed the value of Tylophora asthmatica in the treatment of bronchial asthma and allergic rhinitis. Through a unique combination of anti-inflammatory action and immunosuppressive effects.
Tylophora asthmatica extracts mitigate the inflammatory as well as allergenic symptoms of asthma, providing prolonged relief to the sufferers and helping them manage the symptoms.
The plant has been reported to be beneficial in preventing asthma attacks, rather than in controlling acute attacks. The effect of Tylophora asthmatica on bronchial tolerance to inhalation challenges with specific allergens has also been investigated.
The scientific confirmation of its efficacy was obtained from both open and double-blind, cross-over trials. One group of researchers reported that the administration of one raw leaf daily for six days or 40 mg of alcoholic extract daily, for six days, gave the patient with bronchial asthma relief which lasted for several weeks.
A subsequent double-blind study using powder of the dried leaf of Tylophora asthmatica revealed significant effects only in patients with the perennial type of asthma.3
Shirisha or Albizzia Lebbek
Albizzia lebbeck, or shirisha, is an indigenous tree used for bronchial asthma and bronchitis in Ayurvedic medicine. It contains saponins. Tripathi et al. studied asthmatic patients who were treated with this plant and showed reduced histamine levels and elevated cortisol levels. This herb may treat asthma attacks caused by allergies.
Treated guinea pigs also were protected from histamine-induced bronchospasm. As a consequence, Tripathi further explored the effects of histamine and Albizzia.4
In a 1979 controlled study, 18 guinea pigs were treated with distilled water, histamine, or histamine plus alcoholic extract of Albizia lebbeck bark.
Albizzia counteracts the effects of histamines.
Plasma cortisol, catecholamine, and histaminase levels were measured and lungs and adrenals were examined. Histaminase levels were high in both groups but were highest in histamine treated groups.
The cortisol levels were high in the histamine group and highest in the Albizia group. Catecholamine levels were highest in the histamine group, indicating stress.
Histologically, the adrenals in the Albizzia treated group had larger cells and nuclei with many microvacuoles, indicating hyperactivity.
Also, lung tissue in the Albizzia treated group appeared normal as compared to bronchospasm and luminal obstruction in the histamine group. Tripathi concluded that Albizzia counteracts the effects of histamine either by possibly neutralizing histamine directly or by causing increased cortisol production.
Vasaka or Adhatoda Vasica
Adhatoda vasica (vasaka or Malabar Nut) is widely used in India for cough, bronchitis, bronchial asthma, glandular tumors, consumption, diarrhea, dysentery, cough, fever, jaundice, and tuberculosis.
Its leaves and roots were prescribed by Ayurvedic practitioners as a mucolytic, antitussive, antispasmodic, and expectorant. In other cultures, the fruit is used for bronchitis and the root is used for asthma, bilious nausea, bronchitis, fever, gonorrhea, and sore eyes.
The essential oil is claimed to have expectorant, antitubercular, and antihelmintic effects. Active chemicals are considered to be alkaloids, vasicine, vasicinone, and vasicinol.
Adhatoda has been used in traditional medicine to manage respiratory disorders like Asthma. Both vasicine and vasicinone the primary alkaloid constituents of Adhatoda are well established as therapeutical respiratory agents (Dorsch and Wagner, 1991).
Extracts of Adhatoda‟s leaves and roots are useful in treating bronchitis, and other lung and bronchiole disorders, as well as common coughs and colds. A decoction of the leaves of Adhatoda has a soothing effect on irritation in the throat and acts as an expectorant to loosen phlegm in the respiratory passages.
To evaluate the antitussive activities of Adhatoda extract in anesthetized guinea pigs and rabbits and in unanesthetized guinea pigs showed the plant to have a good antitussive activity (Dhuley, 1999). Recent investigations using vasicine showed bronchodilatory activity both in vitro and in vivo (Lahiri and Pradhan 1964).5
Please consult your Ayurvedic practitioner before trying the Asthma remedies mentioned in this article.
- Prof. K.R. Srikantha Murthy, Ashtanga Samgraha of Vagbhata, Vol 2, Nidana sthana, chapter 4, Sh 2, page 168
- Prof. K.R. Srikanth Murthy, Ashtanga Samgraha of Vagbhata, Vol 2, Nidana sthana, chapter 4, Sh 8-13, page 169
- Umamaheswari. P1, Sailaja.V2*Ravanaiah. G,3 Phani Kumar, D.V4 and C.V.Narasimha Murthy – Role Of Tylophora Indica In Treatment Of Bronchial Asthma
- Tripathi RM, Das PK. Studies on the anti-asthmatic and anti-anaphylactic activity of Albizzia lebbeck. Ind J Pharmacol. 1977;9:189–194.
- Therapeutic Use of Adhatoda Vasica. Research Gate, www.researchgate.net/publication/306020300_Therapeutic_use_of_Adhatoda_vasica.