Our bodies are more susceptible to health problems when the seasons are changing because our body functions differently in each season. When it is hot outside, our agni (or digestive fire) automatically decreases. Thus during the summer months our digestive capacity is diminished. Once the outside temperatures begin to fall, our internal fires naturally start to build and our desire to eat increases. Unfortunately the transition from one season to the next rarely proceeds systematically. Instead we deal with day-to-day temperatures that can fluctuate dramatically. Going from hot to cold to hot to cold, it is easy for our digestive system to become compromised. Too often as we enter the fall season, our desire to eat heavier foods collides with an inability to digest them. When the food we eat is not fully digested, what should be a clear extraction supplying the organs and tissues with high quality nutrition becomes instead a toxic substance that clogs the channels and tissues. Ayurveda refers to this toxin as ama. The accumulation of ama can compromise our immune system and make us more susceptible to colds and flu.
Signs of Ama Accumulation:
- A thick coating on the tongue when you wake up in the morning
- Constipation and/or digestive issues like gastritis
- Bad breath
- Feeling of heaviness or fatigue when you wake up
- Chronic sinus issues, allergies, chronic colds or bronchitis
One of first organ systems to be affected by ama accumulation is the respiratory system. This build up creates the conditions favorable to phlegm and mucus in the lungs and sinuses. A build up of Kapha can lead to sneezing, cough, and runny nose. According to Ayurveda, the common cold results largely from an imbalance of the Kapha and Vata. Kapha, we have seen, is responsible for the respiratory system and lungs, while Vata is responsible for immune system.
This is why people who are Kapha dominant, and/or in an unbalanced state due to diet or lifestyle errors, are more prone to colds and sinus infections. (Conversely, when Kaphas are healthy and balanced, they can have the strongest immune system. It’s a question of balance.)
Although, technically colds are caused by the rhino virus, we all know people who never catch a cold and others who always do. The ability to withstand exposure to a virus is a function of your immune system. B balancing Kapha and Vata and reducing ama is vital if we want to avoid colds.
Ayurvedic Guidelines to Prevent Colds
- Stay Warm: Dress in layers so that you can be prepared for the fluctuations of heat and cold between inside temperatures and outside. Be sure to cover your head and ears when you go outside. The ears are one of the main seats of Vata. Drink warm liquids throughout the day.
- Sip hot water throughout the day. This will help the body flush out ama, pacify Vata and help hydrate your mucus membranes.
- Warm Foods: Follow the general Ayurvedic advice to drink liquids at room temp or warm/hot. If you drink milk, first bring it to a boil and cook with ginger root, cardamom, or clove in order to balance milk’s natural Kapha quality.
- Avoid cold food, avoid most dairy and other sweet, Kapha-promoting foods. Yogurt in the form of lassi is okay at noon, but not at night.
- Fruit: Stick to apples, pears and other seasonal or dried fruits like dates. Stewed fruits are excellent at this time of the year. (Or any time of the year!) Again, try adding spices like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Avoid bananas, as they are quite cooling.
- Vegetables: Avoid cold veggies like carrots, cucumber, raw tomato, and salads—these are foods that can dampen Agni, our digestive fire. Favor warming veggies like baked hard squash, and green leafy veggies, lightly cooked.
- Soups: Soups are an ideal choice at this time of year. Soups are easy to digest and moisten and lubricate the mucosa in the nose and throat, making it harder for rhinoviruses to penetrate. Throw in lots of warming spices.
- Spices: Keep your insides warm with thermogenic spices — cumin is an excellent burner of ama. So are ginger, black pepper, coriander, oregano, thyme, sage, fenugreek, and fennel. If you drink milk, drink it hot simmered with ginger, cardamom, clove, and cinnamon. Turmeric is an excellent spice that builds immunity and reduces ama. So is fresh ginger. Used together, these spices can help combat the heaviness of a rich meal.
What To Do If You Get a Cold?
- Drink ginger tea. It acts as a decongestant and helps stimulate digestion. Ginger can reduce excess Kapha and stimulate circulation, making it an excellent medicine for colds and flus.
- Try drinking warm water with fresh squeezed lemon and honey to sooth a sore throat and help with coughing. (Remember, never bake with honey or put honey into water that is too hot to sip.)
- Gargle with salt water. Gargling loosens excess mucus and removes bacteria and fungi from the throat. The Mayo Clinic confirms that gargling with salt water can provide temporary relief for sore, itchy throats.
- Breath in eucalyptus drops. Bring a pot of water to a boil and remove from its heat source. Take a towel and create a tent over the pot. Put in a drop or two of eucalyptus oil and breath deeply.
- Use oil, inside and out! To counterbalance the dryness of Vata give yourself a warm oil massage every morning before your bath or shower. Include a small quality of healthy oils like olive oil or ghee at every meal. Flaxseed oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acidsThe delicate nature of seasonal transitions is exactly the reason that Ayurveda recommends the purification treatments of Ayurveda (Panchakarma or PK) to be taken at the beginning of each season. Panchakarma taken at the end of summer, for example, helps release summer heat, irritation and inflammation. Getting rid of any accumulated ama also helps insure protection against colds, congestions, respitory infectcions and the flu.
For more information on increasing your immune system and removing ama, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa web site: