For years a friend of mine has extolled the use of bitters in dealing with congestion. Because bitter is one of the six taste identified in Ayurveda and associated with decreasing Kapha, and because are one of the main seats of Kapha, I thought it made sense. Recently I learned that back in 2010, researchers at the University of Maryland School of medicine found that bitter taste receptors are located in the human lungs as well as in the mouth. Although the taste buds located in the lungs do not send signals to brain, they respond to bitter tastes by opening the airways “more extensively than any known drug that currently exists to address asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease”.
According to the American Lung Association, asthma affects nearly 23 million Americans, including seven million children, and COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.
During asthma attacks, the smooth muscle cells contract, causing a narrowing of the airways and subsequent breathing difficulties. The fact that bitter tastes can relax these smooth muscles cells has opened new possibilities for natural treatments of asthma.
While Ayurveda acknowledges many types of asthma, Kapha-related asthma is the most common and involves the production of sticky, thick mucous. Even with a Kapha-related asthma, however, an imbalance of Vata dosha is often involved, along the presence of ama (a sticky toxin caused by poor digestion.) Because Kapha and Vata have opposite qualities, finding a course of treatment that will pacify both is delicate. For this reason is it best to consult an Ayurvedic expert to help determine the most beneficial approach to any individual case of asthma.
While bitter is not a taste that is common in the traditional American diet, bitter flavored foods have long held a special place in traditional medicine. From the ancient Egyptians to the 16th century prescriptions of the physician Paracelsus, elixirs brewed from bitter herbs have been considered cure-all remedies. Studies have confirmed that getting an adequate amount bitter flavor is important for digestive balance and bitter is linked with many related health benefits. Kale, bitter melon, grapefruit and turmeric are examples of bitter tastes.
Experiencing the bitter flavor on the tongue initiates an effect that starts with the salivary glands, which is why bitters should not be taken in pill or capsule form. The stimulation of the taste buds and increased saliva output is the signal to rest of the digestive process to produce and release the necessary enzymes and digestive juices for proper and thorough digestion of food.
The first line of treatment that is traditionally recommended for asthma is the purification therapies of Panchakarma. These treatments expel the excess doshas from their sites of accumulation. This treats the condition at a deep level and decreases the chance of recurrence.
A diet and lifestyle that avoids aggravation of both Kapha and Vata dosha should also be followed. This means avoiding heavy, cold or dry foods. Warm, soupy foods that are freshly prepared nourish Vata without aggravating Kapha. Again, balancing of both Vata and Kapha at the same time is tricky. It is best to consult with someone who is experienced in this area to avoid creating more imbalances.
For more information on the Ayurveda approach to asthma, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website: