By Anindita Guha Maulik Rungta (see bio below)
Ayurveda is one of the ancient forms of healing that has its origins in India about 5000 years ago. Ayurveda, which literally means the science of life Ayur = Life, Veda = Science is a system which combines both philosophy and medicine. Ayurveda is thus a unique, branch of medicine and a complete naturalistic system which embodies mind-body medicine. You can use ayurveda for eczema to balance the combination of elements of space, air, fire, water and earth which are believed to be primary constituents that we are made of. These elements combine to form the 3 different basic types of human constitution or Doshas as they are called.
Fundamentals of Ayruveda
Prakriti is the physical and mental constitution of an individual and is unique to that person. It is determined at birth and remains the same throughout the lifetime of that individual. Any deviation from that natural state can cause illness.
The three Doshas- Pitta, Vata and Kapha are considered to be energies that make up every individual and perform different physiological functions in the body. The first step towards healing through Ayurveda is to thus determine the constituent of the individual to be treated. Each person has all three Doshas, but usually one or two dominate. By the elements and Doshas, Ayurveda determines the basic nature of different individuals and establishes a line of treatment unique to their needs.
You can determine your Dosha by using this test here.
The 3 doshas need to be in a state of balance for an individual to be in a state of prakriti. If the doshas become imbalanced, this will lead that individual from a state of prakriti to a state of vikriti. Vikriti is thus a deviation from the natural constitution of a person and the further a person’s virkriti is from prakriti, the more prone to illness the person will be.
It is recommended to see an ayurvedic practitioner to determine the current constitution or Prakruti and the current state of imbalance or Vikruti and the corresponding treatment.
Ayurveda for Eczema
Ayurveda describes a skin disease called Vicharchika, which can be correlated with eczema. It is described as a skin condition with skin eruptions and itching.
Dietary and lifestyle based recommendations for eczema can be broadly classified based on the person’s Doshas. These conditions manifest when the particular dosha is in excess and is not in a state of harmony.
The skin tends to be rough, dry, hard, itchy and scaly and sheds a lot. There may be associated constipation, gas, bloating, dislike of cold and wind, light, interrupted sleep, anxiety and insomnia.
The skin is aggravated by cold, wind, dryness and stress and relieved by the application of oils and salves or ointments.
The symptoms can be reduced by following the principles of routine, warmth, serenity and nourishment.
The recommended diet includes foods that are naturally sweet, sour and salty; warm, freshly cooked foods; warming spices like ginger, black pepper, cinnamon and cumin; warm drinks and fluids like soups and stews and a generous amount of ghee (clarified butter).
Foods to avoid are those that are bitter and pungent; cooling foods like chilled beverages, frozen foods; too much of raw foods like salads, fresh fruits, juices etc; processed foods; deep fried foods and foods containing refined sugar.
Vatta dosha is also cold, light, irregular and always changing. To balance Vatta dosha, one needs to introduce warmth, stability and consistency. Setting a daily routine and eating meals at regular times is very important. A gentle exercise routine like yoga, tai chi, chi gong, walking and swimming can help. Also it is important to keep warm no matter what the weather is.
The skin is usually hot and inflamed; it also tends to be oozing, red, swollen and is sometimes accompanied by a burning sensation. There is an uncomfortable feeling of heat in the body, which may be accompanied by swelling, inflammation in the body or joints and feelings of anger, irritability or frustration. Digestion can also be associated with acid reflux, heartburn and loose stools.
Foods that are recommended are naturally sweet, bitter and astringent (astringent taste is a flavor of dryness that is generally produced by tannins in the bark, leaves and outer rinds of fruits and trees). Cooling foods (cucumbers, melons, zucchini etc) are recommended including cooling herbs like coriander, cilantro, fennel and cardamom; raw foods and freshly cooked foods are recommended as well included; a generous amount of ghee (clarified butter) and other oils like olive and coconut oil.
Foods to be avoided or reduced include those which are pungent, sour and salty (onion, chillies, tomatoes, hot peppers, egg plant, lemons, citrus fruits etc) ; warming foods like spices (cinnamon, ginger, cumin, black pepper, cloves); highly processed foods and deep fried foods, red meat.
Pitta dosha is considered to be hot, intense, acidic, pungent and sharp and hence the lifestyle recommendations are based on the principles of cooling, surrendering and moderation.
It is beneficial to stay cool and avoid heat in terms of temperature and activities. The ideal environment for a pitta individual is cool and dry. Moderate exercise is recommended along with a daily routine for relaxation and other regular activities like eating, sleeping etc.
The skin is usually cold, clammy, sticky, swollen, oozing and itchy along with a pale complexion. This is usually accompanied by lethargy and sluggish metabolism and can lead to depression, weight gain, fluid retention etc. Cold and damp conditions aggravate kapha, while warmth helps balance this dosha.
Foods that are recommended are warm, light and dry. Foods which are astringent, bitter and pungent like apples, pears, pomegranates, cranberries and apricots are great for balancing excess kapha. So are herbs and spices like ginger, pepper, cayenne and black mustard. Very heavy meals and highly processed foods also tend to aggravate kapha’s heaviness and are best avoided. Cooked food is preferable over raw, especially in the colder months and so is room temperature, warm, or hot beverages.
Foods that should be avoided are all sweeteners except honey which is both detoxifying and heating in nature. Also avoid dairy (apart from ghee or clarified butter) and limit nuts and seeds (apart from sunflower and pumpkin). It is best to eat the largest meal at lunchtime and a smaller meal at dinnertime and also allow at least three hours for digestion before bedtime.
Kapha dosha is considered to be cold, heavy and dense and hence the key to balancing it is stimulation which can be done through sound, experiences and sight. It is beneficial to stay warm and avoid dampness by limiting exposure to cold air and incorporating a vigorous exercise routine like jogging, hiking, biking, yoga etc.
Common Ayurvedic Remedies for Eczema
One of the most important aspects of ayurveda for eczema includes detoxification with Panchakarma. Also known as the five cleansing actions, Panchakarma is a gentle, yet profound purification therapy, designed to reduce the body of toxins and thus help balance excess dosha which cause disease and discomfort. This purification helps in removing toxins from deep within and at the same time calms the mind and the nervous system. It should be kept in mind that this treatment has to be completely customised for an individual and should be done with the help of an ayurvedic practitioner only.
Also, traditional Ayurvedic warm oil massage, herbal steam bath, and Shirodhara (for calming the central nervous system) are very beneficial in most eczema cases and can be performed as often as desired to promote lymphatic circulation, gently cleanse the system, calm the body and mind.
Given below are some of the common ayurvedic eczema treatments:
- Neem (or Azadirachta indica is a tree in the mahogany family) – it clears the heat and toxins from the liver and blood and relieves itching.
- Manjista (or Indian Madder) – Its root is extensively used in many ayurvedic medicines and helps to balances pitta in the skin, calms itching, and purifies blood.
- Guduchi (or Tinospora cordifolia, also known as amrit) relieves all three doshas, especially pitta, reduces burning and systemic inflammation and is considered to be an adaptogenic herb.
- Turmeric (or haldi from the root of the perennial Curcuma longa plant) is a superfood. The most well known medicinal action of turmeric is its use as a powerful anti-inflammatory herb, however it also detoxifies, reduces inflammation, and relieves itching.
- Licorice (mulethi or glycyrrhiza glabra) is highly anti inflammatory and calms and soothes tissues, balances bitter herbs used to treat this condition and pacifies both vata and pitta dosha.
- Shatavari (or Asparagus racemosus) has been used for centuries in Ayurveda to support for the digestive system, especially in cases of excess pitta. It cools the blood, and is used in Ayurveda to balance pitta and vata, but can increase kapha due to its heavy nature.
- Triphala is a traditional Ayurvedic herbal formulation consisting of three fruits native to the Indian subcontinent: Amalaki (Emblica officinalis), Bibhitaki (Terminalia belerica) and Haritaki (Terminalia chebula). Triphala cleanses the entire GI tract, promotes healthy digestion and absorption and improves the tone of the skin.
- Jatamansi is an Ayurvedic herb used in neuro-psychiatric diseases and skin diseases. It calms the mind, replenishes the nervous system, supports, cleanses blood, balances all doshas.
- Ashwagandha (or Withania somnifera) is one the most popular ayuvedic herbs. Ashwagandha has been used by Ayurveda for thousands of years as a rejuvenative and an adaptogenic herb. It is used to balance vata and kapha dosha but because of its heating nature it can imbalance pitta dosha. It helps reduce effects of stress and calms the mind and nervous system.
- Tikta Ghrita (or bitter medicated ghee) purifies the blood, cleanses and regulates proper liver function.
Our Experience with Ayurveda
Our daughter, who is now almost 11 years old has been suffering from eczema since she was one-year-old. However her eczema worsened considerably when she was about 6 years old and we have been managing her eczema with various treatments ever since, some which have worked and some which have not. One of these treatments is our traditional form of healing called “Ayurveda” for eczema.
Unfortunately we could not continue with the full scope of the treatment once we were back home from the treatment center and hence we did not see the full benefit of this form of healing. However, it opened our eyes to a very different form of treatment which was quite different from the conventional treatment that we had followed for eczema so far. In spite of discontinuing with this treatment, we have continued to follow many of the basic principles of ayurveda like preferring organic, fresh, unprocessed foods and incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables, incorporating various herbal treatments for eczema like turmeric, neem, guduchi, triphala, tulsi.
For more stories from mother’s determined to heal their children’s eczema, check out these inspiring posts:
Bio: Anindita is a Dr Sears certified Health Coach and India’s first certified Functional Medicine Health Coach with the US based Functional Medicine Coaching Academy. She is author of I have eczema…so what? and writes a blog called The Indian Perspective blog where she shares information and also provides a form of support to others suffering from eczema. She will be setting up the first Functional Medicine based clinic in Mumbai, later this year along with Dr Amrita Talwar, her co author and her daughter’s dermatologist.