Allergic Rhinitis and Ayurveda
Ayurveda is the traditional healing system of India, and it includes a variety of methods and treatments, including herbs. Ayurvedic herbs are sometimes used to treat allergic rhinitis. The herbs Tinospora cordifolia, Commiphora mukul (see guggul), Rubia cordifolia, Emblica officinalis, Moringa pterygosperma, and Glycyrrhiza glabra (see licorice) have been studied and show some promise.
Effect of Ayurveda on Allergic Rhinitis
The Ayurvedic herbs discussed may have anti-histamine effects similar to those found in conventional anti-histamines. Anti-histamines reduce allergic symptoms by controlling the substances (histamines) that trigger allergic responses.
Ayurveda is a complex, multi-faceted healing tradition, and patients are treated based not on single diagnoses, but on their unique experience of health challenges. More comprehensive Ayurvedic treatments for allergic rhinitis, which might include dietary modification and other methods, probably work through a variety of mechanisms that help restore balance to the patient's body, mind and spirit.
Research Evidence on Ayurveda
The herb Tinospora cordifolia was studied for its effects on allergic rhinitis and shows some promise as a treatment.
Septilin, an Ayurvedic herbal formula containing Commiphora mukul (see guggul), Tinospora cordifolia, Rubia cordifolia, Emblica officinalis, Moringa pterygosperma, and Glycyrrhiza glabra (see licorice) has also demonstrated significant potential for treating allergic rhinitis. In a double-blind study, 190 people were given either the herbal combination or a standard antihistamine (chlorpheniramine).12 The results over 7 days indicated that the two treatments were equally effective.
Another study found general evidence for an antihistamine-like effect. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 32 healthy people, use of Septilin for 4 weeks significantly reduced the allergic reaction caused by injection of histamine under the skin.13 Septilin has also been tried as a treatment for improving immunity.14 In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 40 children with persistent low-grade infections (such as chronic sore throat or sinus infection), use of Septilin for 1 month led to significant improvement compared to placebo.15
How to Use Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a complex, multi-faceted healing tradition. Single herbs or herbal formulas might be helpful. See information on individual herbs.
A more comprehensive approach, which might include dietary modification, would probably be most helpful. An Ayurvedic practitioner could help you put together a comprehensive plan that is customized to your unique needs.
Types of Professionals That Would Be Involved with This Treatment
Ayurvedic practitioners support their patients with a combination of herbs, lifestyle modifications (including diet), and a variety of other methods. In the United States, there is no widely accepted licensure for the practice of Ayurvedic medicine. Graduates of schools such as the following are generally regarded as well-qualified: The Ayurvedic Institute, California College of Ayurveda, and the American Institute of Vedic Studies.
Side Effects and Warnings
Ayurvedic therapy presents numerous potential safety concerns. One serious problem is that many Ayurvedic herbs have never undergone a formal safety evaluation, and those that have been evaluated have not necessarily been proven harmless. For more information on safety risks with individual Ayurvedic herbs, see the following articles: andrographis , ashwagandha , boswellia , Coleus forskohlii, dandelion , fenugreek , garlic , ginger , gotu kola , guggul , gymnema , neem , phyllanthus , turmeric , and tylophora .
Most of the proprietary herbal formulas described in this article have undergone a certain amount of safety testing by the manufacturer and were found reassuringly nontoxic; however, verification of safety by independent laboratories that maintain modern standards remains limited. Some traditional Ayurvedic formulas may contain toxic levels of heavy metals, especially lead, mercury, and arsenic. ^ According to one study, approximately one in five US and Indian produced Ayurvedic medicine contained detectable amounts of at least one of these heavy metals. ^ In one particularly dramatic and tragic case report, a brain-damaged child born to a mother using an Ayurvedic formula was found to have the highest bloods levels of lead ever recorded in a living newborn. ^ Analysis of the formula revealed a very high lead content, along with toxic levels of mercury.
There are other concerns as well. For example, oral silver, a traditional Ayurvedic remedy, can cause permanent gray-black staining of the skin and mucous membranes. ^ The dietary recommendations made within the context of Ayurvedic theory could conceivably lead to inadequate intake of essential nutrients, and hence malnutrition. However, most reputable Ayurvedic practitioners are well aware of modern nutrition knowledge and take care to make reasonable recommendations within that context.
Various traditional Ayurvedic techniques, such as bloodletting and drinking urine, clearly suggest possible health risks. Fortunately, most modern Ayurvedic practitioners shun the most worrisome of these methods.
In a case report, a patient taking the antidepressant sertraline had two relapses of depression soon after taking an Ayurvedic herbal mixture containing Terminalia chebula and Commiphora wighteii. The authors interpreted this as a likely adverse drug-herb interaction. ^ Finally, one study found that an Ayurvedic herbal formula called Trikatu (a mixture of black pepper and ginger) can reduce the effectiveness of the standard anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. ^ This finding was somewhat surprising as black pepper is generally thought to enhance the absorption of and activity of various medications through a number of known chemical interactions.
The presence of heavy metals in some Ayurvedic products makes them potentially harmful. Studies have found detectable levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic. Labeled as "Indian" or "South Asian," these products are sold online and in stores. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not review or approve Ayurvedic products, which can be especially harmful to children. For more information, read the FDA's warning
- Sharma S, Bhargava R, Singhal K. Double blind study to assess the efficacy of in acute rhinitis. Indian J Pharmacol. 1990;22:103-105.
- Shahani S, Dhadkar VN, Maroli S. The antihistaminic activity of Septilin and its role in topical eosinophillia Indian J Pharmacol. 1993;25:114.
- Rao CS, Raju C, Gopumadhavan S, Chauhan BL, Kulkarni RD, Mitra SK. Immunotherapeutic modification by an ayurvedic formulation Septilin. Indian J Exp Biol. 32(8):553-8.
- Koti ST. Evaluation of Septilin in persistent low-grade infections in school-children: a placebo-controlled study. Probe. 1992;31:325.
- Badar VA, Thawani VR, Wakode PT, et al. Efficacy of Tinospora cordifolia in allergic rhinitis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004;96:445-449.