Ayurvedic treatment for asthma, like for any other disease, consists of drugs that derive their potency from their taste. In Ayurveda, every drug has a taste, which gives it its potential. According to scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, substances, which give some foods their bitter flavors, can also act to reverse the contraction of airway cells. This reversal, known as “Bronchodilation”, is used to treat airway obstructive disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The sense of taste is mediated by taste receptors in the tongue. These receptors were thought only to exist in the tongue but recent discoveries have shown that they are expressed in various cell types, throughout the body. In particular, bitter taste receptors exist in the smooth muscle cells in the airways. The fact that bitter substances can relax these smooth muscles, suggests that they have the potential to halt asthma attacks and in fact, could even be an improvement over current treatments, since the relaxation effects are quite fast.
From the Ayurvedic point of view, this discovery explains how bitter tasting herbs are working in the treatment of asthma. The reason why this study is monumental is because it opens a window of opportunity to explain, how other tastes might be working in other diseases. There might be receptors for different tastes in different organs.
Still scientists reject this as a cure, as it does not approach inflammation, which is the fundamental cause of the disease. But on the basis of our clinical experience, and its detailed mention in Ayurvedic texts, the properties of bitter taste counter the inflammatory process. However bitter taste is not going to work in all cases of asthma, especially where a lot of mucus plugs are present, as bitter taste will be rendered ineffective by mucus plugs. This is where pungent (chilly) taste will work, as it is known to have mucolytic and mucus dissolving properties.
Scientists also say that other types of diseases like COPD and Emphysema, could possibly be less receptive as there is extensive damage to lungs. This is very true as sweet herbs, which have regenerative properties, work well here. Although this is not that simple, as there are many other factors, apart from taste, which have to be taken into consideration during Ayurvedic treatment for Asthma.
Western researches, as always, search for active principles, as opposed to Ayurvedic fundamentals, which are holistic in nature. Here too, we hear scientists talk of ‘substances, which give bitter taste to food’, rather than talking of food or herbs, as a whole. It is a proven fact that herbs used in Ayurveda, for treatment for asthma, have no side effects as they are used as whole, rather than by using active principles.