What is active vs. passive immunity?

Immunity is a biological term that describes a state of having sufficient biological defense of the body to avoid infection, disease, or other unwanted biological invasions.

Immunity to a disease is achieved through antibodies to that disease in a person's system. Antibodies are the proteins produced by the body to neutralize or destroy toxins or disease.

There are two types of immunity:

1. Active immunity results when exposure to disease organism trigger the immune system to produce antibodies, it is called natural immunity, Induced immunity: introduction of killed or weakened form of the disease-causing organism through vaccination.

2. Passive immunity is provided when a person is given antibodies to a disease rather than producing naturally through the immune system. A newborn baby acquires passive immunity from its mother through the placenta. It gives immediate protection from a specific disease, whereas active immunity takes time to develop. 

However, passive immunity lasts only for a few weeks or months, whereas active immunity is long-lasting.

See: Boost your immune system with Ayurveda

How Ayurveda views immunity

The Ayurvedic concept of immunity in Ayurveda is a captivating and many-faceted subject.

Vyaadhiksamatva, as it is known in Ayurveda, literally means "resistance (ksamatva) against disease (vyaadhi). Physical and mental resistance to disease is of enormous significance for all living beings. The body's natural resistance is vital in the daily welfare of people, and immunity plays a crucial role in the prevention and rapid recovery of the disease.

Vyadhi-kshamatva has a much wider implication than the term immunity used in modern medicines. 

Charka Acharya has also described it as Bala. He described Bala as a factor that destroys the Dosha or disease-causing factors. Bala is used as a synonym for Prana and Ojus. They have an underlying meaning of Biostrength and vitality with a natural resistance against aging and disease. 

Vyadhi- kshavmatva (Natural Immunity ) depends upon the quality of Ojus in an individual. It can be observed that among a group of people exposed to a specific disease, only some will be affected, and others will not have any symptoms. This variation shows that certain favorable factors are essential for flourishing the condition.

Vyadhi- Kshamatva is not of the same order constitution, and varies with individuals. It also depends upon nutritional, environmental individual factors, both mental and physical. The Vydhi-kshamatva or Bala is three types: 

Sahaja Bala (Natural) :

It is genetic and inborn resistance to disease which exists since birth. It is said to increase with the growth of tissues and does not depend upon any other cause. Shaja Bala comes from the parents and is inherited. Today in our modern society, incidents of allergies from various foods and substances are increasing, and their immunity is weaker than their parents. These inherited factors come from their ancestors. According to Ayurveda's theory on genetics, genetic factors are defined at the cellular level. If the two parent's genetic makeup is healthy, the same good health is seen in children. On the other hand, if their genetic makeup includes susceptibility to a particular disease, those diseases will be carried over to the next generation. As immunity is inherited, there is little to do except to avert the defect through various modalities of Ayurveda.

Kalaja Bala: (Seasonal)

This type of immunity is said to be influenced by time of day seasonal and age of the person, for example, strength is greater in the early morning, spring and youth than in evening summer and old age. Certain places have stronger and healthier climatic and environmental conditions, so these factors contribute to stronger immunity.

Yuktikruta Bala (Acquired):

This type of bala modulates the body's resistance against diseases by restoring the appropriate diet, physical activities, rest, restorative, and Rasayana therapies to keep seasonal needs. Ayurveda focuses on three plans for acquiring or enhancing immunity.

1. Rasayana helps to promote the health and rejuvenates the whole physiology, producing resistance against diseases both mental and physical.Physical health also plays a great role in enhancing immunity. Both physical and mental health factors complement each other. 

2. Vyayama:  Daily exercise of up to 50% of one's capacity enhances digestion, strengthens tissue metabolism, and promotes immunity.

3. Satmya: Suitability

Adapting a wholesome diet, lifestyle, and giving up unwholesome food and lifestyle helps to enhance immunity.

These are classification of Satmya:

Universally Beneficial: Certain practices, lifestyle food, and behavior are beneficial to all regardless of the constitution, location, season, or condition, for example, water, sleeping at night, moderate exercise, following moral conduct, duties towards society, and nature.

Universal harmful certain substances and conducts are considered harmful to every individual, e.g., toxins alkalis, pollution, certain food combination as milk and salt, equal honey and ghee, heating of honey, reheated food, late-night sleep, and sedentary lifestyle.

Some foods and exercises are good for one individual but may be harmful to others .it depends upon individual constitution, time, season food habits and health. for example, rich food and more calories are good for the person who is doing heavy physical activities while the same thing is bad for the person with less physical activity. One should eat locally grown food because it is designed as per the climatic requirements of the individual.

During this period of globalization and advancement in technologies, all food items are available everywhere and throughout the year, which is bad for the body. This practice disturbs the immune system. One must stick to the local and seasonal foods as these are most suitable for the body. 

See: Ayurvedic herbs for immune system

Other considerations for strong immunity

Other factors for strong immunity: 

1. Healthy Parents:

Just as a healthy plant needs fertile land, good quality of seed, and proper nourishment, the healthy progeny needs good health of the parents and nourishing food. Ayurveda places a significant focus on the good health of both males and females before conception and advises cleansing and detoxification of both. The mother must follow the specially designed dietary and lifestyle plan every month for good immunity of newborns.

2. Nutrition after Birth: 

Wholesome, adequate, and timely nutrition for both mother and child during infancy plays a vital role in developing immunity.

3. Mental Health:

Positive thinking, love, sharing, caring, following ethical, moral conducts, and meditation are some of the factors for the nourishment of mental health. A positive and alert mental state is an essential part of overall health and immunity.

To attain a complete state of health, one must be in perfect harmony of body and mind. This harmony is the most significant factor for good immunity.

The prime aim of Ayurveda is to protect the health of healthy personal and to cure the diseased one. Ayurveda places more emphasis on the preventive health care system. Prevention teaches us how to maintain the balanced and harmonies of different systems of the body to attain a good state of physical and mental health. This ancient science has elaborated personal, daily, and seasonal regimes, specific food habits suitable according to climate, area, time, and needs of the individual's body. If followed, all the body systems get proper nutrition and environment to keep our body healthy. 

Ojus is the prime factor in maintaining the Vyadhikshmatva (immunity) of the body. Ojus is the essence of all the seven Dhatus (Seven basic supporting tissues of the body). So if we need to get a good quality of Ojus, we must have good qualities of Dhatus. Dhatu formation starts with the digestion of the food. The first and foremost part is called Rasa Dhatu, which nourishes all other Dhatus. The quality of Ojus depends upon the quality of food, combination, the timing of food, environment while eating, seasonal diet, daily workout, mental condition, and moral conduct.

See: Astragalus root or huang qi to boost immunity

Modern science view of natural vs. passive immunity

Modern science has a similar view of Ayurveda for natural vs passive immunity. Immunity is described as the body's ability to protect itself from an infectious illness. When you're immune to a disease, your immune system can fight off infection from it.

Immunity is innate or adaptive. Innate immunity, also called genetic or natural immunity is an immunity that an organism is born with. This sort of immunity is encoded in one's genes. Genetic immunity protects an organism during their whole life. Innate immunity is made up of:

Topical defenses: referred to as the first line of defense, external defenses work to protect an organism from pathogen exposure. Topical defenses include things like skin, tears, and stomach acid.

Internal defenses: called the next line of defense, internal defenses tackle a pathogen when it has entered the body. Internal defenses include things like inflammation and fevers.

Adaptive immunity, also called acquired immunity, is the third line of defense. Adaptive immunity protects an organism from a particular pathogen. Adaptive immunity is further broken down into two subgroups: active immunity and passive immunity. In this guide, we'll explore active and passive immunity.

What's active immunity? Active immunity is defined as resistance to a pathogen that occurs following exposure to the said pathogen. Once the body is subjected to a novel disease representative, B cells, a kind of white blood cell, create antibodies that help prevent or prevent the disease agent. Antibodies are y-shaped proteins which are capable of binding to sites on pathogens or toxins called antigens.

Antibodies are disease-specific, meaning that each antibody protects the body from just one disease agent. As an example, antibodies produced when the body detects the virus that causes mumps won't provide any defense against cold or influenza viruses. When B cells encounter a pathogen, they produce memory cells along with antibodies. Memory cells are a type of B cell generated after the primary infection that could recognize the pathogen. Memory cells can survive for decades, waiting inside the body until the pathogen invades again. When the body is exposed to the pathogen for another time, the immune reaction is stronger, quickly addressing the disease agent.

Immunity doesn't occur immediately upon disease vulnerability. It may take days or weeks following the initial exposure for active immunity to grow. But once it does this, the security can last an entire lifetime. Active immunity can happen in one of two ways: naturally or through immunization.

Natural immunity

Natural immunity is generated when someone gets infected with a disease. Take, for example, somebody who becomes infected with chickenpox. After the first infection, the body builds immunity against the disease. This active organic immunity is why people who catch chickenpox are resistant for several decades against the illness.

Vaccine-induced immunity

Also called artificial active immunity, someone can create a resistance to disease after immunization. An immunization is defined as the process by which someone becomes protected against a particular ailment through the administration of a vaccine.

- Vaccines utilize a weakened or dead form of a disease to stimulate an immune reaction. Vaccines are generally administered using an injection. But, there are vaccinations administered through the mouth or as a nasal spray.

- When a person's immune system finds the dead or weakened pathogen, it starts to destroy it. This process includes forming new antibodies and memory cells specific to this pathogen. Later on, antibodies will be made to defend the body if the body is subjected to the said pathogen.

- Vaccination and immunity are vital for keeping large populations of people safe from infectious diseases. As an example, the flu vaccine prevents millions of people from getting infected with the flu each year.

Maternal passive resistance, or natural passive immunity, is resistance passed along from mother to child. Before the child is born, antibodies are passed through the placenta to protect the child from disease. After birth, a baby continues to get passive immunity to infection from antibodies found in breast milk.

- Artificial passive immunity stems from injected radicals generated within another individual or an animal. These antibody-containing preparations are termed antiserum. The snake antivenom and rabies vaccine are examples of antiserums that yield passive immunity.

See: Immune System Innate vs. Adaptive Immunity


In the present global COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is talking about immunity and suggesting many things to enhance your immunity. However, I want to make it clear that our immune system cannot be disturbed one day nor fixed in the next.   After years of an unwholesome diet and lifestyle chronic inflammation produced in the body, the immune system becomes disturbed. So it takes a long time to correct it, and it is a continuous process. Some herbs and Ayurveda medicines can indeed speed up the process. If you want a holistic growth of your immune system, you must be on a proper diet and a healthy lifestyle. You would be well advised to heed Ayurveda's emphasis on the body's natural immune system for good health.

See: Immune boosting foods


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See: Asian herbs for boosting immunity against COVID-19

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