Nasya is a Sanskrit word that means “related to nose”.
Nasya is the application of oil drops in the nose. It lubricates and protects the nasal passages from airborne irritants and germs, soothes and cleanses the tissues, promotes awareness & concentration, helps relieve sinus congestion, tension headaches & balances the three doshas (Vata, Pitta & Kapha).
Ayurvedic herbal medicine can also be applied to the oil to offer an enhanced medicinal effect at the site of the brain and other target organs.
How does the mechanism of nasya work?
Nasya targets ‘effect sites’ in the brain, nasal mucosa and & the blood-brain barrier.
Effect sites include Brain areas involved in memory, learning, and emotion (such as the amygdala, and hippocampus), and brain centres involved in homeostasis, such as the thalamus, hypothalamus, midbrain and pons. These are encased by the blood-brain barrier (BBB).
Blood Brain Barrier:
The blood-brain barrier is a semi-permeable membrane composed of specialised vascular endothelial cells, which separate blood from the astrocytes (neurons). There are both neuro, and hormonal factors that transmit messages to the brain across the BBB.
However, Ayervedic medication must first pass through the nasal mucosa.
Nasal Mucosa and Mechanisms:
1. Some Ayurvedic medicine can pass via the trans-cellular route. All cells of the body have a lipid membrane, such that only lipophilic (lipid loving)/hydrophobic (water-repelling) substances can path through the cell transcellular. Normally, this includes oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, fatty acids, and can include steroid hormones, fat-soluble vitamins, and herbal Ayurvedic medicine. Both the apical (top) and basolateral (bottom) membranes of a cell must be permeated.
2. Other Ayervedic medication can pass between cells by the para-cellular route. This refers to the inter-cellular spaces between cells (such as gap-junctions), and includes medication such as Kwath and Avapedak which are hydrophilic.
3. A vascular pathway also exists, commonly known colloquially as “Little’s area”, existing within the inner septum of the nose. Capillaries here drain directly into both the facial vein anteriorly and the pterygoid plexus posteriorly. This is a potential route of absorption.
Entering the brain from the nasal route:
1. The blood-brain barrier referred to earlier, is a semi-permeable membrane. Endothelial cells are held together tightly by “tight junctions”. It is virtually impermeable unless disease states/trauma disrupt its integrity. Hormones and drugs must pass via specific cell membrane receptors or diffuse trans-cellular.
2. However, the transfer of Nasya may also occur via the Olfactory nerve, which bypasses the blood-brain barrier. This can occur by slow transfer inside of factory nerve cells, or fast transfer along the peroneal space surrounding the nerve itself and within the CSF. Post Nasya massage may help facilitate this mechanism (flow).
3. According to Sushruta (Ancient Vedic physician and surgeon), Manya is a marma point existing on either side of the windpipe, and likely reflects the underlying baroreceptors (pressure-sensitive receptors). These are located at the bifurcation of the carotid artery. The baroreceptor reflex is important in maintaining blood pressure homeostasis, and gentle pressure applied here may help normalize deranged systemic and cerebral blood pressure. This may help transfer or flow of Vedic medicine to the effect site and have therapeutic effects of its own.
The combination of mechanical factors, such as postures and massages, combined with Nasya medications, helps explain how Ayurvedic medication in Nasya practice, can exert beneficial effects on the brain and other effect sites.
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