Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment in Ayurveda: Does it Really Work?

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment in Ayurveda

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment in Ayurveda: Does it Really Work?

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis, estimated to affect over 9 million Indians. Although most of us understand that it is a painful condition, it’s hard to really comprehend its impact on quality of life unless you suffer from the condition yourself or live with someone who does. One of many arthritic diseases, rheumatoid arthritis is also an auto-immune disorder. The immune system causes chronic inflammation of the synovium, which then results in bone and cartilage degeneration.

Classified as a chronic condition, rheumatoid arthritis is hard to treat and can cause a variety of other complications. The main course of treatment is anti-inflammatory drugs and immune-suppressive agents. Unfortunately, long term use of such medications can give rise to drug dependence and cause severe side effects. This makes the Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis particularly valuable. In fact, the first WHO funded study of any traditional medicine system looked specifically at the scope and efficacy of Ayurveda for rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis in Ayurveda

The condition of rheumatoid arthritis closely resembles amavata, which has been described in classical texts in good detail. It is believed that there are two main components involved in the disease – ama and vata, as the name suggests. Vitiation and accumulation of vata causes blockages in the shrotas, impairing the flow of vayu and also leading to a buildup and accumulation of ama. This combination of vitiated vata and ama gives rise to amavata.

Because of the vast amount of knowledge accumulated in Ayurveda over more than 2,000 years, there is also a divergence of views within the discipline. Physicians who adhere to the principles of “Madhava Nidana” believe that rheumatoid arthritis has its roots in gut inflammation and inflammatory compounds. This insight is remarkable as scientists are only now beginning to recognize the link between rheumatoid arthritis and the gut microbiome.

At the same time, there are Ayurvedic physicians who practice medicine based on principles from the “Ashtanga Hridaya” discipline. While they don’t specifically point to gut inflammation’s role in the disease development, they believe that poor dietary and lifestyle behaviors cause systemic inflammation in the body. This can result in rheumatoid arthritis. Despite the differences in perception, the treatments share much in common.

Ayurvedic Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis typically includes the use of herbs, supplements, diet and lifestyle changes, and exercise to better manage the condition. Although the precise mechanisms of action are not always understood, studies do suggest that Ayurvedic treatment can be effective in managing rheumatoid arthritis. Ayurvedic practices are believed to reduce inflammation, providing relief from symptoms and also reducing flare-ups. This can in turn reduce joint degeneration. There are various layers to the treatment and we’ll take a look at the main areas.

Herbs and Supplements

Herbs and supplements for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Exotic fruit with medical pills with bottle – IV infusion – vaccination

Herbs and supplements containing herbal extracts, minerals, and other organic ingredients are the mainstay of Ayurvedic medicine. Home remedies and Ayurvedic medicines for rheumatoid arthritis commonly include ingredients such as ashwagandha, nirgundi, sunth, castor oil, garlic, guggulu, haridra, and shallaki, among others. These may be available in the form of supplements or massage oils and balms. Ideally, you should use a combination approach.

Studies show that herbs like guggulu, shallaki, ashwagandha, haridra, and sunth are effective in oral medications, protecting the joints with their strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Some of these herbs also exhibit analgesic effects, reducing the sensation of pain. Sunth and haridra are also notable for supporting healthy digestion and reducing gastric problems, which may be linked to rheumatoid arthritis.

When using an Ayurvedic oil for arthritis or a balm, products containing nirgundi, eucalyptus, mint, and castor oil are the best. Nirgundi is highly regarded in Ayurveda as an antidote to almost all types of joint pain. This has been supported by research, as studies show nirgundi exerts both anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects. At the same time, both eucalyptus and mint are known for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, providing quick relief from rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Diet

Ayurvedic diet for rheumatoid arthritis
Preparation of healthy food from organic products on the table. The concept of healthy food and home cooking . Top view

An Ayurvedic diet for rheumatoid arthritis would be highly personalized, depending on your unique prakriti. This makes it important for you to consult a skilled Ayurvedic physician. However, there are some broad guidelines or diet tips that you can adopt right away.

  • Avoid consuming alcoholic beverages
  • Cut back on your intake of spicy foods
  • Do not consume any processed foods, instead opt for natural choices
  • Limit your intake of both sugar and salt
  • Make sure to eat cooked meals at a warm temperature
  • Avoid eating foods with higher acidity levels

Lifestyle and Exercise

Lifestyle and Exercise for rheumatoid arthritis

The importance of physical activity cannot be understated and this is most widely recognized in Ayurveda. After all, it is the only traditional medical system in the world that includes its own form of exercise and physical therapy – yoga. In the context of rheumatoid arthritis, yoga is especially valuable. 

Ayurvedic physicians believe that the lack of physical activity contributes to ama buildup and inflammation in the body. Yoga is prescribed as a therapeutic practice, but you need to seek guidance from a reputed instructor who understands your condition. Studies also show that yoga can improve the quality of life in rheumatoid arthritis patients by boosting fitness, flexibility, and mood. Aside from yoga, there are other lifestyle practices that you should also adopt:

  • Follow a disciplined daily routine or dinacharya
  • Avoid cold showers and baths, instead using warm or hot water
  • As far as possible limit exposure to cold breeze or environment
  • Use fomentation or stream baths whenever possible
  • Practice meditation regularly to lower stress levels

These Ayurvedic treatment guidelines can make a huge difference when living with rheumatoid arthritis. At the same time, you should keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list, considering the vastness of Ayurveda’s wisdom. For more detailed treatment plans, you should consult a qualified Ayurvedic doctor.

References:

  • Krishna, Kumar P R. “The efficacy of Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis: Cross-sectional experiential profile of a longitudinal study.” International journal of Ayurveda research vol. 2,1 (2011): 8-13. doi:10.4103/0974-7788.83177
  • Basisht, Gopal K et al. “Management of rheumatoid arthritis (Aamavata) using symbiohealth healthcare system.” Ayu vol. 33,4 (2012): 466-74. doi:10.4103/0974-8520.110513
  • Bodkhe, Rahul et al. “The role of microbiome in rheumatoid arthritis treatment.” Therapeutic advances in musculoskeletal disease vol. 11 1759720X19844632. 30 Jul. 2019, doi:10.1177/1759720X19844632
  • Krishna, Kumar P R. “The efficacy of Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis: Cross-sectional experiential profile of a longitudinal study.” International journal of Ayurveda research vol. 2,1 (2011): 8-13. doi:10.4103/0974-7788.83177
  • Kimmatkar, N et al. “Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee–a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial.” Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology vol. 10,1 (2003): 3-7. doi:10.1078/094471103321648593
  • Funk, Janet L et al. “Anti-Inflammatory Effects of the Essential Oils of Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) in Experimental Rheumatoid Arthritis.” PharmaNutrition vol. 4,3 (2016): 123-131. doi:10.1016/j.phanu.2016.02.004
  • Daily, James W et al. “Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Journal of medicinal food vol. 19,8 (2016): 717-29. doi:10.1089/jmf.2016.3705
  • Zheng, Cheng-Jian et al. “Therapeutic effects of standardized Vitex negundo seeds extract on complete Freund’s adjuvant induced arthritis in rats.” Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology vol. 21,6 (2014): 838-46. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2014.02.003
  • Chattopadhyay, Pronobesh et al. “Vitex negundo inhibits cyclooxygenase-2 inflammatory cytokine-mediated inflammation on carrageenan-induced rat hind paw edema.” Pharmacognosy research vol. 4,3 (2012): 134-7. doi:10.4103/0974-8490.99072
  • Moonaz, Steffany Haaz et al. “Yoga in Sedentary Adults with Arthritis: Effects of a Randomized Controlled Pragmatic Trial.” The Journal of rheumatology vol. 42,7 (2015): 1194-202. doi:10.3899/jrheum.141129

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