Ayurvedic Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

Ayurveda_ArthritisOsteoarthritis occurs when the joint cartilage becomes damaged and is no longer able to buffer the friction between joint surfaces as they move against each other. Although the body typically can respond to damaged cartilage by producing replacement cartilage, at some point it is unable to keep up with the damage. The painful inflammation that results, however, often appears in joints throughout the body, suggesting that the inflammatory process is systemic and more complicated than simple “wear and tear” of the joints. Conventional drug treatment includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and pharmaceutical-grade anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., Celebrex® and naproxen). Unfortunately these anti-inflammatory drugs may actually interfere with the body’s natural cartilage repair system, which has led some Western researchers to look for alternative treatments.54

Although rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in the same category as lupus, it is similar to bursitis, osteoarthritis, and tendonitis in that it is an inflammatory condition that affects the joints. In autoimmune disorders the person’s own immune system begins to attack its own tissues; in rheumatoid arthritis the joint cartilage is the targeted tissue and the immune attacks cause painful inflammation. Conventional treatment typically includes NSAIDs such as ibuprofen to reduce symptoms and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) which may stop the disease itself.55

A number of alternative treatments have been used by traditional natural medicines such as Ayurveda, but many have not been confirmed according to Western scientific standards.55 However, growing evidence does suggest that some natural herbs have potent anti-inflammatory properties that corroborate traditional use as an herbal remedy for arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis:

  • Turmeric and Ginger. Called haridra, in Sanskrit, the rhizome and tuberous roots of turmeric (Curcuma longa) is considered in Ayurveda to be a bitter, hot herb that decreases the kapha dosha. It can increase vata and pita if too much is taken due to its stimulant properties. Traditionally turmeric is used as a blood purifier, to regulate metabolism, and to treat inflammatory conditions (e.g., arthritis, Crohn’s disease, acne, and asthma).1

    Both turmeric and ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduced the severity and occurrence of arthritis in animal studies, with turmeric demonstrating a more significant effect.57 Lab studies indicate that curcumin, the bioactive constituent in turmeric reported to exert its anti-arthritic effects, does in fact inhibit the proliferation of and induces natural cell death in the joint fluid cells that are dysfunctional in rheumatoid arthritis58 It also decreased the expression and production of inflammatory proteins (i.e., COX-2 and prostaglandin E2).58

  • Frankincense. The gum resin of the Boswellia serrata tree is commonly used as soothing aromatherapy fragrance and as incense. Although it is frequently referred to simply as frankincense, it is more accurately called Indian frankincense to distinguish it from the resin of another similar tree (Boswellia carteri). In Ayurveda, it is considered a bitter astringent with cooling properties; typically used to pacify the vata and kapha doshas and to treat diarrhea, arthritis, and respiratory conditions.1,48
  • Results from preliminary placebo-controlled or comparative human clinical studies of the anti-inflammatory effects of frankincense suggest that this herb is a promising natural alternative to treat these painful inflammatory conditions. In two of these studies involving 81 participants, and a third with 60 patients (all 141 suffering from rheumatoid arthritis) frankincense significantly reduced painful swelling during the study period of 3-6 months. Compared to placebo in a small clinical study involving 30 people with osteoarthritis, frankincense significantly reduced pain and increased mobility.27

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Horizontal below-ground stem with both roots and
shoots of new plant stems above.
Synovial fibroblasts
 
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