How does Ayurveda contribute to bone and joint health? Can an Ayurvedic diet and other treatments alleviate the symptoms of arthritis?
When we think about our bones, the human skeleton comes to mind. First and foremost, it’s the hard, mineralised framework that supports our body, right? It certainly plays that role magnificently, but it also does so much more for us.
Our bones are essentially a living tissue made up of mineral, protein and collagen. Their role is not only to provide structure and support but also to protect our vital organs and help maintain the optimum electrolyte balance for our metabolic functions.
Ayurveda considers bone, or Asthi, to be one of the seven Dhatus (or basic tissues) within our body. It has a strong relationship to Medas (adipose or fatty tissue), Majja (our nervous system) as well as the hair, nails and teeth.
This concept helps us to understand the metabolic function of bone and tissues relating to inflammation, demineralization and weakness. Conditions that affect cartilage, teeth, hair and nails can also be viewed from this more holistic point of view. They may indicate underlying issues within our metabolic system that need to be addressed.
Hormones and Bones
One of the most common causes of bone weakness and erosion is ageing. Changes in hormonal balance associated with the menopause also leave women more vulnerable to osteoarthritis and cartilage issues.
Ayurveda takes the view that changes in hormones create a Pitta imbalance within the body. This leads to the system becoming more acidic and heated due to the fire elements associated with Pitta.
To counteract this acidic imbalance, more and more minerals are leached out of the bones into the bloodstream. Taking mineral supplements can reduce the progress of this issue but they will not permanently resolve it.
The Ayurvedic way is to switch to a cooling, alkaline Pitta-balancing diet. Herbs like Bala, Ashwagandha and Shatavari are also very helpful in maintaining the balance and facilitating better bone nourishment.
Bone-Strengthening Abhyanga (Ayurvedic Oil Massage)
Ayurveda also recommends self-application of oil, or Abhyanga, as part of your daily routine. This is especially important in cold, dry, Vata-aggravating climates. Applying oil to the body not only supports and nourishes the skin, it also improves circulation, keeps the body warm and helps nourish the bones and maintains your ability to move with grace.
Ayurveda understands that pain in the small joints of fingers and feet (which often worsens in Winter) is due to an increase in Vata Dosha. This has an adverse effect on our circulation, especially in areas furthest from the heart.
The best oil for bone-strengthening is organic cold-pressed sesame oil. It can be infused with warming essential oils, like ginger or cardamom, to help further.
Medicated oils may also contain plants like Bala (Side cordifolia) or Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) to enhance the Vata-balancing effect. Normally, the oil is left on the skin for 25 to 30 minutes before washing it off.
In cold countries, it’s more practical to gently apply the oil all over the body before immersing yourself in a hot bath for 30 minutes. The warmth and moisture boost the effect of sesame oil, improving its absorption into the skin.
Ayurvedic Bone Broth
Ayurveda and bone broth? This combination might be a little surprising to anyone who believes the Ayurvedic diet is purely vegetarian!
Ayurveda generally recommends an easy-to-digest plant-based diet, but there’s also an understanding that special meals prepared with animal products may also be beneficial when the body needs that kind of nourishment.
Bone broth is a nourishing soup prepared from bony and cartilaginous joints of any animal. It’s considered very warming. Even though bone broth has become very trendy in recent times, it’s simply a richer kind of stock. You can prepare an Ayurvedic hearty bone broth by following the recommendations below.
How to make an Ayurvedic Bone Broth
- There’s no recipe for making a broth! The idea is to throw anything and everything into a stockpot – along with the bones – and boil it for long enough to break down all the nutrients into a liquified form.
- Be prepared to cook it for 6 to 18 hours on low flame, depending on the kind of bones used.
- If your goal is to balance Vata and recover from weakness or weight loss, ask for some big, grass-fed beef bones (complete with marrow) from your local butcher.
- For bone health, use beef shoulder, chicken feet, turkey bones or beef neck with some meat on it. Compared to the larger marrowbones, these have less fat and more collagen from the cartilage. This helps nourish bones, skin, hair and nails.
- Use plenty of garlic, ginger roots, black pepper, some turmeric, nutmeg and aniseed for flavour. This gives your digestive fire an extra boost to absorb all the goodness in the soup.
- Broth can be made in bulk and it freezes very well, even in an ice cube tray. You can then add your home-made bone medicine to your regular soups and stews directly, just like ice cubes!
What is Sandhi Vata?
Arthritis in Ayurveda is known as Sandhi Vata, or the manifestation of Vata Dosha, which creates more dryness and a degenerative tendency within the joints. It can sometimes also associate with Pitta Dosha, or the fire element, where symptoms may include immunity issues and inflammation.
Ayurveda and Arthritis
As with most chronic health conditions, any treatment that fails to address the causes is likely to be superficial, symptomatic and short-lasting. The conventional remedies for arthritis are painkillers, steroids (immune suppressants), etc. that might work quickly… at first. But they may also cause side-effects in the long term due to the chronic nature of this disease.
More and more people are choosing natural remedies and an integrated, holistic approach including massage, diet, exercise and herbal medication. This is better tolerated by the body over time.
Ayurveda: a more holistic approach to bone health
Ayurveda doesn’t take the view that arthritis is a localized issue in the affected joint. It’s considered a manifestation of an imbalance in an area of weak energy with a history of injury or overuse. So, as well as treatment through medicated oil massages and therapeutic yoga, Ayurveda also focuses on a Dosha-balancing diet using herbs that nourish the bones and joints.
Through Ayurveda, the various symptoms associated with inflammation – digestive problems, lack of energy, inability to focus, etc. – are also taken care of.
The role of certain food types, stress, improper digestion and the accumulation of metabolic waste is also assessed, and then addressed effectively through Ayurveda.
This type of holistic management not only alleviates the symptoms, it may also prevent their reappearance in future as well. The exact treatments will vary from person to person, depending on all the causative factors, including age, history of disease or Dosha imbalance.
Let Ayurveda transform your Mind, Body & Soul
Curious about how Ayurvedic mental health treatment can rebalance your own mind, body and soul? This ancient holistic approach is now available in Brighton & Hove.
We have an Ayurvedic Detox Workshop on 25th April and offer one-to-one appointments with Dr Shijoe Mathew at The Circle Holistic Health Clinic including consultations and massage treatments.