Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease which usually affects middle aged persons, and is seen more in women than in men. Children too, may get affected. In this disease, the synovial membrane, or the covering tissue of the joints gets swollen, resulting in stiffness, pain and limitation of movement. In severe conditions, the joints may ultimately become deformed. A disturbed immune function is believed to be responsible for this disease.
In Ayurveda, rheumatoid arthritis is known as “Sandhi Vata”. This is not to be confused with “Aam Vata” which is the name given to Rheumatic Fever, or the fever which causes pain and swelling in joints and also affect the heart.
Rheumatoid arthritis of recent origin usually responds well to standard anti-inflammatory treatment. However, by nature this is a chronic disease, and while symptoms can be controlled, there is presently no cure. Standard modern medicine may not be very helpful once the condition becomes chronic, or treatment may have significant side effects. It is in such patients that Ayurvedic herbal treatment may be very useful and effective. One major advantage of Ayurvedic herbal medicines in such an affliction is that medicines may be taken for long periods without any serious side-effects.
Ayurvedic treatment of rheumatoid arthritis consists of the following procedures:
(I) “Snehan” ( use of local and oral medicated lubricants)
(ii) “Swedan” (local fomentation)
(iii) “Lep” (Local application of medications)
(iv) “Anuloman” ( mild laxative treatment for prolonged periods)
(v) “Raktamokshan” (blood letting)
(vi) “Dahan” (local heat branding ) and
(vii) “Shaman” ( symptomatic oral treatment).
Mahanarayan oil (containing mainly Asparagus racemosus), Bala (Sida cordifolia) oil, Vishgarbha oil are some of the medications used for “snehan” procedures. While local application is quite simple, oral use of medicated lubricants is best done under the direct supervision of a qualified and experienced Ayurvedic practitioner.
While local fomentation can be done in several ways, “Naadi swedan” is the most effective. In this procedure, a jet of medicated steam is directed at the affected joints, usually after the “snehan” procedure. A decoction of Nirgundi (Vitex negundo) is usually used for this procedure.
Local medicated applications include Lepgoli, Dashang lep, and a mixture of Shrung, Daruharidra ( Berberis aristata), Alum, and Rakta Chandan (Santalum album). Several medicated herbal ointments are also available.
Local pain can be immediately reduced by blood-letting. This can be done by syringe or using leeches. About 50 ml. of blood is usually withdrawn from a vein near the affected joint. Local heat branding is used by some physicians to reduce acute tenderness of the joints. Various special metal instruments are used for this procedure.
Castor oil and Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) treated with castor oil are used for mild, prolonged laxative treatment.
Oral medications include Maharasnadi decoction, Triphala Guggulu, Yograj Guggulu and Ashwagandharishta. Shallaki (Boswellia serrata) and Guggulu (Commiphora mukul) compounds are given for prolonged periods. Multiple herbal compounds containing Guggulu are available, which are used according to the presenting symptoms and the staging of the disease as done by the Ayurvedic practitioner.
It is advisable to avoid very sour, salty and cold (refrigerated) food products, as also fermented products. Using tolerable amounts of ginger and garlic in the daily diet is helpful. Some yogic asanas have been found to be useful in arthritis, and may be performed regularly under the supervision and advice of an expert in this field.
Rheumatoid arthritis is believed to be an autoimmune disease, and may therefore require prolonged treatment ranging from eight to eighteen months for a complete remission. Along with treating inflamed joints, herbal medicines need to be given to bring about gradual immunomodulation, so that the immune system stops attacking body organs. It is advisable to commence Ayurvedic herbal treatment at the earliest to avoid irreversible damage to the joints.