Your poor joints are stiff, inflamed and achy from osteoarthritis—but the medications that reduce your pain also can have serious side effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, liver and kidney damage, and increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

Safer solution: Consider the Ayurvedic approach to osteoarthritis treatment, which relies on natural herbs and spices to bring relief, suggested Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, author of The Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Beauty After Forty with Maharishi Ayurveda. (Men, this arthritis relief works for you, too.)

The following four Ayurvedic arthritis remedies have been used in ancient Indian medicines and in cooking for more than 5,000 years. And they really work—a study presented at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology showed a combination herbal Ayurvedic therapy to be as effective in treating knee osteoarthritis as the commonly prescribed medication celecoxib (Celebrex). Dr. Lonsdorf recommended…

  • Boswellia (Indian frankincense). This comes from the resin of the Boswellia serrata plant. It works by blocking an enzyme involved in the formation of leukotrienes, chemicals that trigger inflammation. Note: Boswellia may cause a reaction in people who are allergic to ragweed, and it can irritate the gastrointestinal tract (especially if taken alone rather than in a balanced combination formula as traditionally used) .
  • Turmeric. The active ingredient in this spice, curcumin, interferes with three important inflammation-producing enzymes—so it disrupts the inflammatory process at three different stages, said Dr. Lonsdorf. Turmeric also may provide some protection against the damage that pain-relieving medications can do to the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Ginger. Various studies have demonstrated ginger’s ability to reduce pain and inflammation by interfering with inflammatory enzymes. Bonus: Ginger also aids digestion. Why should that matter? Because according to Ayurvedic principals, poor digestion is a primary trigger for arthritis. Dr. Lonsdorf explained, “When we eat improper foods or our digestion is weak, food is not broken down into small molecules, so larger-than-normal molecules get absorbed into the bloodstream. These biochemical impurities circulate, eventually getting localized in a tissue and initiating swelling. When the affected tissue is a joint, the result is arthritis.”
  • Ashwagandha. This herb is also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng. Lab studies suggest that it has anti-inflammatory properties that protect against cartilage damage. In addition, animal studies provide evidence that the herb combats stress. Dr. Lonsdorf explained, “When we are stressed, the hormones cortisol and epinephrine cause a breakdown of various body tissues. Ashwagandha helps alleviate the damaging effects of stress by restoring the proper hormonal balance to the nervous system, which in turn strengthens the immune system and further reduces inflammation.” Caution: Since Ashwagandha makes your immune system more active, it is not appropriate for people who have an autoimmune disorder, including rheumatoid arthritis. Rarely, Ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.


Ayurvedic herbal products are available in health-food stores and online. For maximum convenience and effect, Dr. Lonsdorf recommended that osteoarthritis patients take an herbal supplement that combines several of the herbs and spices listed above, such as Maharishi Ayurveda’s Flexcel, which contains boswellia, ashwagandha and ginger as well as other natural ingredients that further support joint and bone health. This product does not contain turmeric, so Dr. Lonsdorf suggested using the spice liberally in the kitchen. “Turmeric added to food is more important than in a formula because you can get much a greater quantity that way. I recommend adding turmeric to every meal and cooking it into each dish, even if only in small amounts, for its cumulative anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection,” she said.

Important: According to a Boston University study, some commercial Ayurvedic herbal remedies contain lead, mercury and/or arsenic in amounts exceeding regulatory standards. Dr. Lonsdorf endorses Maharishi Ayurveda (, a company that has been in business for nearly 30 years. If you are interested in a different brand, to guard against contamination, Dr. Lonsdorf suggested, “Contact the seller to make sure the company tests every batch in the US for heavy metals, as well as for parasites and fungus.”

To make sure that the specific ingredients are safe and appropriate for you and to get dosage recommendations, consult a physician who is knowledgeable about Ayurvedic medicine. To find such a practitioner, visit the Web site of the Light on Ayurveda Education Foundation.

Try this Ayurvedic approach for eight weeks to see whether these remedies relieve your osteoarthritis symptoms. If they do, Dr. Lonsdorf said that you can continue to take them indefinitely, reducing to the lowest dose that maintains your improvement.

For more on arthritis: See “Natural Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis”.