Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle practices, including taking herbs and supplements and practicing yoga, may be beneficial for people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Studies show that following ayurvedic practices could be helpful in reducing inflammation, easing RA symptoms, and limiting flare-ups. But research is still ongoing.

Results may vary greatly from person to person. Work with your doctor to determine if ayurvedic medicine is safe for your health.

The ayurvedic diet is typically based on three doshas: Vata (air), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (water and earth). A dosha is a primary element, or energy, that exists in the body.

The recommended diet for those living with RA is similar to those of the ayurvedic condition amavata. Amavata refers to a disease of the joints, and causes similar symptoms to RA. For amavata, ayurveda recommends a diet that pacifies, or balances out, Vata.

Examples of foods to eat on this diet include:

  • grains: easy to digest grains like cooked oats, rice, and cream of wheat
  • legumes: lentils, dal, mung beans, miso, and tofu
  • lukewarm water, or water boiled with ginger root, to help with digestion and remove toxins
  • green, leafy vegetables
  • berries
  • spices: ginger, turmeric, and garlic, which are anti-inflammatory and aid with digestion
  • buttermilk
  • wild animal meat
  • aged wine in moderate amounts

A sample daily diet may look like the following:

Breakfast• tea
• fruit
• hot porridge or oatmeal with cinnamon
Lunch• sprouted rice or buckwheat
• roasted vegetables (sweet potato, squash, yam, or pumpkin)
Snacks• fruit sprinkled with cinnamon
• instant miso soup
• tea
Dinner• spaghetti squash with tomato sauce

Or

• Thai green curry with brown rice
Before bed• warm almond milk with honey
• carob brownie (optional)

In general, foods like fruits and vegetables should be stewed or cooked before you eat them. Look for sweet fruits and vegetables like:

  • squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • cooked or soaked raisins
  • cooked apples

Limit harder-to-digest fruits and vegetables like raw apples, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

Spices are an important part of ayurveda, but none of your dishes should be fiery hot. Limit spices like cayenne pepper and chili powder, which pack a punch of heat. Replace them with warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric.

Also, skip cold water in favor of room temperature water, and venture into nut milks, like almond. For an extra treat, try it warm with a spoonful of honey.

Recommended ayurvedic exercises usually include gentle movements like yoga, tai chi, swimming, and walking. Deep breathing and daily meditation are also recommended. Yoga may be especially beneficial for RA. One study found that yoga for arthritis improved:

  • physical pain
  • overall health
  • energy
  • mental health (it may help lower depression)

Learn about the best yoga poses for RA pain relief.

If you live with RA, it’s important to discuss with your doctor whether it’s safe to exercise before starting a new routine. They can determine how often you should exercise based on your symptoms and talk with you about modifying exercise, such as yoga poses.

The ayurvedic lifestyle may help with sleep if symptoms like pain and stiffness keep you awake at night.

Recommended changes to improve sleep include:

  • going to bed early and rising early
  • avoiding naps during the day, if possible
  • taking a warm shower or bath before bed
  • trying ashwagandha or warm milk before bed
  • eating a light dinner two to three hours before bed, followed by light walking
  • practicing nighttime yoga and meditation
  • massaging the soles of the feet with warm sesame oil and wiping it off after 15 minutes or putting on socks before getting into bed

Other ayurvedic practices that with may help your RA symptoms include:

  • herbs and other supplements
  • specialized oil therapy
  • purification rituals
  • herbal pastes
  • castor oil
  • cold compress
  • hot therapy, such as sauna use

You can find a specialist in your area that practices ayurvedic medicine. They can recommend lifestyle practices that may ease your symptoms.

Note: Never try anything new without consulting your primary doctor. Studies are limited on the efficacy of these practices. And if you take medication for RA symptoms, some of these practices may interfere with your daily intake. Your doctor can help determine what’s safe for you.

Ayurveda encourages gentle exercise like yoga and Tai chi. Avoid jarring and high-impact movement, such as running. Also avoid drinking alcohol, except for the occasional glass of wine.

It’s important not to use ayurvedic practices in place of your usual medication or replace conventional care.

Talk to your doctor about how an ayurvedic lifestyle can fit into your usual RA treatment plan and improve your symptoms. A combination of holistic and conventional Western treatments may work best for you.

Ayurvedic lifestyle changes may be beneficial for easing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Following a diet rich in herbs, spices, and cooked vegetables is a cornerstone of the practice, along with gentle exercises, such as yoga. These, along with other healthy habits, could complement more conventional therapies.

Talk with your doctor if you’d like to learn more about how ayurvedic treatment options can be safely integrated into your treatment plan.