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Ayurveda’s Approach to 3 Chronic Conditions

Try a combination of lifestyle, diet, and herbal strategies from this ancient system of medicine to help prevent and manage joint diseases, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

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While there are many approaches to preventing and managing chronic diseases, people have used Ayurveda’s lifestyle, diet, and herbal strategies to ward off rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and more for many generations.

In Ayurveda, the root cause of almost all disease is an imbalance in the doshas, or bio-energies. Whether you’re trying to manage or prevent a chronic disease, here’s how Ayurveda may help.


Joint Diseases

According to Ayurveda, vata regulates the movement aspect of the joints, while kapha regulates the lubrication aspect. If vata increases, it causes dryness, friction, achiness, and weakness in the joints. Vata depletes the tissues, weakening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and making them more prone to wear and tear. On the other hand, when kapha increases, it associates with AMA (metabolic toxins) and makes the joints swell, causing extreme pain.

Lifestyle strategies: Dry joint conditions need something externally lubricating, like oil, which can be rubbed into the joints and then absorbed through a hot sauna or bath. Abhyanga, or oil massage, is a common treatment for these types of joint issues. However, inflammation-related joint diseases don’t need oil but, instead, a lot of movement and dry heat like infrared saunas and external herbal treatments applied to the skin.

Dietary strategies: For people with dry-joint symptoms, Ayurveda recommends foods that are lubricating in nature like bone broth, moist grains such as quinoa and amaranth, and seeds with good oils such as hemp and pumpkin seeds. For swelling joints, focus on foods and spices that are warmer, drying, and metabolism-boosting, like ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and cloves, as well as foods that are easier to digest and absorb excess moisture, like barley and millet.

Herbal strategies: Ashwagandha and guggulu.


Related: The Total Mobility Workout



Cardiovascular Disease

Ayurveda considers the heart the center of several important systems. It pumps lymph, blood, and prana (the life force) throughout the body. It’s also the epicenter of the immune system and the mind, sometimes being referred to as organ of contemplation.

All of these connections mean that the heart can be influenced by a number of factors, including a person’s outlook, diet, and level of activity. Because of this, lifestyle is incredibly important when it comes to maintaining heart health or treating cardiovascular disease.

Lifestyle strategies: Ayurveda says that those who know how to breathe well will seldom have heart diseases, so pranayama is recommended. Ayurveda also says that if you have a positive outlook on life, it’s healthier for your heart, so try meditation to take the emotional burden off the heart.

Because those who are more sedentary are also at greater risk for heart disease, regular activity is recommended. As a bonus, regular yoga practice can help manage blood pressure. (It’s important to note that those with high blood pressure should avoid strong inversions, though, as they temporarily cause fluctuations in blood pressure.) Lastly, reduce alcohol intake, and if you smoke, seek out support to quit.

Dietary strategies: Eating heavy meals late at night burdens the lymphatic system. Since the heart pumps lymph throughout the body, Ayurveda recommends avoiding heavy meals at night to avoid putting stress on the heart and causing it to become heavy. It’s also best to avoid milk products like cheese and yogurt at night, as they are thought to clog the pathways of the heart. Other foods to minimize include spicy and oily foods, which are very acidic in nature.

Moist, warm (not hot), freshly prepared foods are preferable for heart health in Ayurveda, which means reheated foods are not ideal. Especially beneficial foods are brown rice, barley, amalaki fruit, mung beans, pomegranate, Himalayan salt, and lime and lemon juice. Try drinking hot water with lemon or lime juice in the morning and a small quantity of fresh pomegranate juice before dinner.

Herbal strategies: Chyawanprash, a multi-herbal formula that contains amalaki, which is known in Ayurveda for its ability to decrease inflammation.


Related: The Health Benefits of a Heart in Balance



Diabetes

In Ayurveda, diabetes is seen as a result of lacking sufficient metabolism. Diabetes is primarily a kapha disease, wherein the body becomes stagnant and starts overusing the kidneys and bladder to dispose of sugar that’s not being processed and is instead accumulating in the body. If you want to prevent diabetes, Ayurveda says improving both your diet and lifestyle are equally important.

Lifestyle strategies: One of Ayurveda’s primary recommendations for diabetes prevention and management is to exercise on a regular basis, whether that’s yoga or some other kind of activity. Ayurveda especially recommends low-intensity walking and swimming. It is also best to avoid sleeping in or sleeping during the day, as this can disrupt your sleep-wake cycles and thus your metabolism.

Dietary strategies: Eat meals at regular intervals and prioritize low-glycemic grains like barley, millet, kamut, and spelt. These foods allow the body to slowly break down the sugar and increase metabolism. Metabolism-boosting spices like turmeric, fenugreek, and cloves (plus herbal teas made from those spices), and dark, bitter greens like kale, arugula, and Swiss chard are other good additions.

Herbal strategies: Guduchi may help with some diabetes-related symptoms, and Madhunashini is thought to help aid in blood sugar control.

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Coffee aggravates both vata and pitta doshas and can act as a digestive irritant and adrenal stimulant. 
In excess it can cause problems such as: gastric ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, adrenal 
exhaustion, chronic fatigue, insomnia, panic disorders, anxiety and irritability. 
People with high pitta (fire and water) or high vata (air and ether) in their constitutions, should either avoid it completely or be very cautious in their consumption. 
However, coffee can be somewhat balancing for people with a kapha (water and earth) constitution. Coffee’s hot, dry, stimulating qualities counterbalance the  heavy, wet, sluggish qualities present in the kapha dosha. 
Some good alternatives for vata and pitta types can be warm lemon water, ginger tea or coriander tea.
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