Herbal Formulas for Joint Health
Healthy joints are critical to our daily functioning and activity, both for smooth mobility and for integrity of structure. Ayurveda offers numerous herbal supplements to support healthy joints. The most traditional of these supplements are made with a base of guggulu, which has been used widely through the ages to promote joint strength and stability.
Guggulu (Commiphora mukul) makes a great base for joint formulas for a number of reasons. The first of these is that it has a penetrating nature, making it a very adept yogavahi, or carrier, meaning that it helps carry the other herbs to the deeper tissues.1 Beyond this, guggulu is known for its lekhana ability, meaning that it is able to “scrape” toxic residues and help clear the channels. This keeps these toxic residues, or ama (the natural buildup of toxins), from circulating throughout the body and depositing in the joints. This detoxifying effect helps keep the joint space free and clear. Guggulu also has a soothing, calming effect if there is some irritation in the joints. While guggulu is beneficial in balancing all three doshas, it is particularly helpful to vata and kapha in the joints,1 and as we have seen in the last newsletter, vitiated vata is usually involved in most joint problems, along with other imbalanced doshas and ama. In addition to having a lekhana (scraping) effect, guggulu also kindles the agni, or digestive fire, allowing the body to naturally improve digestion and reduce toxic build-up. Finally, guggulu is also known as a rejuvenative and strength promoter,1 allowing it to support healthy tissues in the joint space. For all of the formulas using guggulu, it is recommended that prolonged use or higher quantities should be in consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner, in order to make sure the scraping, detoxifying, and cleansing qualities do not cause depletion or irritation.
Yogaraj Guggulu is the traditional formula used to help balance vata in the joints. As discussed in more detail in the last newsletter, vata brings the light, dry, rough, cold qualities to the joint. Yogaraj guggulu combines with guggulu numerous other vata balancing herbs, such as chitrak, triphala, gokshura, vidanga, and ajowan seeds, to help dispel vata from the system. And, in addition to the guggulu, it has a variety of herbs to kindle the digestive fire and detoxify ama, including pippali, ginger, and black pepper. As the system gets detoxified, and as the other channels of the body are also cleared, the joints are able to more efficiently receive vital blood circulation and nutrition.1 This allows nourishment of the sleshaka kapha, which exists in the joint in the form of synovial fluid, as well as of the bone and nerve tissues which are also a vital part of the joint’s structure and function. The warming quality of these herbs also counteracts the cold nature of vata. The suggested daily recommendation for yogaraj guggulu is 500 mg two to three times a day,1 though it has been used in larger quantities for shorter periods of time in a study in India.2
Kaishore Guggulu, though it is also warming in nature, is particularly useful to balance pitta and bring the calming, soothing qualities. If heat in the blood and/or joints is an issue, kaishore guggulu can be a helpful support. It does this largely through the powerful pitta rasayana herb, guduchi. As with yogaraj guggulu, it then also contains herbs to help cleanse ama, kindle agni, and rejuvenate, including triphala, pippali, and ginger. The suggested daily recommendation for kaishore guggulu is also 500 mg two to three times a day.1
Punarnavadi Guggulu is the traditional formula for kapha in the joints that brings together herbs to balance kapha. Like the other supplements, the benefits of this Ayurvedic formula extend beyond just the joints, though the joints certainly get cleansing and rejuvenating support. The namesake ingredient, punarnava, is particularly known as a rejuvenative for kapha, and it is widely used to support healthy elimination of liquids from the body, as is nishoth. The body’s normal elimination of natural toxins is also supported by triphala and danti, as well as the cleansing and detoxifying effects of trikatu and chitrak.
Simhanad Guggulu, not as well known as the previous two guggulu formulations, is particularly useful when ama is prevalent and detoxification is necessary. Along with the benefits of guggulu, simhanad guggulu brings the cleansing nature of both castor oil and triphala. This increased level of cleansing allows for the joint tissue to start receiving improved nutrition, which can bring rejuvenation and support comfortable movement and integral strength of the joints. Simhanad guggulu can be started at a smaller quantity, perhaps 1 tablet (300 mg) once or twice daily, to make sure it is tolerated well, and can be increased up to 2 tablets twice daily.
Joint Support is the final formulation that we will highlight for joint health. Joint Support brings the traditional benefits of guggulu, along with the soothing and calming benefits of boswellia, also traditionally considered to have an affinity for the joints. In addition, Joint Support combines the pitta cooling, soothing, and rejuvenative effects of guduchi with the cleansing and agni kindling effects of triphala and trikatu, and the vata balancing and nourishing effects of vidanga and ashwagandha. Finally, these herbs are combined with turmeric, which is balancing to all three doshas and has been shown to have a benefit to joints,3 supporting joint structure and function, allowing for comfortable movement and skeletal integrity. This combination of herbs allows for cleansing, rejuvenation, and balancing of all three doshas to support joint health and motion.
1 Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. Churchill Livingston Elsevier, 2006.
2 Antarkar D S, Pande R R, Athavale A V, Shubhangi R R, Saoji S R, Shah K N, Jakhmola A T, Vaidya A B. Phase I tolerability study of Yogaraj-guggulu--a popular ayurvedic drug. J Postgrad Med 1984;30:111.
3 Ramadan, Gamal, et al. Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidant Properties of Curcuma longa (Turmeric) Versus Zingiber officinale (Ginger) Rhizomes in Rat Adjuvant-Induced Arthritis. Inflammation. August 2011, Volume 34, Issue 4, 291-301.