Chronic Inflammation? Cool the Fire with Ayurveda

June 2, 2015    BY Shannon Sexton

Do you have arthritis? Fibromyalgia? Ulcers? Bursitis? Colitis? Your allopathic doctor may have told you that your condition is incurable, but don’t despair. Ayurveda classifies inflammatory conditions as derangements of the pitta dosha (the fire principle) that can be cooled—and even cured—with simple adjustments to your diet and daily routine along with herbal supplements.

When metabolic fire burns too hot or flares up in the wrong places we end up with chronic inflammation, and a host of disorders arises.

Fire is one of the principle metaphors in ayurveda; it is an essential ingredient to good health. In the form of metabolism it digests our food, generates life-sustaining energy, and incinerates waste. But when metabolic fire burns too hot or flares up in the wrong places we end up with chronic inflammation, and a host of disorders arises. Here are a few tips for redirecting your metabolic fire.

A Cooling Diet

If your internal environment is overheated, watch your diet. Red meat, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco all increase inflammation. Avoid them and instead follow a pitta-pacifying diet of cooling, slightly dry, low-salt foods. Eat plenty of whole grains (especially barley and basmati rice), vegetables (especially bitter, leafy greens), and protein. Beans, tofu, egg whites, soft cheeses, and milk are great for you. You can also dine on organic poultry or freshwater fish on occasion if you’re craving more substantial fare.

Good Fats vs. Bad Fats

In today’s low-fat/no-fat obsessed society, we have forgotten that some fats are good for us. Healthy fats are the kind that melt in your mouth—like fresh organic butter or the cocoa butter in high-quality chocolate. Unhealthy fats, on the other hand, taste like candle wax—margarine, crisco, and overprocessed, refined oils that are unstable under heat, like canola oil. To maximize profits, manufacturers chemically alter these products so they have a longer shelf life. In the process, however, they become indigestible and burden the liver, thus inflaming pitta. They also irritate mucus membranes and predispose us to heart disease.

Generally speaking, oils aggravate pitta. Of the cooking oils, for example, only ghee and coconut oil have a cooling effect on the body; the rest are warming. The exceptions are Omega-3 oils, which quell inflammation. You can get your Omega-3s by incorporating flax oil and coldwater fish into your diet.


Turmeric and Ginger:  These herbs will reduce your joint pain, muscle pain, gastritis, or cystitis. Like all astringent herbs, turmeric cools inflammation by tightening and strengthening tissues, reducing swelling and congestion. Ginger is more enigmatic. A pungent herb, it assists digestion and so theoretically should aggravate pitta conditions. However, it has constituents that are cooling and calming for irritated tissues—hence its traditional use as an anti-inflammatory.

Spiced milk:  Here’s an anti-inflammatory recipe you can try at home. Bring half a cup of water to a boil and add:

  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1⁄2 Tbsp. freshly shredded ginger root
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground green cardamom

Let the mixture simmer for 2 minutes, then add 1 cup of milk. Boil for 3 minutes, strain, and serve. Stir in sugar or maple syrup to taste (optional). Makes one serving.

Drink this mixture twice a day—early in the morning and just before bedtime—for 40 days.

Brahmi and Ashwagandha:  Inflammation often begins in the mind, for when we create a hard-driving, goal-oriented mental environment and begin to ignore our body’s need for good food, rest, exercise, and a regular yoga practice, we start overworking—and overheating. We know the warning signs but stubbornly ignore them, listening instead to the inner critic that commands us to accomplish more. Brahmi and ashwagandha are herbs that can help. They calm the mind without sedating it, leaving it clear, grounded, and inspired. And ashwagandha is a tonic that keeps the body strong and counters overexhaustion. It also treats a variety of ailments that result from depletion: arthritis, nerve pain, and infertility.


Homemade extracts are superior to store-bought ones. Put 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon of each herb (in powdered form) into 1 cup of milk, add 1 cup of water, stir, and gently boil the mixture down to 1 cup of liquid. Let it cool off slightly and then drink it.

If you’re short on time, take 1–2 droppers (40–80 drops) of each herb in extract form twice a day. In capsule form, take 2–4 pills of each twice a day. Best taken with warm water or milk for 2 to 12 months.

Shannon Sexton
Former Yoga International editor-in-chief Shannon Sexton writes about food, travel, yoga, and natural health.