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Before you reach for another over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever, consider this: Just because you can buy it without a prescription doesn’t mean it comes without risks. “Many people assume that because pain relievers are OTC, they are safe; however, many can have adverse effects,” says Fred Pescatore, MD, MPH, CCN, a Manhattan-based, traditionally trained physician and internist who specializes in nutritional medicine. “Side effects of NSAID pain relievers [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] can range from drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, and dry mouth all the way to stomach ulcers and liver damage.”
It’s no wonder a recent Gallup poll shows that 78 percent of consumers prefer to try natural ways of managing their pain before opting for pain medications. Next time you experience an ache or pain, try one of these natural pain remedies instead.
Because inflammation is an underlying cause of most joint discomfort, you’ll want a supplement with anti-inflammatory properties. Pycnogenol is an all-natural supplement derived from French maritime pine bark. “Most anti-inflammation supplements work by supporting cartilage health to alleviate discomfort,” Dr. Pescatore explains. “In contrast, Pycnogenol turns to the root of the problem, inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory enzymes.” He recommended supplementing with 150 mg daily, taken with or after meals.
This vivid yellow spice, used in Indian curries and other Asian dishes, owes its power to its active component, curcumin. This anti-inflammatory polyphenol works by inhibiting the activation of genes and production of proteins that trigger pain and swelling, explains Rebecca Park, a registered nurse from New York and founder of RemediesForMe.com. A 2012 pilot study investigated the efficacy and safety of curcumin in 45 rheumatoid arthritis patients. The patients were organized into three groups. Patients in the curcumin group showed the highest percentage of improvement in scores measuring disease activity, joint tenderness, and swelling — and none of them experienced adverse effects. When choosing curcumin supplements, Park advises looking for ones containing black pepper extract to increase bioavailability.
Ginger root helps with more than nausea — it reduces the production of chemicals that promote joint inflammation. Plus, it contains salicylates, which the body transforms into salicylic acid, the same pain-relieving substance found in aspirin. A study published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology evaluated the safety and efficacy of ginger extract in 247 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Patients taking the ginger capsules had a 63 percent reduction in knee pain compared to a 50 percent reduction for those taking the placebos — a statistically significant improvement. If you don’t enjoy the taste of fresh ginger, then supplement with 3 to 4 grams per day.
The active ingredient in eucalyptus is menthol, which decreases pain by increasing skin temperature and blood flow. Amazingly, arthritis sufferers can also experience the pain-relieving benefits of eucalyptus oil just by breathing it in. A Korean study investigated the effects of inhaling eucalyptus oil on patients who had undergone total knee replacement surgery due to severe osteoarthritis. A gauze pad coated with eucalyptus oil was positioned under the nose of patients for 30 minutes a day over a three-day period. Patients were asked to report their level of pain before and after the inhalation sessions — and their pain scores decreased after inhalation. So how can you use it at home? Park says to dilute 10 to 12 drops of oil with 1 oz. of a carrier oil (such as coconut) and massage into the painful spot.
Rosehips, the fruit of the rose plant, are rich in anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Anthocyanins may also help to
slow the progress of arthritis by blocking protein-digesting enzymes that break down cartilage. A randomized trial published in the journal Phytomedicine examined the effect of 5 grams of a rosehip supplement daily for three months. At the end of the trial, 66 percent reported a significant reduction in pain and improvement in symptoms such as morning stiffness. Park recommends taking 2.5 grams of rosehips twice daily for three months — or you can pick rosehips in late summer and make your own jam, tea, chutney, and even fruit roll-ups.
Think only a prescription drug can treat arthritis? Well, Arthritis Research UK gives fish oil a score of 5 out of 5 for effectiveness in treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA). “The omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish oil have strong anti-inflammatory properties, which help to counteract the many inflammatory elements in a typical Western diet,” says Park. “Fish oil also contains vitamin D, necessary for building and repairing cartilage within the joints.” A review of the role of omega-3 in inflammation and auto-immune diseases identified 13 randomized controlled clinical trials that showed benefit from fish oil supplements in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, Park says that people with a genetic risk of developing RA should include more omega-3 (oily fish, such as salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, or sardines) in their diets as a preventative measure. If you’re not a fish-lover, she recommends a supplement that offers 2,000–3,000 mg per day taken with food — and be patient, as it takes 8 to 12 weeks to see noticeable results.
Homemade Pain Remedies
- Ginger Tea: Bring three cups of water to the boil in a saucepan. Add a heaping tablespoon of freshly grated ginger root. Simmer for 20 minutes and strain. Sweeten to taste with honey or stevia. The recommended daily maximum amount of consumed ginger is 4 grams (a little less than 2 tablespoons) per day.
- Rosehip Tea: Wash, top and tail rosehips. Chop them up in a food processor. Add about a tablespoon of the puree to 3 cups of boiling water. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5–10 minutes. Strain and sweeten to taste.
- Eucalyptus Bath: Using eucalyptus oil during a warm steam bath will loosen your muscles. For a bath, use 3-12 drops of eucalyptus oil for every one tablespoon of carrier oil (such as coconut, almond, avocado or jojoba). Make sure the oils are properly mixed into your bath water before you get in for the best aromatic and therapeutic experience.