Reaching For Relief
Some days, nagging back pain, achy joints or a piercing headache really gets our attention. And the stress of our hectic lifestyle can push our pain levels even higher. It’s hard to put in a day’s work and concentrate fully when our aches and pains act up. Even low-level pain is distracting, yanks our chain. So what do we normally do? We reach for a pain reliever from the medicine chest … like aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or to take the edge off the aches from a chronic condition, we take something stronger that our doctor prescribed. You don’t want to do this too often. Narcotic addiction is real and starts with chronic use of narcotics. This article is intended to introduce you to alternative therapies for pain.
Why not explore plant-based medicine? A natural approach using medicinal herbs can often get you the same relief, without the side effects and potential risks with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and opioids (e.g. codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone). Would you believe there are over 100 plants known to have pain-relieving properties? Physicians today are moving away from prescribing strong pain relievers, which is another reason why it makes sense to try natural alternatives. The ones mentioned here can be found in one or more forms – tablets, capsules, powders – making them easy to consume. Some you can prepare yourself.
Spice it Up with Curcumin (Turmeric)
You know that deep orangey color in curry? That’s from the spice turmeric. Turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin, often used in the holistic healing system from India called Ayurveda that’s becoming more familiar to those of us in the West. You may very likely find fresh turmeric in the produce section of the grocery store.
Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce irritated tissues causing pain, redness, and swelling. Osteoarthritis and inflammatory bone and joint sufferers would find turmeric helpful.
Studies conducted on turmeric extract show this plant-based nutrient contains powerful antioxidant properties that effectively block inflammation, preventing the triggering of swelling and pain. Curcumin contains three curcuminoids and you want all three of them in your supplement. Consider also a concentrated version with extended-release so your body can absorb it better. For a refreshing anti-inflammatory drink, blend up turmeric paste, coconut milk, and honey to make Golden Milk.
White Willow Bark: Aspirin’s Natural Counterpart
White willow bark also has a cooling effect on inflammation. If you’re achy from osteoarthritis, bursitis, or tendinitis, try white willow bark instead of aspirin. It can also reduce fever, headaches including migraine, back pain, flu symptoms, and menstrual cramps. The active ingredient in white willow bark is salicin, which comes from the bark of white willow tree branches. Salicin is actually the compound aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) used to be made from in this country, back in the 1800s.
Used for thousands of years in many cultures, white willow bark tends to bring on pain relief more slowly than aspirin, but its effects may last longer, according to the University of Maryland Med Center. You’ll most likely find it in tablet form but it’s also sold as a tincture.
If you’re sensitive, allergic, or your doctor advises against taking aspirin, you should stay away from white willow bark; the salicin will act like aspirin. You also want to avoid taking it if you have a stomach ulcer, intestinal problems, gout, asthma, or diabetes.
If you can’t take anything related to aspirin or have sensitivities to it and need to get rid of your headache or fever, there’s Feverfew, the herb named after what it’s used for. Feverfew is a perennial plant with little daisy-like yellow flowers, but it’s the leaves that are used medicinally. Some people insist on using feverfew as a headache remedy, even for migraines. Feverfew can reduce both the frequency and severity of headaches when taken regularly.
The active ingredient Parthenolide works on the serotonin receptors in the brain which constrict blood vessels and suppress inflammatory responses. It’s this action gives relief. Feverfew also has antihistamine properties.
Feverfew is available as a powdered or freeze-dried leaf in capsules. You can also make a tea out of it, using fresh leaves in hot water – but not to boiling, since boiling breaks down the active ingredient.
Ginger: The Versatile Medicinal Herb
Ginger has to be the most versatile of herbs. When you’re not adding it to your stir-fry or marinade, its sharp sweet taste makes a delicious tea, hot or cold. Drink it for pleasure or for an upset stomach, nausea, headache, chronic inflammation, muscle soreness or menstrual cramps. You can thank the enzymes that ginger contains for that. Keep in mind, we’re talking about fresh ginger root. Don’t expect to get relief from the powdered ginger from the bottle in your spice rack.
Ginger is readily available in the produce section of the grocery store so it makes more sense (and will probably cost you less money) to buy it fresh. Inside that ugly, knobby skin of the ginger root is a tough bright yellow center. Just remove the skin, chop, and bring to a boil. Sip strained ginger tea with a little honey or cinnamon stick while nursing the symptoms of a cold—for pain and congestion.
If you’re not keen on the DIY option, buy a therapeutic grade of bagged ginger tea at your local health food store. Ginger teabags are convenient to throw in your handbag and suitcase when you’re traveling to kick those occasional bouts of stomach upsets … pain or nausea from spoiled food, indigestion, or food poisoning. Ginger works remarkably well and very quickly while your body is recuperating.
Herbal Blends: InflaThera or Zyflamend
Zyflamend, a supplemental blend, has gained a lot of popularity over recent years as a reliable and effective plant-based anti-inflammatory. This supplement is a blend of turmeric, ginger, and holy basil. All three of these herbs separately have medicinal properties that can ease inflammatory conditions like arthritis. This remedy is also good for psoriasis, which is also an inflammatory condition.
The prescription counterpart of Zyflamend can give you a stronger dose than what you can get over the counter. Zyflamend has become one of the most trusted herbal blends recommended by many in the medical community, often prescribed as an ongoing supplement for bone and joint and heart health.
Remember valium, a tranquilizer often prescribed for anxiety by doctors in the 20th Century? Valerian root was its natural predecessor. Valium isn’t derived from valerian root but they both reduce anxiety and insomnia in a similar way. The benefit of using valerian root is that it’s non-addictive.
Often called nature’s tranquilizer, valerian root as a pain reliever for reducing sensitivity of the nerves actually goes back many centuries. It’s a handy supplement to take at bedtime in capsule form or as a soothing hot tea when you want to relax and get a little relief from the day’s aches and pains and get lulled into sleep.
Another herb root similar to Valium’s calming effect is kava, a shrub referred to as “intoxicating pepper,” for its alcohol-intense effect. It produces brain wave changes similar to valium. From the islands of the South Pacific, kava was used by natives to unwind and relax after a long day and for ceremonies. It’s typically prepared as a tea from the powdered root, but you can find it in a powder or tincture.
This herb is also highly effective at reducing anxiety, easing nerves, relaxing muscles, reducing muscle pain. It’s another gentle tranquilizer option that is non-addictive. But you don’t want to take kava for long periods of time or take it if you’re on other anti-anxiety medications.
Plant-Based Pain Management
When we’re in pain our natural instinct is to pop an OTC pill into our mouth to get some relief so we can function again. Try the natural route first. For just about any ailment you’re suffering from, a botanical equivalent exists. Consider using traditional remedies as a backup measure. But remember, even though medicinal herbs are not addictive, they can become habit-forming.
Discuss options with your health care practitioner first and once you get the ok, visit your grocery’s produce section or supplement aisle, health food store, or trusted online herbal source for plant-based pain management. Do some research to get acquainted with others you may not be aware of. Who knows … you might even be able to tell your physician you don’t need that medication refill.