Over the last 20 years or so, there’s been a dramatic shift it medicine. Scientific research is just beginning to study natural remedies, but many are proving quite promising and sometimes even as effective as prescription medications.
Conventional medical doctors are beginning to see the benefits. And they’re beginning to recommend herbal remedies and dietary supplements for a variety of conditions. Published studies into phytomedicines (plant-based) have turned the tide. Many health practitioners have even begun prescribing herbs and other natural medications.
Natural medicines have been around for tens of thousands of years. Human beings have been using herbs to treat illness since before recorded history. Archaeologists have found the remains of medicinal plants — opium, ephedra, cannabis — at sites dating back 60,000 years.
The Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, a description of natural medicines from plants, dates back to 1500 BC. The Charaka Samhita, from India, documents the use of over 300 medical plants and natural medicines. It dates back to 700 B.C..
Today, researchers are studying natural medications and mainstream doctors are turning into believers. Still, your doctor may not know about some of these very effective natural medicines that relieve pain.
Natural Medicines from Plants
The heat in chili peppers comes from a chemical called “capsaicin.” While your tongue might hurt just thinking of eating hot peppers, capsaicin is a powerful weapon against pain. This vital active ingredient of chili peppers provides health benefits inside and out. Capsaicin works by “defunctionalization” of the nerve cells, and this desensitizes them and prevents them from firing pain signals.
The FDA has approved the use of topical Capsaicin for neuropathic pain. And the Capsaicin patch has shown to be superior in pain relief. Patients using topical capsaicin for rheumatoid arthritis rated a 34 percent drop in pain levels after two weeks.
Topical capsaicin is also effective for Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), and reduces sinus pain and swelling. In addition, researchers have shown that Capsaicin also improves sinus pain and stuffiness.
Even a low dose capsaicin topical treatment helped patients with fibromyalgia. It greatly reduced their levels of pain and disability after six weeks of treatment. The test group reported that impact from the disease was much lower than the control group. Sensitivity to painful pressure was much less in the treated group.
A high-concentration capsaicin patch has been developed for prescription. Called Qutenza, it contains eight percent capsaicin. Used under a doctor’s supervision, application of the patch for 30 to 60 minutes provided up to 12 weeks of pain relief.
Turmeric spice contains the chemical compound curcumin, which is normally used as a food flavoring. Studies show this compound significantly reduces pain from osteoarthritis. It also reduces neuropathic pain.
For thousands of years, people have been using this spicy root as one of the best natural medicines to treat chronic pain. Researchers found it was as effective for pain as ibuprofen. Gingerol is the active ingredient, and a daily dose of either raw or cooked ginger has shown to be beneficial in relieving muscle soreness.
4. White Willow Bark (Salix alba)
White Willow Bark is the industry standard when it comes to herbal pain relief and natural medicines. Known for its inflammatory benefits, the use of white willow bark as a painkiller goes back over 3,500 years. The active ingredient is salicin, the same as aspirin. Studies into herbal medicines for lower back pain found white willow bark as effective as the prescription medicine rofecoxib. Rofecoxib was removed from the market after being implicated in several deaths.
5. Cat’s Claw
Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a woody vine found in South and Central America. Osteoarthritis patients receiving a freeze-dried extract of the plant reported reduced pain and increased mobility within the first week of the trial.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis reported fewer swollen and painful joints after 24 weeks of treatment with cat’s claw extract, due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Most herbalists recommend mullein leaf (Verbascum thapsus) as a natural cough medicine for children and adults, but it also treats pain. It’s a relaxing sedative and works as an anti-inflammatory.
7. Indian Frankincense
More commonly known as Boswellia, herbal practitioners have used this botanical for pain because it reduces inflammation and promotes tissue regeneration. Researchers found that Boswellia serrata in a lecithin-based extract reduces pain and swelling in joints. It also speeds the healing of external injuries. In addition, Boswellia decreases the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome after four weeks. The treatment reduced abdominal pain and cramps, with fewer medical interventions needed during the study.
Also known as Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), oleaster has been tested and shown to work as well as ibuprofen on osteoarthritis.
9. Birch Leaf
This natural medicine is high in Kynurenic acid, which has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. High levels are found in birch leaf, and as a result, it’s useful for treating rheumatoid arthritis. It is also a diuretic and can reduce swelling.
Best known as a natural allergy medicine, lab studies of nettle (Urtica urens) extract identified a number of important analgesic compounds. The most important was Kynurenic acid. The researchers noted its strong pain-killing effects on mice. A similar 8-week test showed improved resistance to neuropathic pain and improved memory in diabetic rats.
11. Kava Kava
This plant soporific is well known as a natural medicine for anxiety, but it also treats pain. It relaxes the muscles by producing brain wave changes similar to those in diazepam. Kava kava is excellent for patients who have trouble sleeping due to chronic pain.
12. Red Algae
Commercial preparations of red algae minerals have been tested for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee and found to improve mobility, endurance, and pain levels after 12 weeks. In another study, an extract of red algae was tested and found to reduce inflammation. Furthermore, it also has antioxidant and anti-bacterial properties.
Various species of seaweed have also shown to have anti-inflammatory and pain killing properties. Researchers testing seaweed (Ulva lactuca) extracts on mice found the effects to be similar to opioids for reducing pain. Seaweed also contains many of the vitamins and minerals required for joint health, so it’s an excellent supplement for arthritis pain.
Because of its high iodine content, herbal practitioners recommend bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) as a natural medicine for thyroid disorders. But, it’s also excellent for joint pain. Like other marine plants, bladderwrack contains phytochemicals that reduce inflammation and pain. Hypothyroid patients often suffer from joint pain, so bladderwrack can be very effective for this group.
Natural Medicines from Foods
Bromelain is one of the easiest natural medicines to use for arthritic pain. Usually derived from pineapple fruits, it breaks down proteins and reduces prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are naturally occurring hormones that cause inflammation.
A 2011 study showed increased healing in damaged Achilles tendons in rats with the addition of bromelain to their diet. A 2009 Canadian study tested a combination of three enzymes. They tested bromelain, trypsin, and rutoside on postal workers with rotator cuff injuries. The test group and control group also performed physical therapy exercises. The researchers found significant improvement in workers who used the enzyme formula after 8 weeks. The test group had improved flexibility and reduced pain levels, while the control group saw much less improvement.
A more recent study in October 2016 showed that osteoarthritis patients had excellent improvement. Flexibility and pain levels improved after 16 weeks of treatment with bromelain. Researchers compared the results to patients on the NSAID diclofenac. Some of the patients had to quit due to side effects. Natural medicines, such as bromelain, provide many of the same health benefits without the side effects of pharmaceuticals.
Consequently, for patients who can tolerate both, a combination of the two showed significant pain relief for treatment of TMJ in 2017.
Bromelain is commonly prescribed after dental surgery to reduce pain and swelling. Seventy percent of the patients gained benefits using this natural medicine after their surgery.
What your doctor may not tell you is that combinations of bromelain, trypsin, and rutoside are available under various trade names. Canadian researchers find the brand name Phlogenzym to be effective in a number of clinical trials. While in the U.S., consumers can buy commercial combinations that are widely available without a prescription.
15. Gamma-Linolenic Acid
Medical studies show Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) is effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It decreases pain and improves mobility. Evening primrose, borage, and blackcurrant seed oils all contain high amounts of (GLA).
15. Omega-3 Oils
Researchers tested fish oil on rheumatoid arthritis patients in March 2017, both alone and with GLA. Joint tenderness was significantly reduced after 12 weeks, with the combination group showing the most improvement.
A longer, 18-month study was performed on rheumatoid arthritis patients using a variety of dietary fatty acid supplements. Researchers used borage seed oil rich in gamma linolenic acid (GLA), fish oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). There was a significant decrease in disease activity in all groups after nine months of use. The positive effects lasted throughout the 18 months of the study. Most importantly, all patients reduced their dosages of anti-rheumatic medicines with the addition of the supplements.
Magnesium benefits patients with muscle pain. In patients with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition, magnesium citrate showed benefits after 8 weeks. Treatment with the mineral reduced the number of tender points and sensitivity. In addition, treatment significantly improved depression and disease impact scores as well. You can take magnesium supplements by mouth or in a hot bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) to relieve muscle spasms and pain.
Because researchers are only beginning to recognize natural medications, your doctor may not know about the benefits. Due to the lack of knowledge, some health care workers are at a real disadvantage when treating chronic pain patients. Because there is little funding for simple, nutritional treatments, science has to catch up with centuries of holistic health knowledge. Fortunately, good results from natural medicines are announced more frequently. So, doctors are finally beginning to listen.
Try any of these simple remedies today. Since most are available from your local grocery or drug store, they’re easy to find. Because there are rarely any adverse effects from the treatments listed here, you can be confident of their safety. Most of all, many of these supplements are also good for general health. Due to open access to supplements, Americans with chronic pain should be able to find bromelain at the drug or health food store. Health practitioners often recommend GLA and fish oils due to their proven ability to improve heart health. Seaweed is rich and minerals, so it’s a nutritious addition to any salad or vegetable dish, and it tastes delicious.