Do you look for the medicine cabinet when you are in pain?
You are not alone.
Most of us reach for the pill bottle when in pain.
Almost one third of the planet suffer from some form of chronic pain. Still, the statistics relating to painkiller medication may surprise you.
- 300 million pain prescriptions were written in 2015 in USA alone
- The pain medication industry is worth $24 billion dollars a year
- 96% of people aged over 65 years old take NSAID (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – like ibuprofen)
Unfortunately, medication comes with the risk of side effects. There is also a risk of interacting with other drugs to reduce their effectiveness.
It is easy to slip into habitual use of pain killing medication. Habitual use increases the potential to tip over into addiction.
You may like to try natural alternatives to provide you some pain relief.
Many herbs, spices and minerals can be used to treat pain and inflammation.
These natural remedies, along with other therapies, are classified as alternative medicine.
You may well scoff at the idea a plant could work like medication (I know I used to!)
But there is growing scientific evidence to support their anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties
When you think about it…most medicine is made of chemical compounds…and where do those compounds come from?
Plants – like herbs and spices!
When you live with chronic pain it helps to have as many pain relieving tools in your tool box as possible.
Herbs for pain relief & inflammation can be valuable during a painful flare.
What works for you might not work for your next-door neighbour.
And vice versa.
The more options you know are available to you – the better ☺
19 Herbs for Pain Relief & Inflammation
1) Willow bark
Willow bark is nature’s aspirin. The bark of the white willow tree contains, salicin. A chemical that is similar to the main ingredient in aspirin.
For centuries, people have used it to ease the pain caused by inflammation. Willow bark can be used to relieve headaches, osteoarthritis and low back pain. Traditionally, people chewed the bark itself or dried it into an herb to make tea.
Willow bark does have side effects however. It can be hard on your kidneys or cause an upset stomach. It can also prolong bleeding time – just like aspirin.
Cloves are a highly aromatic spice commonly used in food either powdered or whole. Medicinal forms of cloves come in capsules or as clove oil.
The active ingredient in cloves is eugenol.
Eugenol is a natural pain reliever used in some over the counter pain rubs.
Cloves can help to relieve headaches, arthritic inflammation, nausea and colds. Cloves can also be used to ease toothache until you can reach a dentist.
Be careful though – applying too much clove oil could hurt your gums.
Clove oil can increase the risk of abnormal bleeding. If you have a blood disorder or are taking blood-thinning medication – speak to your doctor before consuming cloves.
Turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory effects. It is a yellow spice that gives curry its distinctive colour.
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin.
Curcumin is an antioxidant that protects your body from the free radicals that cause cell damage.
Turmeric is commonly used to help conditions including:
Turmeric is best taken together with black pepper to get the full anti-inflammatory effects.
For more information on turmeric for pain and inflammation check this out.
4) Devils claw root
Devils claw root is a plant from South Africa. It produces small fruit with little hook like spikes, hence the menacing name – ‘devils claw root’.
Traditionally, it was used to treat a wide range of conditions including:
The active compound in devils claw root is iridoid glycosides, shown to have anti-inflammatory effect.
It can be taken as a supplement, as powder, in capsule form or as tea.
If you have a sensitive stomach – stick to a low dose as it can cause tummy ache.
5) Capsaicin (spicy food)
Capsaicin is a natural pain reliever found in spicy foods like cayenne pepper.
Capsaicin helps to relieve muscle pain and tension.
Cayenne pepper has also been found to have anti-fungal properties. It has been shown to kill candida, a yeast infection commonly known as thrush. Candida has many unpleasant symptoms and is an internal infection linked to joint pain.
A recent study found capsaicin from wasabi blocked receptors in the mouth responsible for sending pain signals to the brain.
6) Lavender Oil
Lavender oil helps with relaxation, lowers inflammation & acts as a powerful pain reliever.
Amazingly, studies found lavender oil, applied to the skin, provided pain relief comparable to the prescription opioid, tramadol.
Other research found children recovering from tonsil surgery were able to reduce their reliance on pain relieving drugs, after inhaling lavender.
Inhaling lavender was also found to lessen the severity of migraines.
If you would like more information on using lavender and other essential oils for pain click here.
Comfrey is a plant native to Europe that has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Used in an ointment, comfrey can be helpful for relieving joint pain when rubbed into the area. It is often used for:
- Back pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Swollen veins
*Warning* – comfrey contains poisonous chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids so do not take orally. The FDA has recommended removing any comfrey products taken by the mouth.
Comfrey can also interact with medications and is absorbed through the skin. So talk to your doctor before applying any ointment.
Glucosamine is an amino sugar found naturally in your body.
It is also found in shellfish, animal bones and funghi. Glucosamine supplements are made from these natural sources.
It is commonly used to treat and prevent joint problems from conditions such as osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine has an anti-inflammatory effect. It is helpful for a number of inflammatory conditions including:
Supplements are not the only way to take glucosamine. Many people enjoy the health benefits of glucosamine through traditional remedies – like bone broth.
Read more information about bone broth for joint pain here.
9) Green tea
Green tea has been revered for its health benefits since Ancient China.
Green tea is a powerful antioxidant proven to neutralise the free radicals that cause damage to your cells.
The active compound in green tea is polyphenols. Most significant is a catechin called EGCG (Epigallocatechin Gallate).
Green tea has been shown to lower inflammation. It has been associated with a number of other health benefits including:
- Improve brain function
- Lower the risk of cancer
- Protect against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- Lowers risk of type II diabetes
- Reduce risk of heart disease
- Reduce the risk of obesity
- Help you live longer
With few reported side effects – and masses of health benefits.
It might be worth adding a cup of green tea to your daily routine.
Frankincense is native to the East where its known as olibanum.
Frankincense oil is a proven anti-inflammatory. One study suggested it could help the treatment of arthritis.
Frankincense should only be used externally. Mix it up as a topical lotion.
Dilute Frankincense with carrier oil before applying to unbroken skin.
For more on essential oils for pain and inflammation click here.
11) Black pepper
Black pepper is the ground the dried berries from the piper nigrum vine.
It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries because of its many health benefits.
The active ingredient in black pepper is piperine. Piperine is a powerful antioxidant that prevents the damaging effects of free radicals in your body.
Piperine is also effective at lowering inflammation.
Studies have shown piperine resulted in less joint swelling and lower inflammation in rats with arthritis.
Another study of mice found piperine suppressed the inflammation associated with asthma.
Other suggested health benefits of piperine include:
Piperine also aids the absorption of other beneficial plant compounds such as curcumin found in turmeric.
For more on the relationship between piperine and turmeric read here.
If you are happy about the health benefits of drinking red wine – you have resveratrol to thank.
Resveratrol is what gives red wine its bright colour. It is also found in the skin of berries, grapes and nuts.
Resveratrol has been shown to protect cartilage. By preventing cartilage damage resveratrol helps with joint pain and arthritis.
Studies also show resveratrol may reduce inflammation and prevent damage to joints.
Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant with many health benefits including:
- Suppress cancer cells
- Prevent Alzheimer’s
- Decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Increase “good” HDL cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
There are few reported side effects from resveratrol – although high doses may cause problems with blood clotting.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you can open a bottle of red wine and drink to your heart’s content.
The alcohol in red wine is toxic and can cause serious health problems if consumed to excess.
Resveratrol is available in supplement form. Studies are still mixed about the amount of resveratrol your body can actually use from supplements.
13) Cat’s claw
Cat’s claw is a tropical vine that grows mainly in the Amazon rain forest. The bark of the root has been used for centuries in South America to treat inflammation, cancer and infections.
Cat’s claw supplement comes in liquid form, capsules, powder and tea.
There is promising early evidence that cat’s claw has a wide variety of health benefits including:
- Boost your immune system
- Calm an over active immune system
- Relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis
- Relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
- Reduce inflammation
Side effects of cat’s claw are rare. Beware though consuming large amounts may cause an upset stomach.
Rosemary is an aromatic herb that grows native in the sunny climates of the Mediterranean and Asia.
It is commonly used in cooking thanks to its distinctive flavour.
Rosemary also has proven health benefits. German Commission E (Germany’s version of the FDA) has approved the use of Rosemary oil to treat joint pain and circulation problems.
Other proposed health benefits include:
- Improve your mental activity
- Treat and prevent dementia
- Prevent and treat cancer
- Prevent and treat hair loss (alopecia)
Ginger aids digestion, relieves nausea, reduces inflammation & soothes aching joints.
Ginger is one of the most popular herbal remedies in Chinese medicine. It is often used for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Studies now show ginger is effective at lowering inflammation & relieving pain.
Cinnamon has been used for its medicinal benefits as far back as Ancient Egypt.
Cinnamon is from the bark of a cinnamon tree. There are 2 main types of cinnamon:
- Ceylon cinnamon
- Cassia cinnamon
Cinnamon is a proven antioxidant. It is so powerful it is used as a food preservative.
The potent antioxidants in cinnamon have been shown to effectively lower inflammation.
Cinnamon has numerous other health benefits including:
- Reduce risk of heart disease
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Help with type II diabetes
- Prevent Alzheimer’s
- Prevent cancer
- Fight bacterial infections
- Fight funghi linked to respiratory tract problems
Be warned – not all cinnamon is created equal.
Ceylon cinnamon has more health benefits than the more commonly available cassia variety.
Cassia contains a compound called coumarin, which is harmful in large doses.
You may be able to find the Ceylon variety in health food shops.
17) Maritime Pine Bark (Pycnogenol)
Maritime pines grow in the Mediterranean. The Maritime pines that grow in South West France are used to make pycnogenol.
Studies have shown the maritime pine is a powerful antioxidant. It operates by both scavenging the free radicals that damage cells and boosting the effects of Vitamin A & C.
Maritime pine is shown to be effective at relieving pain caused by PMS. It is also effective at soothing leg pain from circulatory problems and swelling.
Other health benefits include:
- Improve symptoms of asthma
- Improve symptoms of Lupus
- Improved mental function
- Improve symptoms of type II diabetes
18) Epsom salt
Epsom salt is naturally very high in magnesium – making it great for bone, joint and muscle pain.
Soaking in warm water mixed with Epsom salt can help increase your magnesium levels.
The relaxing effect is also great to aid sleep.
It is even shown to help ease inflammation and soreness after childbirth.
19) Evening oil of primrose
Evening oil of primrose is popular for alleviating premenstrual symptoms including period pains.
Evening oil of primrose is naturally high in essential fatty-acids gamma-linolenic acid. It has a hormone balancing effect, which makes it ideal as a natural PMS treatment.
Talk to your doctor before taking evening oil of primrose if your have seizures, a blood disorder or high blood pressure.
It is only natural to reach for the pill bottle when you are in pain.
Unfortunately, pain relieving medication often comes with side effects. Habitual use of pain relieving drugs can also tip over into addiction.
There are an enormous variety of natural pain relieving alternatives.
Herbs for pain relief and inflammation have been used for centuries in traditional medicine all over the world.
Do exercise caution when trying any pain relieving remedies.
Although natural, herbs for pain relief and inflammation may have harmful side effects.
Have you tried any herbs for pain relief and inflammation?