Natural Pain Killers

  • 30 Jan 2009
  • Reading time 12 mins
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A comprehensive guide to potent nutritional aids to reduce pain and inflammation without the side effects of conventional medicine

The substances which cause inflammation and pain are called ‘inflammatory mediators’ – body chemicals such as prostaglandins, leukotrienes and oxidants. Prostaglandins and leukotrienes are made from one of the omega-6 fats, arachidonic acid, which is abundant in meat and milk. Too much of these foods in your diet can lead to over production of the inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Although inflammation can be an important protective mechanism, too many inflammatory mediators create pain.

The most common medical treatment for inflammation is anti-inflammatory drugs which are effective symptom suppressors, providing pain relief, but do nothing to address the causes of the inflammation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work by blocking the production of the body’s inflammatory mediators, and while they are mostly very effective, they are not without side-effects, especially in the gut. Prescriptions for NSAIDS cost the NHS about £250 million per year. Extraordinarily, this class of drug is responsible for more deaths than any other. When used long term, NSAIDS such as aspirin and ibruprofen can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and can put a strain on the liver.

Recent studies have also shown that new anti-inflammatory drugs which inhibit important enzymes can double, or in some cases quadruple, a person’s chance of a heart attack.[1] Despite this danger, the average person takes in excess of 300 doses of these painkillers a year! That’s six a week.

Effective solutions without side effects

Luckily, there are a number of natural anti-inflammatory agents, some of which have been proven to be as effective as drugs, without the side-effects. One of the most popular is fish oils. Fish oils do not lubricate your joints, as is often believed. What they actually do is reduce pain and inflammation. They are converted in the body into beneficial anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, which counteract the inflammatory substances NSAID drugs are used to suppress.

Good research now shows conclusively that fish oil supplementation can reduce the inflammation of arthritis. A case in point is a study in 2002 which found that 86% of patients with arthritis who took cod liver oil prior to knee replacement surgery had no or reduced levels of enzymes which cause cartilage damage, compared to just 26 per cent of patients who took a placebo.[2] An effective amount to take is the equivalent of 1000mg combined omega 3s EPA and DPA a day, which means two to three of most fish oil capsules. Talking of fats, there’s a special blend of fatty acids called Celadrin that has proven highly effective at reducing arthritic pain in recent trails.[3,4] It comes as a cream or in capsules. Like so many natural remedies, it seems to work on many different fronts, but certainly helps damaged cells in inflamed joints to heal more quickly.

Nature’s Anti-Inflammatories

Glucosamine: One of the best known non-drug treatments for joint pain is glucosamine. Glucosamine is an essential part of the building material for joints and the cellular ‘glue’ that holds the entire body together, although joint cartilage contains the highest concentration. The mechanism by which glucosamine appears to stop or reverse joint degeneration is by providing the body with the materials needed to build and repair cartilage. A study of individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee found that participants taking 1500mg of glucosamine sulphate daily had a similar reduction in symptoms to those taking 1200mg of ibuprofen daily. However, the glucosamine group tolerated their medicine much better.[5]

In addition, several studies have shown that glucosamine is equally as good as NSAIDS for easing arthritic pain and inflammation, and there are less of the stomach-irritating side effects associated with NSAIDs. Glucosamine hydrochloride appears better tolerated than the sulphate form – aim for 1000 to 2000mg a day. It works especially well when combined with MSM (see below).

MSM: MSM, which stands for methylsulfonylmethane, is a source of the essential mineral sulphur. Sulphur is involved in a multitude of key body functions including pain control, detoxification and tissue building. Extraordinary results have been reported for pain relief in those with arthritis who took MSM.[6] One study at UCLA School of Medicine in California found that on 2250mg of MSM a day, patients with arthritis had an 80 per cent improvement in pain within six weeks, compared with 20 per cent in those who had taken dummy pills.[7] MSM is available both as a balm and in capsules. The therapeutic dose appears to be 1500-3000mg a day.

Some people experience a worsening of symptoms in the first ten days, then improvement.

Curcumin: The bright yellow pigment of the turmeric spice contains the active compound curcumin, which has a variety of powerful anti-inflammatory actions. Trials in which it was given to arthritic patients have shown it to be similarly effective to anti-inflammatory drugs, without the side-effects. On top of this, it’s a potent antioxidant. Interestingly, the most recent review of turmeric in the Journal of Clinical Immunology states that curcumin at low doses can also enhance antibody responses.[8] This suggests that curcumin's reported beneficial effects in arthritis, allergies, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and cancer might be due in part to its ability to modulate the immune system. The only downside it that it stains everything so take care when using in cooking! Turmeric gives a great flavour in curries, stir-fries or add a teaspoon when cooking rice. You need about 500mg, one to three times a day (the equivalent of one heaped teaspoon or one capsule three times a day).

Boswellia: Frankincense may be the ultimate gift for an arthritic friend. Boswellia serrata, also known as Indian Frankincense, is proving to be a very powerful natural anti-inflammatory agent, without the side-effects of current drugs. In one study where patients initially received boswellic acid, and then later a placebo, arthritic symptoms significantly reduced while ......

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