Pain is certainly a common denominator in the human experience. Pain was specifically designed by Mother Nature to be unpleasant so that it would motivate us to take whatever action is necessary to stop it. Essentially, it's a warning signal that something's not right. If you break your ankle, it's going to hurt quite a bit and will be excruciating if you try to walk. The more you move it, the worse it will hurt. Why? Because your body needs you to immobilize the ankle and take the pressure off so that it can heal.
There's a difference between healing pain and covering it up.
Covering up a warning signal like pain is usually not a good idea. You can pop the battery out of your smoke detector to stop that awful blaring, but it does nothing to put out the fire. Unfortunately, that is what we sometimes do with pain medication; we deaden the signal to make it more bearable without addressing the causative factors—which is likely high levels of inflammation.
What many people don't know is that there are many powerful, natural interventions for pain that can help address the root cause.
The best examined natural pain reliever may be curcumin, an extract from the spice turmeric. But don't confuse these two—it can take up to 500 capsules of turmeric to deliver the amount of curcumin you get in just one enhanced-absorption capsule. One enhanced absorption curcumin called BCM-95 uses turmeric essential oil to boost efficacy. A published human trial of BCM-95 curcumin compared it to the prescription NSAID diclofenac sodium in rheumatoid arthritis. After eight weeks of treatment, both groups showed the same level of improvement in pain and functionality with only one big difference: In the drug group, 14 percent of the participants dropped out due to severe adverse effects; in the BCM-95 curcumin group, not one person had to drop out.
2. Peppermint oil
Headaches are one of the most common reasons people take over-the-counter pain relievers. In the Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine, they recommend rubbing peppermint oil on the temples and forehead. There is some evidence that supports peppermint oil's ability to relieve pain from headaches, specifically tension-type headaches. Simply combine a few drops of peppermint essential oil and coconut oil and rub on your temples and forehead.
Biofeedback is a helpful technique that allows you to see measurements of muscle activity, breathing rate, and perspiration so that you can make changes and see the effects. Biofeedback can be helpful for many conditions but especially anxiety and pain. Biofeedback gives you the power to control your body in a way that is less abstract and more concrete.
In another published 12-week human study, the combination of BCM-95 curcumin and standardized boswellia (sometimes called frankincense) was compared to the generic of the prescription drug Celebrex (celecoxib) for osteoarthritis of the knee. At the end of the study, both groups were equal in improvements in flexibility, but the curcumin/boswellia group had superior scores in overall pain relief and distance walked without pain.
Acupuncture has been pretty well-studied and research suggests that it can be helpful for different types of pain including low-back pain, knee pain, osteoarthritic pain, neck pain, and tension and migraine headaches.
Why you should get to know your more natural options.
Many of these natural options are more expensive and more time consuming than grabbing an NSAID from the corner store, so it's important to understand why I'm recommending these more natural options instead of the common over-the-counter or prescription pain medicines. So here are some of the common pain relievers, how they work, and why you might want to be mindful of how often you're taking them.
One common over-the-counter (OTC) drug is acetaminophen, which works by interfering with the pain signal that tells your brain you're hurting. And while great for the occasional ache or pain, many people don't know that acetaminophen is the No. 1 cause of acute liver failure in the United States and also the No. 1 overdose seen in emergency rooms—mostly due to people taking them too often or incorrectly. This drug has the potential to hurt the liver's ability to make an important master antioxidant called glutathione and damaging its production leaves people vulnerable to certain diseases and accelerated aging.
Opiates are well-known and highly addictive prescription drugs that also work to cover up the pain signal. Once used only for very short-term symptom management or for pain unresponsive to any other intervention, in recent years we've seen explosive growth in the long-term use (and abuse) of these drugs.
Also on the list of common pain treatments are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS. These drugs do not cover up the pain signal, and work instead by reducing inflammation. And that sounds great, but the way in which they reduce inflammation can cause problems when they are used too frequently or abused. NSAIDS wipe out an enzyme system that is part of the inflammation cascade, and the body doesn't function well with the impairment of an entire enzyme system. Because of this, they have the potential to cause erosion of the lining of the stomach and intestines, ulcers, and can double and triple of the risk of heart attack and stroke—which are pretty serious side effects for medicines that are so easily accessible and widely used.
When evaluating your more natural options for pain—options that do not carry the same risks as opiates, NSAIDS, and acetaminophen—make sure you use products that have published human clinical studies whenever possible—because not all botanicals are created equal. And if you're dealing with a serious disease, it is always best if you can enlist the aid of your health care practitioner as you craft a health plan to address your specific needs.