By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist
The oft-cited statistics on the growing addiction on oxycontin and Percocet mask an even more alarming fact --millions of us are in chronic pain. Arthritis, fibromylagia, and back pain are just three of the common causes of sometimes disabling pain.
We've all had that sting of pain—whether it's a bad headache, cramps, or stubbing a toe on a table leg. The automatic reaction is to pop a pill and fix it NOW.
Pills can work, yes, but using opiate pills as a sole pain management strategy comes with the considerable risk of addiction.
Fortunately, you also have an array of more natural options. To help manage pain, look no further than your local vegetable stand or garden that act just as well, and even have side benefits.
In fact, to prevent pain and fix it in the moment, look to herbs first.
Finding a patch of lavender is like hitting the olfactory goldmine. It's delicious. That fresh, clean aroma with a little bit of intensity. The Latin name for lavender, lavare, means “clean” because lavender has a particularly fresh smell.
Lavender oil, made through extracting the flowers of the lavender plant through steam dilution, is especially useful as a painkiller. It can also be applied in perfume and for aromatherapy.
In a 2012 study, it was found to be effective to treat migraines. P. Sansannejad from the Mashad University of Medical Sciences in Iran, tested 47 patients. The first group inhaled lavender essential oil for 15 minutes, and the control group inhaled liquid paraffin for the same amount of time. They were asked to record the severity of the headache and any associated symptoms, in 30-minute intervals, for 2 hours. The average reduction of headache severity was much more pronounced in the lavender group.
Lavender is a safe, effective treatment for many different kinds of pain. You can buy it as essential oil, but even inhaling it in its unprocessed form can cause temporary relief. And mild euphoria from the delicious smell.
Ginger is a main ingredient in Chinese and other Asian cuisine, as well as Indian food. It is what gives it that little spicy bite. As well as a painkiller, ginger has typically been used for nausea, loss of appetite, and motion sickness. It is part of the Zingiberacae family, along with cardamom and turmeric. Hailing from India, Jamaica, Fiji, Indonesia, and Australia, ginger has now rooted itself worldwide.
Many studies, including a 2015 study from the University of Georgia have found that ginger helps to ease athletic pain.
Further, a 2015 study found it to be good for athletes. K. Hoseinzaden from the Shiraz University in Iran tested the effects of ginger extract on inflammation and pain, in cases of delayed onset muscle soreness due to eccentric exercise (That is, exercise the body is not accustomed to.)
36 healthy female subject were divided into three groups: ginger one hour before exercise, ginger immediately after exercise, and a placebo group. These women consumed 60 mg of ginger extract (the equivalent of 2 grams of ginger powder) or a placebo before and after exercise.
The exercise consisted of a 20 minute step test with a 46 cm step, at a rate of 15 steps per minute. Blood samples were taken 1, 24, and 48 hours after exercise.
There was a significant reduction of pain when ginger was taken before exercise, and to a lesser extent pain was reduced when it was taken after exercise.
As well as a general analgesic, it looks as though ginger could be particularly beneficial to those starting up a workout routine.
Usually, you think of cinnamon as a spice to put into tea or sweet desserts. But recent research shows that it has a somewhat unusual, analgesic effect.
Researchers from the Tabriz University of Medical Science found it to be beneficial for after-birth pain and healing an episiotomy incision (a cut administered in the perineum).
In 2014, they looked at 144 post-partum women, one hour after completion of the epistiotomy repair. One group received 2ml of cinnamon and the other a placebo ointment, every 12 hours, for 10 days. The pain score in the cinnamon group was significantly lower than in the placebo group, right after intervention and on the 10th and 11th day after delivery. There was also more improvement in the healing score 8 hours and 10 to 11 days after the delivery.
All the pregnant ladies out there, consider using cinnamon during pregnancy and afterward to lessen any discomfort. In my experience, you can put it in almost anything, including savory dishes, and it will taste delish.
Tradition foretold that an infusion of thyme on a midsummer's eve would enable you to see fairies dancing. Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but thyme is not that psychedelic all on its own. The good news is that it is a potent healer.
Even up to World War I, thyme was used as a surgical dressing. Studies have also shown that it is useful as a common analgesic.
In a 2008 experiment conducted by Khdija Elhbazi and researchers at the Faculté des Sciences Samlalia in Morocco, they examined three types of thyme: Thymus satureioides, Thymus maroccanus and Thymus leptobotrys. Aqueous, butanolic, and ethyl acetate extract of each were tested on mice with a formalin (aqueous solution of formaldehyde, with a small amount of ethanol) test.
Treatment with the aqueous and butanolic extracts (50, 100, 200, 300 mg/kg) of the three species marked inhibition in neurogenic and inflammatory phases of the test. It was found to contain many positive phytochemicals, including quinons, saponins, tannins, terpenes and flavonoids.
They concluded that all three types of these thyme's active ingredients had an analgesic effect. Thyme is worth a try, in a stew, on vegetables, or as an infusion.
Rosemary's folklore has a pure image. It is associated with the virgin Mary, who supposedly gave the flowers their light blue color when she placed her shawl on the rosemary bush after washing it.
In Medieval times, rosemary was put in homes to combat the black plague. These days, people look to rosemary as a possible new painkiller.
A 2015 study from the University of Novi Sod in Serbia tested the effectiveness of rosemary to ease pain.
The scientists tested 29 chemical compounds in rosemary essential oil, as well as 3 rosemary constituents, 1,8-cineole, camphor, and α-pinene. They then used heat to induce pain in lab animals.
What they found was that the animals given rosemary had a 30 minute delayed response to the heat-indued pain.
How much rosemary is needed to block pain? The study found that "Rosemary essential oil in the dose of 20 mg/kg was shown to be more efficient than in the dose of 10 mg/kg, in combinations with both codeine and paracetamol."
This is great news for all who already use the versatile rosemary, for dinner, infusions, or even in your hair (Yes, you can, and it will help it grow and be beautiful.)
6. Willow Bark
The active ingredient in this little plant is in your favorite modern painkiller, aspirin.
However,use of willow bark as a pain medicine dates back to Hippocrates, from 400 B.C., when people were advised to chew on the bark to reduce fever and inflammation.
Willow bark has many modern uses as an analgesic, including headaches, low back pain, osteoporosis, menstrual cramps, fever, and flu.
One study from J. Thomas at the Jamia Hamdard institute in New Dehli, India, examined its particular use in pain reducion in patients with musculoskeletal disorders.
Subjects were tested with aqueous willow bark extract STW 33-I. Results were recorded in a pain questionnaire and in patient diaries. 436 people with rheumatic pain due to osteoarthritis (56%) or back pain (59.9%) were examined.
The mean reductions from the baseline value after 24 weeks were significant, and pain was even lessened after 3 weeks. People reported weekly pain reductions between 33% and 44%.
There were no adverse effects, even if they were already taking another pain management drug. This shows us a possible potential for this kind of willow bark extract. You can use it in more than just traditional aspirin form; there are also new infusions and solutions.
This dark yellow spice is used in traditional Indian dishes. But even if you're generally not a spice lover, you may want to consider this one for an everyday painkiller.
In 2016, M. Yimam from Unigen Inc. in Seattle, evaluated the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect of UP1304, a composition with the blend of two extracts from curcuma longa and the root bark morus alba. Yimam and researchers tested its effects on rats with arthritis. Ibuprofen at a dose of 100 mg/kg was used as a reference compound.
The scientists discovered that 50-200 mg/kg of the substance had anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. There were statistically significant improvements in pain resistance and swelling. The results were similar to those achieved by ibuprofen.
Imagine, going out for Indian food or making it at home could be a natural pain reducer.
Or you could just add some curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) to your favorite soups, stews or stir fry meals.