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The Top 5 Natural Pain Relievers Worth Trying

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Walk the aisle in a drug store, and you’ll encounter plenty of pain-relieving drugs like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. The store makes it easy for you to find.

Yet, not everyone wants to, or can, take drugs. Some people may not be comfortable with their side effects. Others may prefer natural alternatives to mitigate pain. Or, the store might just be out of stock. One way or another, when you have muscle aches, soreness, and pain, you need some helpful prospects.

Natural pain-relieving solutions might be the help you’re looking for. The challenge? Finding the best ones so that you can choose the right one for you.

This article brings together five of the top natural pain-relievers available, along with the research behind them and how to get the most from each one.

Natural Pain Relievers

1. Curcumin

Curcumin is the potent compound in turmeric, a common and popular spice well-known for its place in Indian cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine. One of its ancient uses has been for the relief of swelling in joints, muscle pains, and sprains.

Perhaps one of the most widely researched natural substances, numerous studies report it helps control levels of inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin-8 (IL-8) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). Cytokines are substances released by immune cells, each with a specific purpose. Injury and illness prompt immune cells to release cytokines that cause inflammation, which can cause the aches and pains you feel after a workout or when sick.

Additional research suggests curcumin helps regulate immune system response to support healing, even in cases of severe infection.

You can find fresh turmeric root and dried ground turmeric in most grocery stores. Cooking with turmeric can add flavor and color to your dishes, however, for maximum effect, you will want to use a curcumin supplement. Curcumin naturally breaks down quickly during digestion. Curcumin supplements featuring solid lipid curcumin particles have shown the greatest bioavailability, according to an article published in Nutrients.

2. CBD Oil

Medical marijuana may have gotten a lot of attention, but CBD from hemp has stolen the spotlight. The pain-relieving power of both comes from the effect of THC and CBD on our endocannabinoid system. THC brings relief from pain, with its well-known side effect of feeling “high,” but CBD brings relief without the high. 

Perhaps a little ironically, it was research into THC that led to the discovery of our endocannabinoid system. Researchers have discovered this system regulates many daily functions such as appetite, immune response, and pain. Our body produces its own natural cannabinoids, which are exactly how, and maybe why, CBD works so well.

Unlike THC, which binds directly to cell receptors, CBD moderates the activity of an enzyme (FAAH) responsible for breaking down your body’s natural cannabinoids. By slowing this process, your body remains better able to regulate inflammation and how you feel pain.

Many people swear by CBD for pain relief. Recent studies support these claims, finding CBD lowers inflammation, eases aches and pains in joints, and improves overall quality of life, even replacing opioids in patients struggling with constant pain.

CBD oil can be taken in a variety of ways: as a capsule, delivered via dropper under the tongue (sublingually), in CBD edible gummies, mixed with water or a drink, and rubbed on your skin.

3. Magnesium

Magnesium may be one of the most overlooked options for natural pain relievers. This simple mineral plays a vital role in more than 300 metabolic functions, relaxes muscles, and regulates nerve conduction, a key pathway of pain. In recent years, studies have revealed magnesium plays an important role in how we experience and feel pain. Low magnesium levels correspond to increased feelings of pain. But many people may be deficient in this critical mineral. 

Diets high in processed foods and soda, medications, and other factors deplete the body of magnesium. Fortunately, simple lifestyle changes can increase our magnesium intake to ensure you get enough. Magnesium occurs abundantly in grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables, especially almonds, spinach, peanuts, black beans, oatmeal, and bananas.

Also, you can take magnesium supplements, although you want to follow the instructions closely to ensure you don’t overdo it. (The RDA for men 31+ is around 400 mg daily. For women, it’s 320 mg.) As a supplement, magnesium comes in different natural forms like:

  • Magnesium citrate, which is highly bioavailable, comes from citric acid and is often recommended by healthcare professionals. 
  • Magnesium glycinate, combining magnesium and the amino acid glycine, it is also highly bioavailable. 
  • Magnesium orotate, most often used by athletes and competitors as a natural performance enhancer.
  • Magnesium L-threonate, with its positive benefits for memory and cognitive health.

4. Boswellia

Also known as Indian frankincense, Boswellia is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and  has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a natural remedy for a wide range of ailments including:

  • Fevers
  • Coughs
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Skin wounds
  • Sore throats
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Menstrual pain

Additionally, modern studies find Boswellia a reliable reliever of pain, swelling, and inflammation. It inhibits leukotrienes, molecules linked to increased inflammation in the body. Boswellia is also a rich source of phytochemicals, antioxidants, and other plant compounds that neutralize free radicals and other toxins that can make inflammation worse.

You can find Boswellia supplements in capsule form, either on its own or combined with other herbs. There are also topical applications you can use to address skin conditions and ease the soreness in muscles and achy joints.

5. Omega-3 Fish Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids have gotten a lot of attention for their support of heart and brain health. Now they are getting attention for their powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

One study reported omega-3 fish oils worked as well as ibuprofen for relief of achy joints. Together with curcumin, they show promise relieving migraine pain as well.

Omega-3 fish oil supplements have been shown to boost levels of special anti-inflammatory molecules your body naturally produces called specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs), according to a study in Circulation Research. These molecules help to reduce inflammation throughout the body, playing a key role in pain management.

By controlling the production of inflammatory molecules, omega-3s support and balance your immune response and the inflammation that goes along with it. The omega-3 fatty acids supply the building blocks, and your body does the rest.

The only way to get omega-3 fatty acids is through your diet. Though your body makes a lot of fatty acids, it doesn’t produce omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These you must get from the food you eat. (It is worth noting that omega-6 fatty acids support production of inflammatory molecules.) 

Fish and other marine life offer the best sources for omega-3 fatty acids. You can get some from other land-based sources like walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds, but fish oil remains the top source. Fish oil supplements are also one of the easiest and most affordable ways to add omega-3s to your diet. Typically, you can get Omega-3 fish oil supplements in tablet form, although liquid forms are available too.

Summary

Pain, regardless of its cause, negatively impacts your quality of life. It’s no surprise the pain management industry offers so many different options in the form of over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and even opioids. Perhaps due to their side effects and potential risks, it’s also no surprise many people are looking for non-pharmaceutical alternatives.

The five natural pain-relievers presented here offer different approaches to address pain. The research shows that they can take the edge off the pain and bring some degree of comfort.

As with any therapy, you have to find the right one or combination for your own unique situation. If you have any questions or concerns about whether taking these or any supplements are safe, you should always consult with your doctor.


Peter Rufa writes for a wide range of clients but specializes in health. He has written for doctors, supplement providers, healthcare, medical, and fitness organizations and businesses throughout the United States.

References:

Tanabe Y, et al. Effects of oral curcumin ingested before or after eccentric exercise on markers of muscle damage and inflammation. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2019 Apr;29(4):524-534. doi: 10.1111/sms.13373

Sordillo PP, Helson L. Curcumin suppression of cytokine release and cytokine storm. A potential therapy for patients with Ebola and other severe viral infections. In Vivo. 2015;29(1):1‐4.

Dei Cas M, Ghidoni R. Dietary Curcumin: Correlation between Bioavailability and Health Potential. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2147. doi:10.3390/nu11092147

Capano A, Weaver R, Burkman E. Evaluation of the effects of CBD hemp extract on opioid use and quality of life indicators in chronic pain patients: a prospective cohort study. Postgrad Med. 2020 Jan;132(1):56-61. doi: 10.1080/00325481.2019.1685298

Banerjee S, Jones S. Magnesium as an Alternative or Adjunct to Opioids for Migraine and Chronic Pain: A Review of the Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health; 2017 Apr 20.

Magnesium. The National Institutes of Health website. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#en1

Siddiqui MZ. Boswellia serrata, a potential antiinflammatory agent: an overview. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2011;73(3):255‐261. doi:10.4103/0250-474X.93507

Maroon JC, Bost JW. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surg Neurol. 2006 Apr;65(4):326-31.

Abdolahi M, et al. The Neuromodulatory Effects of ω-3 Fatty Acids and Nano-Curcumin on the COX-2/ iNOS Network in Migraines: A Clinical Trial Study from Gene Expression to Clinical Symptoms. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2019;19(6):874-884. doi: 10.2174/1871530319666190212170140.

Souza PR, et al. Enriched Marine Oil Supplements Increase Peripheral Blood Specialized Pro-Resolving Mediators Concentrations and Reprogram Host Immune Responses: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study. Circ Res. 2020 Jan 3;126(1):75-90. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.119.315506.

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