Piercing, shooting, burning, stabbing—even the vocabulary of chronic pain is distressing. Most people who live with it would do almost anything for relief. But medication can compound your problems with other risks: Narcotic painkillers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), for example, may cause gastrointestinal bleeding, heart attack, and stroke. The good news is, researchers are demonstrating that alternative remedies can complement and sometimes even replace these heavy-duty drugs. A few I swear by:
The Pain: Lower backache
Nature's RX: Devil's claw
The Khoisan tribes of the Kalahari Desert used this herb as a pain remedy for thousands of years before it was introduced to Europe in the early 1900s. One study found that devil's claw—which contains an anti-inflammatory agent called harpagoside—was just as effective as the prescription NSAID Vioxx, which was immensely popular before it was withdrawn from the market due to its cardiovascular side effects. I recommend taking an extract that provides 50 to 100 milligrams of harpagoside daily for as long as your pain lasts.
The Pain: Migraine
Nature's RX: Butterbur root
When a migraine strikes, cells in the brain release chemicals that cause inflammation. By interfering with some of those chemicals, butterbur can provide relief. In a study of migraine patients, 68 percent of those who took butterbur root reduced their number of attacks by at least 50 percent. Take 75 to 100 milligrams twice a day on an ongoing basis.
The Pain: Arthritis
Nature's RX: Fish oil
A 2009 study on osteoarthritis showed that people who regularly took a supplement rich in fish oil were able to reduce their use of pain meds by half. The oil's omega-3s help decrease the production of various chemicals that cause inflammation and pain in the joints. Look for a supplement that contains both EPA and DHA omega-3s, and take four to six grams a day.
The Pain: Menstrual cramps
Nature's RX: Vitamin E
Cramping is attributed to hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins, which cause the uterus to contract and expel its lining; women who have higher levels of prostaglandins get more intense cramps. Vitamin E can lower the levels of prostaglandins, and studies have shown that it can significantly reduce menstrual pain. Begin taking 400 IU a few days before your period, and continue through the first three days.
Next: Dr. Oz on the dangers of mixing meds