For 50 million Americans, the picture of life is tarnished by chronic pain. Chronic pain restricts what we aspire to accomplish, whether it’s a migraine, knee pain, or backaches.
Grandparents can attest to this. Middle-aged professionals realize it. Stay-at-home moms know this all too well. High school athletes are faced with it, too.
Due to pain’s effect on our quality of life, millions of Americans rely on nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain. This group of pain blockers includes ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin.
What often goes untold, however, are the side effects that can come from relying on NSAIDs to manage pain. Extensive research shows that NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal ulcers, serious cardiovascular events, hypertension, acute renal failure, and exacerbate preexisting heart failure.
A Major Drawback of NSAIDs: They Inhibit Proper Healing
It’s important to know what causes pain to understand what inhibits it. Of course, causes vary, but we mainly experience pain while the body works to heal from an injury or sickness via signaling an inflammatory response.
“In most cases, the inflammation is the healing. It’s our body’s way of clearing out dead cells in the area and preventing infection,” Dr. Courtney Kahla, a chiropractic doctor, said in an email to The Epoch Times.
Ideally, the inflammatory response isn’t lengthy. But in many circumstances, the response is prolonged, thus stalling the healing process from effectuating. When inflammation is chronic, pain is chronic. This, in turn, leads individuals to use NSAIDs to block inflammation directly.
While the drugs provide immediate pain relief, “There’s actually a lot of evidence that shows blocking inflammation can make our pain last longer,” Kahla said.
One studyfound that NSAIDs inhibited proper bone and wound healing. Another study showed that people who used NSAIDs to treat lower back pain were likelier to end up with chronic pain.
However, there is good news: Nature has provided us with pain relievers that sometimes work as well or better than pharmaceuticals while also promoting healing. Depending on the chronic pain you or a loved one is experiencing, the list below aims to inform individuals how to manage pain without worrying about the potential side effects accompanying NSAIDs.
Specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs): SPMs are a class of molecules that the body naturally generates. Specifically, they are lipid mediators converted from the essential fatty acids in our diet. When inflammation emerges due to injury or sickness, SPMs are signaled to the inflamed area and work to facilitate healing.
Unlike how NSAIDs block inflammation, SPMs resolve inflammation by removing dead cells and other debris, thereby enabling the inflamed site to return to homeostasis.
“The beauty of using SPMs is you don’t shut down the natural inflammatory process that leads to healing and regeneration of tissue as you do with NSAIDs,” Dr. Matt Angove, a functional health care provider, told The Epoch Times in an email.
In a study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, SPM supplementation decreased pain and increased the quality of life of patients dealing with chronic pain. Another study (pdf) found similar results.
Many doctors are witnessing the positive effects of SPM supplementation in their clinical practices.
In one case, Angove had a 76-year-old female with multiple broken ribs and fractured thoracic vertebrae. This patient also experienced bad reactions from standard pain medications and NSAIDs.
“Unfortunately, rib fractures hurt with every breath, so we put her on 6 grams of SPMs a day, and she was able to sleep and heal fantastically without excruciating pain,” explained Angove.
Migraines and Headaches
Magnesium: According to a significant body of scientific literature, migraines and headaches are often caused by a lack of magnesium.
Therefore, when individuals with chronic migraines supplement with magnesium, they often experience a total reprieve from pain, given that the root issue—nutrient deficiency—is being addressed.
“I’ve had multiple patients with migraines that were driven by magnesium deficiency,” Dr. Joel Noland, an Idaho-based naturopathic physician, wrote in an email to The Epoch Times.
Noland’s clinical observations have shown that magnesium supplementation significantly reduces and prevents migraines for his patients.
Ginger and magnesium: In a double-blind study comparing the efficacy of ibuprofen versus ginger, researchers discovered that ginger was as effective as ibuprofen in managing menstruation pain.
Another systematic review found similar results, noting that the review “verified the possibility of ginger efficacy in the treatment of primary dysmenorrhea (menstruation pain)” and that the use of ginger was “very useful and effective as NSAIDs.”
A robust body of research supports magnesium’s role in alleviating menstrual pain.
Dr. Amadea Angove, a functional doctor and acupuncturist, reports these studies’ findings in her practice. “While the cause of severe pain from menstrual cramps should be investigated, magnesium can alleviate pain quickly and effectively,” she told The Epoch Times in an email.
Curcumin: Curcumin, the active anti-inflammatory agent of turmeric, has been used as a pain reducer for thousands of years. Moreover, curcumin has been demonstrated to be helpful to those who deal with chronic knee pain.
In a meta-analysis examining curcumin’s efficacy in treating pain caused by knee osteoarthritis, researchers found that curcumin is more effective than NSAIDs.
Because turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects are well known, many individuals take turmeric supplements, hoping it will alleviate their pain.
But as expressed by Matt Angove, many individuals do not experience symptom remission because turmeric supplements often do not contain significant amounts of curcumin, the active agent that reduces inflammation.
Therefore, he advises finding high-quality curcumin—not turmeric—supplements to ensure patients find pain relief.
Topical capsaicin cream and grounding: Capsaicin is a chemical derived from chili peppers, and depending on the athlete’s type of injury, it can be an effective way to reduce pain.
This molecule reduces inflammation by blocking a neurotransmitter that ignites pain. It’s most commonly used in high concentrations as a topical solution for individuals battling pain from tendinitis, muscle pain, or arthritis.
“It’s basically connecting the surface of your skin to the surface of the Earth, like your hands or feet to grass, dirt, or trees,” said Kahla. “The earth is like a huge battery that contains a subtle electrical charge. And to put it simply, our body runs off this electricity,” she explained.
Researchers in the Journal of Inflammation Research study wrote that grounding “enables free electrons from the Earth’s surface to spread over and into the body, where they can have antioxidant effects.”
Getting to the Root of Inflammation
Addressing the cause of pain is foundational if you wish to live pain-free. “Instead of saying, ‘I am in pain. I need a pill to feel better,’ we should ask ourselves, ‘What is my body trying to tell me?’” advised Kahla.
“If you have menstrual cramps, that could be your body’s way of saying your hormones aren’t balanced. If you have muscle pain, that’s your body’s way of saying, hey, don’t use this area of your body for a while.
“Our body is so good at telling us what it needs and sending messages to us. We just have to listen to it,” she added.