Pain is a part of life as much as we would like to avoid it. A headache, a sprained ankle or aching joints are unwelcome occurrences in the lives of most people. But what happens when pain becomes a daily experience and starts to affect our quality of life? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. An estimated 25 percent of Americans have suffered from pain that lasts longer than 24 hours. It’s the most common reason Americans access the health care system. Chronic pain, defined by the NIH as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks, is a leading cause of disability in the United States. It’s also a major contributor to health care costs in the United States.
Because pain is a subjective experience, there is no “one size fits
all” solution to dealing with it. Pain—whether acute or chronic—comes in
many forms and is big business for drug companies. Unfortunately, many anti-pain prescription drugs,
such as opiates (oxycodone/OxyContin) or non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS like Celebrex), include unwelcome and
potentially dangerous side effects. Oxycontin, for example, can cause:
nausea, vomiting, addiction, weakness and dizziness, to name a few of
its side effects.
Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has created powerful anti-pain
medicine that we can take in the form of fruit, spices and herbs.
Combined with other non-drug pain management techniques like massage,
pain sufferers have viable and delicious options that contribute to a
healthy, fulfilling life. Here are five edible solutions to eliminate
Bromelain: This enzyme is most commonly linked with fresh pineapple and has a long history of combating pain and inflammation. In a study reported in Clinical Immunology,
researchers from Duke University Medical Center found bromelain reduced
production of several pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines that
are elevated in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and play a role in the
progression of IBD as well as pain linked to the disease.
Cayenne: This popular spice gives food a spicy kick;
however, it’s also proven to increase circulation (which can aid in the
healing of physical injuries) and reduce pain. The pain-fighting
ingredient in cayenne is capsaicin, a known analgesic and
anti-inflammatory compound. A 2013 study
out of Australia National University concluded that capsaicin produced
anti-inflammatory effects that were comparable to diclofenac, an NSAID
prescribed for mild to moderate pain, symptoms of osteoarthritis or
rheumatoid arthritis, menstrual cramps and migraines. While cayenne can
cause stomach upset in sensitive people who ingest too much of the
spice, this symptom is typically far less dangerous compared to the side
effects linked with diclofenac.
Cherries: Consuming cherries instead of pain drugs?
Sounds like a no-brainer. This delicious tree fruit contains compounds
called anthocyanins, which are antioxidant flavonoids found in many
colorful plants, such as berries, grapes and cherries. The antioxidant
properties are linked with numerous health benefits, and researchers at
The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore found that tart cherry
anthocyanins have a beneficial role in the treatment of inflammatory pain.
Ginger: This delicious root has been used for
thousands of years in the Ayurvedic medical traditions of India as a
natural pain fighter. Check out my article Ginger is Better than Drugs for Pain.
Ginger is a great addition to many meals, including Indian and
Thai-inspired curries, as well as hot and cold teas. While ginger is
available in supplement form, the fresh root is really your best bet for
fighting pain. It’s also a great digestive aid.
Turmeric: a staple of Indian cuisine, turmeric (Curcuma longa)
is a yellow spice grown primarily in India and Indonesia. It can be
found in its raw form in most grocery and health food stores and is
available in supplement form in a standardized extract. The main
therapeutic ingredient in turmeric is curcumin,
which has been shown to deplete nerve endings of substance P, a pain
neurotransmitter. Depleting this substance interrupts pain signals and
reduces the sensation of pain. Turmeric also inhibits pain using a
similar mechanism as drugs such as cyclo-oxygenase (COX-1 and COX-2)
inhibitors, common forms of NSAIDS with unsavory side effects.
For acute pain, four tablespoons of turmeric powder mixed into water
or honey can be taken every day. Turmeric is bitter on its own and the
honey can make it more palatable. In supplement form, up to 1500 mg of curcumin daily is safe; however, if you are taking blood thinners, you should consult your physician before supplementing with curcumin.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM, is an international best-selling and 18-time published book author, whose works include: The Probiotic Promise: Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out (DaCapo, 2015).