Natural Pain Relievers

by Sue Taggart

Rummaging around your local park may not be the first thing you think of when looking for a painkiller, but you’ll be surprised at what you can find. Fox News ran a segment on Steve Brill, also known as the ‘Wildman,’ who gives foraging tours of Central Park and he recently took Chris Kilham aka the ‘Medicine Hunter’ with him. Steve encouraged Chris to chew on a twig of Black birch, betula lenta, a natural pain reliever. The Native Americans first discovered the pain relieving properties of black birch. Oil of Wintergreen is the common name and this is a classic compound from which aspirin was derived. As well as relieving pain, like low-dose aspirin, drinking black birch tea every day can lower your risk of a heart attack.

Many people in pain are also going back to nature for relief. Most people who live with chronic pain will do almost anything to relieve it, but medications can compound the problem with side effects and other risks. Narcotic painkillers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s) for instance have been known to cause serious gastrointestinal bleeding and sometimes heart attack and stroke. But, there are many natural options that are safe and effective.

Two that I personally have taken to help manage the pain from rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups are Devil’s Claw and Fish Oils. The herb Devil’s Claw has been used for thousands of years as a natural pain remedy. It contains an anti-inflammatory agent called harpagoside, which in a study was found to be just as effective as the prescription drug Vioxx. In a 2009 study with patients suffering from osteoarthritis, when taking a fish oil supplement they were able to reduce their pain meds by half. Omega 3’s in fish oil help to decrease the production of various chemicals that cause inflammation and pain in the joints, plus it has the added bonus of being great for your skin!

Migraine sufferers can often find relief with Feverfew. Feverfew is both edible and medicinal. It has a good reputation as alternative medicine and extensive research has proved it to be of special benefit in the treatment of certain types of migraine headaches and rheumatism or arthritis. The plant is rich in sesquiterpene lactones, the principal one being parthenolide. Parthenolide helps prevent excessive clumping of platelets and inhibits the release of certain chemicals, including serotonin and some inflammatory mediators. Another popular natural migraine pain reliever is Butterbur root. When a migraine strikes, cells in the brain release chemicals that cause inflammation, Butterbur interferes with some of these chemicals. In a study of migraine patients, 68% of those who took Butterbur root reduced the number of migraine attacks by 50%.

Women have been finding relief from menstrual cramps by taking 400IU’s of Vitamin E a few days before their period begins and through the first three days. Menstrual cramping is attributed to hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins. These compounds cause the uterus to contract and expel its lining. Women who have higher levels of prostaglandins get more intense cramps. Studies have show that Vitamin E can lower levels of prostaglandins which in turn significantly reduces menstrual pain.

All of these natural painkillers can be found on the shelves of your local health food store, there’s no need to go hunting in the park—unless you want to of course!

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