Natural Alternatives to OTC Painkillers

Got a headache? Pop a pill! Pulled a muscle? Pop a pill! Broke your leg? Uhh…seek immediate medical treatment! While pills can’t cure everything, here in America they are the go-to remedy for almost every illness in the book!

But if you’re not convinced that popping pills is the way to go, it might be time to investigate the natural alternatives to everyday over-the-counter (OTC) pain remedies.

Willow Bark:
Although one of willow bark’s major claims to fame is that it was recommended by Hippocrates Cos (460-377 BC) to ease the pain associated with childbirth, the reality is this natural remedy was used centuries before by European practitioners and remains popular today for the treatment of pain, fever and inflammatory conditions. The key ingredient in willow bark – which also goes by the name salix alba and white willow – is salicilin, a derivative of the active ingredient in aspirin. In addition to willow bark, salicilin and salicylic acid can be found in several fruits including cantaloupe and grapes as well as the spices thyme, paprika, cumin, dill, oregano, turmeric, and curry powder.

If a particularly spicy spoonful of chili has ever had you reaching for your water glass, you’ve experienced the pain-relieving effects of capsaicin! Ok, fine, at the time you were actually more likely feeling the pain, but when that same ingredient is applied topically, it serves as a natural analgesic by blocking activity at the vanilloid receptor, which sits on pain sensory nerve endings. Are we advocating that you rub your next sprained ankle with chili peppers? Not quite. Instead, opt for a natural capsaicin cream in lieu of your usual muscle relaxant.

There’s a very good reason you mom gave you ginger ale when you were feeling sick as a child (and no, it’s not because it was the only soda left in the house!). Turns out ginger’s active ingredient, gingerols, mimics the chemical structure of capsaicin (see above) to block the vanilloid receptor and reduce pain. Unlike capsaicin, which causes a small amount of pain before blocking the receptor, ginger provides pain relief without the burn. In addition, gingerols prevent the build-up of blood platelets to reduce inflammation and thin the blood and are more soothing on the intestinal tract than traditional aspirin treatments. Ginger is most frequently taken in the form of a herbal tea, however, researchers are currently exploring whether powdered forms may be more effective.

Chalk another one up for Omega-3s, which studies show can reduce inflammation and pain, particularly those associated with chronic back ailments, osteoarthritis and other chronic pain conditions. The key behind Omega-3s healing powers lies in its EPA and DHA content, which boost your body’s levels of the chemicals that minimize inflammation and its associated pain. To increase your Omega-3 intake, add cold water fish – such as salmon, tuna and mackerel – to your diet or try a pharmaceutical-grade supplement (check out our store!) that contains low levels of mercury and other harmful heavy metals.

Vitamin C:
Although traditionally touted as the thing to take before you feel sick, Vitamin C – but more specifically ascorbic acid – has some pain-relieving properties too! Found in broccoli, black currants, citrus fruits, kale, parsley, and peppers, Vitamin C helps build collagen in the muscles to prevent injury, has diuretic properties that flush muscles of toxins, and has been shown in studies to help reduce the pain associated with musculoskeletal cancerous tumors.

Think you’ve got a lot on your plate? Consider the mineral magnesium, which plays an integral role in over 300 body processes, one of which is pain relief. Touted most frequently as a treatment for migraines, magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant and has been shown to reduce the intensity and duration of migraines as well as reduce reliance on prescription migraine medications. To make sure you’re meeting your magnesium requirements, be sure to add plenty of soy, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables to your diet.

Vitamin E:
Although vitamin E is typically associated with improving the condition of the skin – particularly in preventing scarring and stretch marks – it is also an extremely effective treatment for menstrual cramps when taken 3-5 days before menstruation onset. Experts recommend taking about 500 IU Vitamin E daily, which can be achieved either by taking a supplement or high-quality vitamin or by upping your intake of Vitamin E-dense foods such as spinach, olives, nuts, and turnips.

Although most frequently touted as an anti-inflammatory, glucosamine has been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen at reducing pain (but with fewer side effects!). Because glucosamine is a naturally-occurring substance in the body and there are no dietary sources, experts recommend that patients considering taking supplements of glucosamine sulfate – which is thought to be the most effective form of the neutraceutical – in doses of either 500, 750, and 1,000 mg.

Although use of most of these remedies is widely supported by the medical community, it is always best to consult a physician before taking a new remedy, especially if you have any chronic conditions or are taken any other medications that might counter or otherwise alter the effect of the drug.

Pain management without the use of traditional OTC pain remedies isn’t limited to supplementation. What are your tips and tricks to naturally rid your body of a nagging pain?

FUNKYAH Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Should I Get a Flu Shot?

Migraine News and Tips

MindHacks: Pain in the Neck, Mind, Brain and Society

That’s Fit: Heal Your Pain with Yoga

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12 thoughts on “Natural Alternatives to OTC Painkillers”

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  1. Good list…, I’ve found using ZMA (zinc and magnesium) to dramatically help with muscle pains after strenous workout activities.

    I would also add:
    Water – drink more!
    Tumeric – Natural anti-inflammatory
    Lose the artificial sweenters/diet sodas if you have migraines
    and of course…dumb all sugars as they are just pro-inflammatory.

    It’s amazing how much relief can come from simple solutions and just eating right in the first place!

  2. Hi Mike, AWESOME post. I blog about natural ways to heal and would love your knowledge on my blog for some of my readers! Please email me if you would be interested in doing a guest post or having me feature this or another article of yours on my blog. Thank you — you really have a lot of knowledge to offer! Gratefully, Jenny

  3. Does anyone have a glucosamine brand recommendation that does not contain shellfish?

  4. Thanks for natural alternative list for OTC. I am currently supplementing my diet with milled flax seed and indeed its Omega 3 content helps with pain and inflammation–particularly muscle soreness following workouts.

  5. Once a person understands why their skin is dry, they can begin learning effective ways of providing the care needed to restore it back to a healthy condition. There are many home remedies for dry skin that you can do yourself, without spending lots of money on commercial skin care products.

  6. I came down with severe rheumatoid arthritis 2 years ago. It was so painful, I couldn’t even stand up. I crawled on my knees and elbows to the kitchen to get a drink of water.
    I was then 37 years old and nobody in my family has ever had this condition.
    This was all way before I started researching about health and nutrition…and I was far from stumbling upon Marksdailyapple site.
    I have been researching pet nutrition though since my Mastiff had died and I had another puppy in mind with the intend to do everything right this time.

    I used Filling N the Wholes to cure my rheumatoid arthritis. It is a pet supplement though. Now I have no idea what it was that made the pain slowly go away.
    I’ve researched every single ingredient and it’s very nutritious. This is a supplement that keeps a dog or cat alive no matter how crappy the overall diet of the animal is. (notice I said alive no healthy)

    Btw, my 4 dogs are all thriving on a raw diet (bones, guts, roadkill, heads, eyeballs,..) and after watching them for about a year I have come to the conclusion that maybe there is something to that whole raw diet thing.

  7. Great post, except under magnesium sources you say to eat plenty of soy….? Mistake, no?

  8. Excellent site you’ve got here.. It’s hard to find good quality writing like yours these days.
    I really appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

  9. Ice, ice baby! No don’t stick it in your drink, stick it on the bit that hurts (wrapped in a teatowel or similar). CW states to put ice on an injury to take down swelling but will tell you it doesn’t help if there isn’t any obvious swelling. My Chiropractor is adamant that ice should be used on any painful joints even if there isn’t obvious swelling as there may still be inflammation (and I believe a whole host of other reasons which I may have failed to listen to – hey I tried it didn’t I). I’ve found it works very well, much better than heat (which is what my physio insisted I should be using). I also have fibromyalgia and I have found that when I have hideous crawling pain down my arms heat makes this significantly worse, however, placing an icepack (or bag of frozen peas) on the point where my upper back meets my neck can make a huge difference to my level of pain.