7 Safer Alternatives to Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Anton Sheikh-Fedorenko
November 05, 2019

Are we living in a society that is too dependent on medications?

It is understandable that some conditions require pharmaceutical agents; however, for occasional issues such as minor headaches and pain, the first impulse for many people is to turn to over-the-counter (OTC) medications. The most popular OTC pain relievers are acetaminophen (brand names include: Tylenol, Paracetamol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NAIDs) such as ibuprofen (brand names include: Advil, Motrin). Although both these types of drugs reduce pain, they work differently in the body – NAIDs reduce the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances involved in pain and inflammation, while acetaminophen blocks pain signals within the central nervous system (i.e. brain and spinal cord). As seen through the mechanism of action, these drugs do not cure the underlying problem, but rather mask the symptoms. So, is it safe to take OTC pain relievers regularly?

Since OTC drugs do not require a prescription and are readily available, it is easy to assume that they are safe. Not True! As with physician-prescribed drugs, OTC ones also carry adverse health risks. For instance, studies have shown that consistent use of acetaminophen or NAIDs can cause negative side effects such as stomach ulcers and bleeding as well as kidney or liver damage. Particularly in the case of NAIDs, long-term use increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. A study involving 10 million participants found that those who are currently taking any NAID (use in preceding 14 days) had a 19% higher risk of hospitalization due to heart failure compared to those who had used the drug in the past (used > 183 days in the past) [1]. Turning our attention to pregnant women, medical doctors will usually recommend acetaminophen for pain since NAIDs studies have linked its usage to miscarriages and birth defects. However, acetaminophen isn’t completely safe either – a recently published study in the journal Pediatrics found that pregnant women who take acetaminophen continuously for 29 days or more during pregnancy had a 220% increase in risk for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis in their child [2].

Considering the dangers associated with OTC pain relievers, hundreds of thousands of people still regularly take them. Are there any natural pain relievers that are scientifically supported? The answer, thankfully, is Yes!
Here are 7 non-pharmacological pain relievers that are worth considering before reaching for the medicine cabinet.

1. Turmeriс

Turmeric is a yellow root that belongs to the ginger family and is commonly used as a spice in many dishes around the world. It is rich in nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium, niacin, potassium, and zinc. Additionally, turmeric contains curcumin, which is an antioxidant that helps protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Several clinical studies have shown the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antineoplastic effects of turmeric. Considering all the benefits associated with turmeric, it is no surprise that it is a major part of Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). With respect to how it measures up against OTC pain relievers, a 2009 and 2014 study demonstrated that compared to ibuprofen, turmeric extracts were a safe alternative and as effective for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis [3, 4]. Another study published in 2012 found that curcumin reduced joint pain in people with active rheumatoid arthritis better than an NSAID used for the condition [5].

2. Ginger

Ginger is a plant and its root has been used as a form of medicine in many cultures for thousands of years. Ginger has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties as well as has antimicrobial potential. It is best known for its digestive effects; however, research has also shown that it can help with pain caused by migraine headaches, menstruation, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have demonstrated that ginger is as effective as ibuprofen in the management of postsurgical pain [6] as well as relieving pain in women with dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual periods) [7].

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important for one’s health and considered to be one of the most effective natural anti-inflammatory agents available. The body can not produce omega-3 fatty acids and therefore must obtain it through diet or supplementation. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation with fish oil reduced arthritic pain and is as effective as ibuprofen [8].

4. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a commonly used spice with an abundance of health benefits. One of its many uses is for the management of pain and inflammation as in the case with patients with rheumatoid arthritis [9] or those who experience dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual periods). A study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research found that cinnamon was as effective as ibuprofen for lowering menstrual pain [10].

5. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy uses low voltage electric currents to treat both chronic and acute pain. TENS therapy has been shown to be successful in pain management [11] for people with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, back and neck pain, tendinitis, bursitis, fractures, postoperative, and labour pain, and menstrual pain. A 2002 study concluded that TENS therapy was more effective than NSAID in treating people with uncomplicated minor rib fractures [12].

6. Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF)

Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy has been shown to be useful in treating pain and inflammation. Studies have suggested that PEMF therapy is effective for pain management and improving functionality in people with knee osteoarthritis [13] as well as lower back conditions [14].

7. Acupuncture

Acupuncture, which is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), is one of the oldest healing techniques. It works by usually inserting thin needles into the skin to stimulate certain points on the body to relieve pain [15] or help treat other health conditions. A 2018 clinical trial reported that acupuncture combined with Chinese herbs was more effective for relieving menstrual pain than ibuprofen [16].

If you haven’t tried yet, infoceuticals (ICs) are another non-pharmacological alternative for pain relief. ICs have been used for over 25 years by energy and informational medicine practitioners to help their clients. On Infopathy, there are many ICs available for pain management, for you to try anytime and anywhere.



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