The Best Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Pain Killers

For generations, over-the-counter and prescription painkillers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, better known as “NSAIDS”, have been the go-to drug of choice for pain relief. The problem is, they don’t only relieve pain – they can destroy your health by damaging your stomach lining, harming your liver, and increasing your risk of death from a heart attack.  In fact, one analysis showed that the use of common NSAIDs can increase your cardiovascular disease risk by 30 percent, and risk of death from cardiovascular causes by 46 percent!

Prescription Dangers

The use of NSAIDs accounts for over 16,000 deaths every year. Prescription drugs such as celecoxib (one brand name is Celebrex) and diclofenac sodium (one brand name is Voltaren) are two NSAIDs frequently recommended for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other long-term chronic joint and muscle pain. But they are far from being benign. While both are widely used, they also can cause ulcers, headaches, dizziness, kidney damage, and risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, researchers are questioning whether or not blocking the activity of these enzymes works well in the long term. Small levels of inflammation – not enough to cause disease, but enough to encourage repair – can help build muscle tissue and physical resilience. Cutting that process off completely doesn’t always help in the long term. Additionally, some studies have found that pain, swelling, and hamstring injuries didn’t improve with NSAID use any more than they did with a placebo. That could be because the NSAIDS are actually delaying cartilage healing and muscle regeneration.

“Over-the-Counter” Doesn’t Mean “Safe!”

I talk a lot about the hidden dangers of prescription drugs, but the fact is, some of the most regularly used over-the-counter pain relievers are also some of the most dangerous. Ibuprofen is one of the most popular NSAIDs available, but that doesn’t mean it should be the “go-to” drug for pain. That’s because it can cause stomach pain, nausea, gastric bleeding, ulcers, confusion, hypertension, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, swelling or rapid weight gain, urinating less than usual or not at all, kidney failure, fever, sore throat, headache, rash, bruising, severe tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, neck stiffness, chills, increased sensitivity to light, and convulsions or seizures. Acetaminophen is not officially classified as an NSAID, but it remains an incredibly over-used pain reliever. But it is not safe. Acetaminophen use is actually the number one cause of liver failure, as well as the most common cause of serious overdose in North America. Combining it with alcohol increases its harmful liver effects. Beyond that, it depletes glutathione, one of your body’s vital, natural antioxidants and detoxifying compounds. Acetaminophen use and overuse is also associated with nausea, vomiting, abdominal tenderness, interference with normal blood clotting, weakness, kidney failure, and in the cases of severe overdose, death.

And Now for Some Good News-Curcumin!

Plant compounds work through many pain pathways and have been used safely and effectively for thousands of years to treat inflammation and improve joint health. They reduce enzymes associated with pain, like COX-2 and more, without side effects or health risks.  They can relieve chronic and acute pain and protect your muscles and joints from damage without risks to your stomach, liver, or brain. These natural compounds get to the source of inflammation rather than just covering symptoms like NSAID medications. You’ve most likely heard a lot about curcumin, or its parent plant, turmeric. In fact, the two are frequently confused, but the fact is, curcumin is a compound from turmeric. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been an integral part of Indian medicine and cuisine for thousands of years. But while turmeric provides curcumin, the two shouldn’t be confused when you’re looking for pain relief or any of curcumin’s other established benefits. Unstandardized turmeric powder contains only about two to three percent curcumin content. The main thing to remember about curcumin is this: If you are trying to get a therapeutic response, you need to make sure you’re getting a high enough dosage that absorbs well. Blending it with turmeric essential oil can make all the difference. A clinically studied curcumin – the subject of over 60 published studies – does exactly that. It combines curcumin with turmeric essential oil (also a source of aromatic turmerone, an additional anti-inflammatory compound) to ensure it gets absorbed better and stays in the bloodstream longer. Curcumin is one of the world’s best-studied botanical compounds. It works through virtually every pathway in the body, including COX-2, the same target of the many conventional drugs that cause organ damage and side effects. With curcumin, the only side effect is better health. Because it prevents a wide spectrum of inflammatory and oxidative damage, and relieves chronic and acute pain as effectively – and much more safely – than NSAIDs. Two additional ingredients that work synergistically with curcumin are DLPA and nattokinase. DLPA is a combination of d- and l-phenylalanine. These two amino acids help preserve your body’s own endorphins and natural pain-fighting compounds. They also help improve mood, which is a big factor in pain relief. Nattokinase is an enzyme that helps the curcumin and DLPA move through the bloodstream to reach sites of pain even more effectively.  If you’ve tried a turmeric/curcumin supplement for pain and inflammation and it didn’t work It’s very likely that you either were not getting enough absorbable curcumin to have a therapeutic effect or the product was not combined properly with other plant-based anti-inflammatory compounds.


Boswellia: An Amazing Gift for Your Health

Native to India, resin from the boswellia tree is considered the beneficial part of the plant, and gathering it is a very ‘hands-on’ form of harvesting. When the bark of the tree is scraped, it secretes a resin called “tears.” This resin is better known as frankincense. While the use of boswellia resin dates back thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, it is only in recent decades that the full potential of extracted boswellic acids has been studied in earnest. Unlike conventional drugs which usually target one pathway, boswellia affects multiple pathways in the body. But its most important benefit is probably its ability to block a particular inflammation pathway called the 5-LOX (5-lipoxygenase) pathway. 5-LOX inflammation is associated with many conditions, including allergies, asthma, arthritis, cancer, and digestive diseases including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease.

Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are not a long-term solution. Their side effects – stomach upset, liver damage, and increased risk of death from a heart attack – show that they can only be used for very limited situations. Fortunately, there are better choices out there. Clinically validated curcumin and boswellia are two of them. You can stop pain and damaging inflammation and add something to your daily regimen that will actually promote good health, rather than detract from it.


Michael Chase, MS, NTP

Nutrition Science and Dietetics

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Individuals should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The statements made in this informational document have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any product discussed is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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