Herbs/Enzymes for Pain Relief, Anyone?
I have been asked by my patients, colleagues and friends alike, “Do herbs help relieve pain?”- The answer is YES. Many chronic conditions, such as arthritis, headaches, chronic abdominal pain, infant colic, neuropathy, fibromyalgia and back pain can be treated by herbs/enzymes. The problem is that herbs/enzymes, capsules/pills and liquid/tinctures come in varied strengths; and their preparation differs according to the manufacturer. Some companies may use fillers, which may inhibit the body’s absorptive capacity of the herbs/enzyme. In addition, the effects are potentially less potent and slower than with western medications. Thus, results may not be evident for weeks or months. There is a “sea” of herbal products on the market today, claiming to relieve pain. It is up to you to do your research, and separate what is fact from fiction. Remember- what works for one individual might not work for another. Also remember to be vigilant and listen to your body. Taken in large enough qualities, herbs may cause adverse side effects, and taken simultaneously with western medication, can also trigger an herb-drug interaction. In the event that you are experiencing such side effects seek a qualified health professional for an evaluation and treatment. Here is a brief list of some pain reducing herbs/enzymes.
1) Willow bark and meadowsweet are typically used to relieve aches and pains, such as a headache. Their main ingredient is salicin (the focal component in aspirin), which is converted in the stomach to form salicylic acid. The salicylic acid reduces pain by inhibiting substances called prostaglandins in the body that increases pain. This natural herb has also been shown to be mild to the stomach. Willow bark or meadowsweet comes in a tincture that can be purchased at any health food store or compounding pharmacy. It can be taken directly or boiled as a tea.
2) Feverfew is another herb that can be used to reduce fever, headaches, arthritis and digestive problems. The main ingredient seems to be a substance called parathenolide which constricts the blood vessels in the brain leading to the relief of migraine headaches.
3) Ginger is an anti-inflammatory herb used in Chinese cooking. It may reduce the symptoms of headaches, rheumatism and osteoarthritis by blocking the body’s prostaglandins. The Chinese use ginger to dispel “wind’ from the body when one gets a cold or the flu.
4) Licorice, ginseng and bupleurum are used in China to relieve pain by stimulating the pituitary and adrenal glands to increase the production of its hormone, cortisol (which reduces inflammation). Beware-used frequently, these herbs may increase the size of your adrenal glands and impair function.
5) Cat’s Claw is native to South America. In addition to having inflammatory properties, it is touted as an immune system booster. Researchers believe that cat’s claw may contain anti-arthritic compounds.
6) Guggu is an herb/resin which is from the myrrh tree. Ayurvedic medical practitioners have used guggu to fight inflammatory pain for years. It has been shown that people with arthritic pain have some relief with applications of guggu, turmeric, withania and zinc.
7) Turmeric is the spice that gives curry powder its familiar yellow tint. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which inhibits substance P, a neurotransmitter that sends pain signals to the brain. It is also noted that curcumin increases the cortisol’s anti-inflammatory property by increasing the body’s sensitivity to it.
Chili peppers help to relieve the pain in osteoarthritis, muscle aches and pain. Its mechanism of action also inhibits substance P. Although familiar in the spice rack, its main ingredient can also be found in capsaicin cream, a topical cream used to help relieve osteoarthritis and muscle pain.
9) Devil’s claw derives its name from the fruit it bears, which resembles a claw hand. It has been used for pain relief from arthritis, rheumatic diseases and lower back pain. Available as a tea and external ointment for inflammatory pain, it can also be given in injection form.
10) Yucca has been used by the Native American Indians to reduce swelling, pain and stiffness. They have traditionally used it in salves or ointments for healing wounds, skin diseases, sprains and broken limbs. The Yucca saponin extracts have also been used internally for painful bone and joint conditions.
11) Bosellia is a resin found in the bark of frankincense trees. It has been shown to prevent a chemical reaction in inflammation, and is used in Ayuvervedic medicine for the treatment of arthritis.
12) Bromelain is found in pineapple stems. It seems to be effective in inhibiting prostaglandins which may benefit people with arthritis, musculoskeletal condition and trauma related inflammatory disorders. So, the next time you drink a glass of pineapple juice think about how good you’ll feel! As this is not a comprehensive listing, please research other herbs/enzymes to relieve pain. With some exploration, you will find the right one. As a reminder, when in doubt, ask a qualified health professional who is knowledgeable in this area.
E. Kevin Mar M.D. appears courtesy of Pinetop-Lakeside Integrative & Physical Medicine LLC where he specializes in Pain Management, Acupuncture, Musculoskeletal Injury & Sports Medicine. He can be reached at 928-358-1648 or by E-mail: email@example.com.
(This article is intended for informational purposes only. The author’s information is intended to be accurate; however inaccuracies may occur. It is advised that the reader consult a knowledgeable health professional before beginning any herbal regimen- especially if one is taking western medication. In rare cases, herb-western medication interactions can be harmful.)