Pain is a part of life as much as we would like to avoid it. A headache, a sprained ankle or aching joints are unwelcome occurrences in the lives of most people. But what happens when pain becomes a daily experience and starts to affect our quality of life? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. An estimated 25 percent of Americans have suffered from pain that lasts longer than 24 hours. It’s the most common reason Americans access the health care system. Chronic pain, defined by the NIH as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks, is a leading cause of disability in the United States. It’s also a major contributor to health care costs in the United States.
Because pain is a subjective experience, there is no “one size fits all” solution to dealing with it. Pain—whether acute or chronic—comes in many forms and is big business for drug companies. Unfortunately, many anti-pain prescription drugs, such as opiates (oxycodone/OxyContin) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS like Celebrex), include unwelcome and potentially dangerous side effects. Oxycontin, for example, can cause: nausea, vomiting, addiction, weakness and dizziness, to name a few of its side effects.
Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has created powerful anti-pain medicine that we can take in the form of fruit, spices and herbs. Combined with other non-drug pain management techniques like massage, pain sufferers have viable and delicious options that contribute to a healthy, fulfilling life. Here are five edible solutions to eliminate pain.
Bromelain: This enzyme is most commonly linked with fresh pineapple and has a long history of combating pain and inflammation. In a study reported in Clinical Immunology, researchers from Duke University Medical Center found bromelain reduced production of several pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines that are elevated in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and play a role in the progression of IBD as well as pain linked to the disease.
Cayenne: This popular spice gives food a spicy kick; however, it’s also proven to increase circulation (which can aid in the healing of physical injuries) and reduce pain. The pain-fighting ingredient in cayenne is capsaicin, a known analgesic and anti-inflammatory compound. A 2013 study out of Australia National University concluded that capsaicin produced anti-inflammatory effects that were comparable to diclofenac, an NSAID prescribed for mild to moderate pain, symptoms of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, menstrual cramps and migraines. While cayenne can cause stomach upset in sensitive people who ingest too much of the spice, this symptom is typically far less dangerous compared to the side effects linked with diclofenac.
Cherries: Consuming cherries instead of pain drugs? Sounds like a no-brainer. This delicious tree fruit contains compounds called anthocyanins, which are antioxidant flavonoids found in many colorful plants, such as berries, grapes and cherries. The antioxidant properties are linked with numerous health benefits, and researchers at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore found that tart cherry anthocyanins have a beneficial role in the treatment of inflammatory pain.
Ginger: This delicious root has been used for thousands of years in the Ayurvedic medical traditions of India as a natural pain fighter. Check out my article Ginger is Better than Drugs for Pain. Ginger is a great addition to many meals, including Indian and Thai-inspired curries, as well as hot and cold teas. While ginger is available in supplement form, the fresh root is really your best bet for fighting pain. It’s also a great digestive aid.
Turmeric: a staple of Indian cuisine, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a yellow spice grown primarily in India and Indonesia. It can be found in its raw form in most grocery and health food stores and is available in supplement form in a standardized extract. The main therapeutic ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which has been shown to deplete nerve endings of substance P, a pain neurotransmitter. Depleting this substance interrupts pain signals and reduces the sensation of pain. Turmeric also inhibits pain using a similar mechanism as drugs such as cyclo-oxygenase (COX-1 and COX-2) inhibitors, common forms of NSAIDS with unsavory side effects.
For acute pain, four tablespoons of turmeric powder mixed into water or honey can be taken every day. Turmeric is bitter on its own and the honey can make it more palatable. In supplement form, up to 1500 mg of curcumin daily is safe; however, if you are taking blood thinners, you should consult your physician before supplementing with curcumin.