Natural vs OTC pain relief - Blog
Pain is a very general term, it can be mild, moderate or severe (of course each individual will feel it differently), it can be as a result of an injury (hello sprained ankle), it can be in our soft tissues or our nerves, it can be acute or chronic. Acute pain can be helpful, it tells you to stop whatever you’re doing in order to protect the body from more damage, such as a burn or broken bone. Acute pain usually goes when the tissue has healed. Chronic pain however is ongoing, lasting longer than six months, sometimes well after the original injury has healed, sometimes without the event of an injury.
Just what are your options for treating pain? In the event of an injury good old first aid of RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevate) can go a long way to minimising tissue damage and pain. Making sure you are moving your body in healthy ways – such as regular exercise that doesn’t cause pain or injury; eating well to provide nutrients for optimal physical function and healing; staying hydrated and getting enough sleep are all lifestyle practices will all go a long way to helping your body heal and recover from all manner of things. But if you need help beyond that, what do you reach for?
If you’re like a lot of us you probably have a few common medicines in your cupboard. There’s three very common pain relief medicines available in New Zealand without a prescription – that is you can walk into the chemist or even the supermarket for two of them and just buy them. This ease of supply leads a lot of us to think of them as fairly harmless, but that isn’t the case. There’s potential issues with gut health (ulceration and perforation), liver failure, kidney function, increased risk of serious cardiovascular events (heart attack and stroke) and more. The risk of these side effects increases the longer you have to use the drugs, which is a problem if you have chronic pain.
To be fair, the doses of these medicines that you can buy ‘over the counter’ are generally the lower doses available, meaning the occasional use of them is not likely to produce the side effects listed above for most people. The greatest danger is high doses and ongoing use of them. for people in chronic pain.
The information about these risk is freely available on the Medsafe website (search Medsafe data sheets, then enter the name of the medicine you wish to learn about), but the actual medicines you buy from either the chemist or the supermarket carry no such warnings. There seems to be a misconception with many people that they are quite safe, the fact you can pick them up with your groceries reinforces that.
So rather than popping these seemingly innocuous pain relievers, what can you do to help manage your pain? There are many natural compounds that can help with pain and inflammation, one of the fabulous things about natural compounds is that they are much more gentle on the body and very rarely carry any of the long list of potential side effects that some pharmaceutical medications do.
Even better than not having a potential serious negative impact on your health, most natural compounds have loads of positive side benefits – such as potent antioxidant activity that protects your cells, cardioprotective and antidiabetic effects, central nervous system activity including helping reduce neuroinflammation, healthy ageing benefits and more.
The main drawback of natural pain relievers is that they don’t tend to work as quickly as pharmaceutical ones. So if you’re looking for a quick fix to that throbbing headache that stretching, hydrating and moving away from screens didn’t help, then fish oil probably stop it in its tracks like you want. But if you’re one of thousands of Kiwis living with ongoing pain, then looking to natural products is a wise move, even if it is to use them in combination to be able to reduce the amount of pharmaceutical medicine needed. Taking certain nutrients may help to prevent the onset of certain painful events too – like magnesium for migraine prevention.
Some of the best natural compounds to look into for ongoing pain management include palmitoyl-ethanoly-amide (PEA), fish oil, resveratrol, polyphenols and bioflavonoids (found in lot of plants), rutin, bromelain, white willow bark, magnesium and many, many more.
While there is no guarantee of a miracle cure with any of these natural compounds, or pharmaceutical ones for that matter, the natural ones at least have a very good safety profile, with minimal side effects and the added bonus of multiple other health supporting properties. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
About the Author
We use a variety of authors from both naturopathic and medical backgrounds. We also have in house researchers that compile the latest information into an easily digestible format.
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