We have all been afflicted by the debilitating effects of aches and pains, only to rush to the pharmacy for some over-the-counter (OTC) pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. However, the healing process can begin at home with everyday kitchen ingredients. Natural herbs and spices, from capsaicin to turmeric, can offer relief for many conditions, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and even muscle strains, without the side effects of OTC meds.
There are many reasons why we should pay attention to what we eat. After all, food in itself is a sort of medicine. By eating a variety of foods from all the food groups, we can ensure we’re getting the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients our body needs to sustain our immune system. A 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found carbohydrate quality is much more important than carbohydrate quantity when it comes to preventing weight gain and chronic diseases, including the painful disease arthritis.
Marci Clow, a registered dietician and nutritionist at Rainbow Light, believes the best way to prevent pain is to eat healthy. “[E]at a well-balanced, mostly plant based diet and simply incorporate foods that help maintain weight and reduce inflammation, while cutting back on foods that induce inflammation such as fried and processed foods.”
So, what food ingredients with anti-inflammatory benefits should you add to your diet to fight off aches and pains?
Aquamin (Red Seaweed): Osteoarthritis Inflammation and Pain
This natural multi-mineral supplement derived from the seaweed Lithothamnium calcareum is sourced off the coast of Ireland. It is rich in calcium and magnesium, which can help with knee joint-related inflammation. A 2008 study published in the Nutrition Journal showed aquamin may reduce joint inflammation and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis in the knee. Aquamin users experienced a reduction in arthritis pain by 20 percent within a month, as well as less stiffness when compared to their counterparts taking placebo’s.
It’s the seaweed’s rich mineral content that allows to improve bone density as well as promote joint mobility and flexibility, according to Clow.
Bromelain: Nose, Sinuses, Osteoarthritis, and Muscle Soreness
This anti-inflammatory enzyme found in pineapple juice and the pineapple stem is used to reduce swelling — especially in the nose and sinuses— after surgery or injury. It reduces inflammation by causing the body to produce substances that fight pain and swelling. Additionally, it prevents blood from clotting in a number of ways, including aiding in the breakdown of the clotting protein fibrin, making it another exceptional food for those who experience inflammation, Clow said.
A 2011 study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research found using bromelain as an anti-wear-and-tear nutrient was effective in enhancing the recovery process following an injury or surgery. Researchers crushed the Achilles tendons of Sprague-Dawley rats and fed them bromelain for 14 days, finding they experienced quicker healing rates.
Capsaicin: Arthritis, Migraine, and Diabetic Neuropathy
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in red chili peppers, has medicinal properties that can provide relief from arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, and migraines. It works by binding to a protein on neurons that cause the feelings of pain and heat. This activates the neurons and causes them to send out substance P, a neurotransmitter partly responsible for the sensation of pain. When the neurons are exposed to capsaicin for a long period of time, their substance P levels are depleted and they’re less able to transmit pain signals.
A 2003 study published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia found capsaicin’s therapeutic effect could be delivered via the nose for treating chronic migraines. The subjects sprayed a jelly capsaicin formula once daily for seven days, applying the spray inside the nose on the same side as the migraine. All patients treated with capsaicin reported a 50 to 80 percent improvement in the symptoms of their migraines.
Ginger: Aches, Nausea, Osteoarthritis
The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger are known to relieve nausea, arthritis, headaches, menstrual cramps, and muscle soreness. Ginger provides natural pain relief by inhibiting inflammatory pathways. “One of the features of inflammation is increased oxygenation of arachidonic acid, which is metabolized by the COX-2 and LOX pathways. Ginger can inhibit these pathways,” Clow said.
A 2001 study published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism found ginger extract could possibly become a substitute for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The study compared the effects of a ginger extract to a placebo in patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. The ginger extract reduced pain and stiffness in knee joints by 40 percent compared to the placebo. This is attributed to ginger’s ability to affect certain inflammatory processes at a cellular level, as Clow mentioned.
Turmeric: Sprains, Strains, Bruises, and Joint Inflammation
This popular orange and yellow spice can help provide natural pain relief for a series of ailments due to its active ingredient, curcumin. It is known to naturally shutdown COX-2 enzymes, which are involved in inflammatory processes, according to Clow. Turmeric has even been proven to work just as well as ibuprofen.
A 2009 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine compared curcumin with ibuprofen for pain relief in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Curcumin was found to ease and improve function in a similar fashion as ibuprofen treatment. Moreover, it served as an alternative for those who cannot take medicine such as OTC pain relievers.
Using these herbs and spices may help strengthen the immune system and treat diseases, but it is always best to talk with a physician before using any natural remedies.