Pain is experienced by over 76 million people per year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 30% of adults report joint pain, with 18% reporting pain in their knees. Pain is the product of inflammation, and inflammation occurs as a defense mechanism. Inflammation can be caused by invading pathogens or injury; chronic inflammation can persist with poor diet, food allergies, stress, and environmental toxins.
Pain is typically treated based on the type of pain being experienced by the patient. Headaches or mild arthritic pain would be treated with Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory agents (NSAIDs). Neurological pain is best treated with anticonvulsants or Serotonin/Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors. Chronic pain is treated with Opioids, which are natural or synthetic compounds. Chronic pain can be debilitating and yet most pharmaceuticals come with a hefty list of side effects, including: stomach ulcers, kidney damage, liver damage, chemical imbalance in the bloodstream, or death.
There are several herbs and treatments that can be useful in alleviating pain without serious side effects.
White Willow Bark, Salix alba
White Willow contains glycosides & esters that are converted into salicin once they enter the stomach or small intestine. When salicin reaches the colon, gut flora digest salicin into salicyl alcohol and glucose. Salicyl alcohol (Saligenin) is then absorbed into the bloodstream & finally converted into its active form, salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is an analgesic and is the component of Asprin and Anti-Inflammatory drugs that acts as an antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. Modern day aspirin is derived from the bark of the White WIllow tree and is often used to reduce pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Aspirin and related anti-inflammatory drugs are known for irritating or damaging the stomach. White Willow taken in standard doses does not appear to have the same side effect. It is believed that most of the salicylic acid in White Willow is present in chemical forms that are only converted into salicylic acid after absorption from the gut.
Turmeric, Curcuma longa
Turmeric has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases, and wounds. The active property in Turmeric that gives it so many of these properties is Curcumin. Orally administered curcumin inhibits the inflammatory process on a cellular level. Curcumin works as an anti-inflammatory topical agent by depleting nerve endings of substance P, which is the neurotransmitter of pain. Although there are Turmeric supplements available, I believe that it is best incorporated into cooking.
Frankincense, Boswellia spp.
Frankincense has been shown to be effective for a variety of inflammatory conditions: rheumatologic complaints, asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, cough, indigestion, laryngitis, skin care, wounds, and inflammation of the GI. Frankincense contains terpenoids and boswellic acids, which have been shown to be specific, noncompetitive inhibitors of 5-lipoxygenase, the key enzyme for leukotriene biosynthesis. Boswellia inhibits pro-inflammatory mediators in the body by inhibiting the synthesis of leukotrienes. Unlike NSAIDs, Frankincense can be used long term without contributing to irritation or ulceration of the stomach.
I also believe that mind-body exercises, including deep breathing, and acupuncture can be effective in managing pain.
This post is in no way intended to imply that pain can be managed without pharmaceutical intervention; there are cases and conditions that require pharmaceutical intervention.