What if you could ease the agony of a backache or migraine without a prescription? You just might be able to -- by swapping pills for supplements.
Piercing, shooting, burning, stabbing -- even the vocabulary of chronic pain is distressing. Most people who live with it would do almost anything for relief. But medication can compound your problems with other risks: Narcotic painkillers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), for example, may cause gastrointestinal bleeding, heart attack, and stroke. The good news is, researchers are demonstrating that alternative remedies can complement and sometimes even replace these heavy-duty drugs. A few I swear by:
The Pain: Lower backache
Nature's RX: Devil's claw
The Khoisan tribes of the Kalahari Desert used this herb as a pain remedy for thousands of years before it was introduced to Europe in the early 1900s. One study found that devil's claw -- which contains an anti-inflammatory agent called harpagoside -- was just as effective as the prescription NSAID Vioxx, which was immensely popular before it was withdrawn from the market due to its cardiovascular side effects. I recommend taking an extract that provides 50 to 100 milligrams of harpagoside daily for as long as your pain lasts.
The Pain: Migraine
Nature's RX: Butterbur root
When a migraine strikes, cells in the brain release chemicals that cause inflammation. By interfering with some of those chemicals, butterbur can provide relief. In a study of migraine patients, 68 percent of those who took butterbur root reduced their number of attacks by at least 50 percent. Take 75 to 100 milligrams twice a day on an ongoing basis.
The Pain: Arthritis
Nature's RX: Fish oil
A 2009 study on osteoarthritis showed that people who regularly took a supplement rich in fish oil were able to reduce their use of pain meds by half. The oil's omega-3s help decrease the production of various chemicals that cause inflammation and pain in the joints. Look for a supplement that contains both EPA and DHA omega-3s, and take four to six grams a day.
The Pain: Menstrual cramps
Nature's RX: Vitamin E
Cramping is attributed to hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins, which cause the uterus to contract and expel its lining; women who have higher levels of prostaglandins get more intense cramps. Vitamin E can lower the levels of prostaglandins, and studies have shown that it can significantly reduce menstrual pain. Begin taking 400 IU a few days before your period, and continue through the first three days.
Ask Dr. Oz:
Q: Can over-the-counter pain medications reduce the effectiveness of my antidepressant?
Yes, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers from the Rockefeller University found that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) may interfere with the activity of the most commonly prescribed category of antidepressants, known as SSRIs. Patients who took an NSAID in addition to their SSRI were about 20 percent less likely to experience relief from their depressive symptoms.
But this isn't the only reason you shouldn't take both kinds of drugs at once: Each can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, and taking them together increases your risk. If you're on an SSRI, you and your doctor might want to consider alternative ways to treat your pain. Nature may have just the remedy you need; see my suggestions.
And remember, always consult with your doctor before starting any new medication or supplement.