Pain Relievers from Nature’s Medicine Cabinet

If you’ve ever suffered from a headache, joint pain, toothache, backache, or aching muscles after a hard physical event, you’ve experienced the body’s inflammatory processes at work. It’s the body’s way of trying to heal itself. Unfortunately, sometimes the pain is difficult to bear. While there are plenty of common over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen that will get rid of painful symptoms, they may upset the stomach. Worse, long-term use of these drugs can cause serious gastrointestinal issues like bleeding ulcers. Fortunately, there are natural alternatives.

The Pain Cascade

It starts with the arachidonic acid cascade of inflammation. Arachidonic acid (ARA) is an omega-6 fatty acid that is produced from linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid. When there is too much of it, the body produces a variety of enzymes – COX-1, COX-2, and 5-LOX – to break it down. Unfortunately, these enzymes can cause some serious side effects. Over expression of COX-1 may cause blood clots, leading to heart attacks and strokes. COX-2 and 5-LOX produce compounds involved in chronic inflammation, destroying joints, tissues, causing pain, and setting the stage for degenerative disease.

But there are a number of natural compounds that inhibit these pathways of inflammation and help reduce inflammation from oxidative stress through their antioxidant action. Some of nature’s most effective pain relievers and anti-inflammatory compounds are found in hops alpha acids, turmeric’s curcumins, white willow, ginger, and rosemary.

Hops Alpha Acids

The bitter element in beer, hops alpha acid extracts have been shown to inhibit inductible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), prostaglandin E2, and other key enzymatic COX-2 pathway substances in the management of pain caused by inflammation. In a pilot study comparing it to 400 mg of ibuprofen over nine hours, results suggest that alpha acids from hops may represent a natural alternative for minor pain and inflammation, possibly providing important long-term safety advantages over OTC pain relievers.


Curcumin in the Indian herb turmeric, is a powerful COX-2 inhibitor; it also blocks 5-LOX and other inflammatory factors. Furthermore, its antioxidant activity neutralizes both reactive oxygen species (ROS) and nitrogen oxygen species (NOS) preventing these free radicals from creating inflammation.

White Willow

The bark of this ancient botanical, used in Traditional Chinese Medicine since 500 A.D., contains salicin, which was later purified to salicylic acid and then synthesized into acetylsalicylic acid. Acetylsalicylic acid is what constitutes aspirin. Aspirin is often used to treat pain and fever, but the drug is notorious for causing pain and damage to the stomach mucosal lining and is not recommended in conjunction with blood-thinning medications. The salicin in white willow alone is not enough to reduce pain or inflammation; however, in conjunction with antioxidant polyphenol and flavonoid compounds, the bark’s compounds were found to be effective for back pain without stomach distress.


This herb contains many compounds, most notably gingerols, that exhibit potent antioxidant activity. Ginger has a long history of use in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines for inflammatory disease caused by oxidative stress.


Rosemary contains powerful antioxidant compounds, which inhibit the iNOS enzyme as well as scavenging the oxidative activity of other free radicals.

Next time you experience minor aches and pains from inflammation, tap Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet for natural relief.