Naturopathic Strategies for Pain Relief

pexels-anna-shvets-3683039

Anyone who has ever suffered with pain knows how debilitating it can be, particularly when it’s chronic. Yet the conventional solution—strong, pharmaceutical medicines—are turning out to be worse than the problem. They certainly get rid of pain— but at what cost?

Pain and Opioids

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the US is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic. Since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths that involved opioids nearly quadrupled, with over 165,000 people dying just from prescription opioid overdoses 1,2,3.

And that’s just the hard stuff. Consider that 107,000 patients are hospitalized annually for NSAID-related gastrointestinal complications, and at least 16,500 NSAID-related deaths occur each year just among arthritis patients alone4. To put this number into context, it’s about the same number of people who die from AIDS every year. “If deaths from gastrointestinal toxic effects from NSAIDs were tabulated separately in the National Vital Statistics reports, these effects would constitute the 15th most common cause of death in the US”, says a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine5.

What’s particularly frightening is that that report was written in 1999. The problem has gotten exponentially worse since then6.

Over-the-counter Pain Medication

Even such common over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen and aspirin are not without their problems. The excellent website GreenMedInfo has compiled a list of 71 studies that link aspirin to a broad range of side effects ranging from gastric ulcers to cerebral bleeding to H-pylori infections7,8, and 24 studies linking Ibuprofen to adverse health effects that include anemia, DNA damage, hypertension, and miscarriage9,10. There have been at least five studies that claim NSAIDs cause heart problems, and one—published in the journal Circulation—showed that NSAIDS can greatly and quickly increase the risk of death in those who have already suffered one heart attack11.

Tylenol (acetaminophen) has problems of its own. Acetaminophen is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States12. Ironically, the standard treatment for acute liver failure is N-acetylcysteine, a relative of the amino acid L-cysteine, and a regular part of any licensed naturopathic doctor’s treatment arsenal13.

While strong pharmaceuticals (like OxyContin and Vicodan) and over-the-counter NSAIDs (aspirin, Alleve, Motrin, Advil) certainly have a place in treatment protocols, they’re not the first choice of a naturopathic physician. Many herbs, botanicals, spices, supplements like fish oil and complementary treatments like acupuncture, have a long history of effectiveness in lowering pain and inflammation. Here is a sampling of some effective natural treatments for pain.

Omega-3s

“Fish oil is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties”, says Michael Cronin, ND, a naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, Az., and past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. A study comparing ibuprofen and the omega-3s found in fish oil (EPA and DHA) “demonstrated equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain”14. The authors concluded that fish oil supplements “may be a safer alternative to NSAIDs” for some patients.

Curcumin

Curcumin is a wonderful example of a natural medicine. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric, the bright orange spice used in Indian food and curries. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and has been studied for its beneficial effects on the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis15 and as an anti-inflammatory agent in neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, autoimmune and neoplastic diseases16.

Since curcumin is not terribly well-absorbed, it’s best to look for products that use the BCM-95 form of curcumin, such as Curamin by Terry Naturally, widely available in health and vitamin stores. Studies show that BCM-95 curcumin is somewhat better absorbed than the garden-variety kind.

Capsaicin

Capsaicin comes from hot chili peppers, and has a long history of use in the practice of natural medicine. It decreases substance P—a compound involved in the transmission of pain signals17—and has been shown to be effective in diabetic neuropathy, postsurgical pain, and Guillain-Barre’ syndrome18. Patients at the New England Center for Headache were able to significantly decrease the intensity of both migraine and cluster headaches after using capsaicin cream inside their nostrils19.

Spices, botanicals, and herbs

Many other spices, botanicals, and herbs have a long history of medicinal use. The American Pain Foundation lists, for pain management, ginseng (for fibromyalgia), kava kava (for tension headaches), St. John’s Wort (for arthritis and sciatica) and valerian root (for spasms and muscle cramps.) Ginger contains potent phytochemicals which help flight inflammation.

Feverfew, a medicinal herb, has been used as a headache remedy for centuries, as has butterbur.

Some over-the-counter products meant to ease pain (like InflaTera or Zyflamend) are mixes of herbs and botanicals like turmeric, ginger and holy basil. Your naturopathic physician will be able to customize combinations of natural substances in the correct doses for your individual situation.

SAMe

SAME-e (S adenosylmethionine) is well known for its effect on mood, but it also helps with joint pain by reducing inflammation.

One study showed that SAM-e was as effective as most NSAIDs in reducing arthritis-related achiness20.

Heat and ice

Heat and ice have long been used as traditional remedies for pain. Personal trainers are taught the acronym RICE for dealing with typical athletic injuries: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center Website, heat and cold are the two most common types of nonaddictive, noninvasive, non-toxic pain-relieving therapies both for joint pain and for muscle pain21.

Ice decreases blood flow to the injury (lowering swelling and inflammation) while heat opens up blood vessels, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the area and relaxing sore muscles.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture originated 3000 years ago in China, and has a long history of being used for pain22. Guidelines issued by the American College of Physicians recommended that acupuncture be considered as one of several nondrug approaches physicians should consider with patients who have chronic low-back pain23.

Resveratrol

Reseveratrol is a good example of a natural medicine that can be used in conjunction with conventional pain treatments, making those medicines even more effective (and, hopefully, reducing the amount of those medicines needed to be prescribed.)

Resveratrol has been investigated for decades for its multiple beneficial effects on everything from aging to inflammation to insulin sensitivity.

But in the last few years, it’s been recently noted that resveratrol preserves the pain-relieving effects of morphine24,25, making a dose of that powerful (but potentially dangerous) medication last a lot longer so you need less of it. Resveratrol also seems to have the ability to lower substance P—a compound in the body that transmits pain impulses26. Animal studies show that resveratrol lowers neuropathic pain by balancing the release of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines27.

Summing Up

This is a far from complete list, but it should give you an idea of the range of available pain treatments that do not require toxic and dangerous drugs with their significant potential for addiction.

Though there are certainly MDs who are aware of some of these treatments, most are not. Naturopathic physicians, by the very nature of their training, are deeply familiar with all of them, and will develop an individualized, multi-modal, non-toxic treatment plan before reaching for the “hard stuff”.

_____________________________________________________________

References

  1. http://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/Factsheet-opioids-061516.pdf
  2. CDC Vital Signs, 60(43): 1487-1492
  3. Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2016. Available at http://wonder.cdc.gov.
  4. Singh Gurkirpal, MD, “Recent Considerations in Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug Gastropathy”, The American Journal of Medicine, July 27, 1998, p. 31S
  5. Wolfe M. MD, Lichtenstein D. MD, and Singh Gurkirpal, MD, “Gastrointestinal Toxicity of Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs”, The New England Journal of Medicine,a June 17, 1999, Vol. 340, No. 24, pp. 1888-1889.)
  6. Frenk SM, Porter KS, Paulozzi LJ. Prescription opioid analgesic use among adults: United States, 1999–2012. NCHS data brief, no 189. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.
  7. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/toxic-ingredient/aspirin
  8. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/ibuprofen-kills-more-pain-so-what- alternatives
  9. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/toxic-ingredient/ibuprofen
  10. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/ibuprofen-kills-more-pain-so-what-alternatives
  11. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/115/12/1634
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2504411/
  13. ibid
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187
  15. http://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2012/8/safely-manage-joint-inflammation/page-01
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2637808/
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15334652
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048583/
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8495452
  20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12019049
  21. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4483
  22. http://ceaccp.oxfordjournals.org/content/7/4/135.full
  23. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction
  24. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120925114337.htm
  25. http://spinalstenosis.org/blog/chronic-pain-relief-improved-resveratrol-morphine/
  26. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3634096/
  27. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26953646

Leave a Comment

Trending Posts

Explore

error: Content is protected. To collaborate with us, email info@naturemed.org!

Get our Natural Medicine newsletter

Subscribe for easy wellness tips and the latest research in natural medicine.

Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

Get Involved!

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.