By Russell H. Greenfield, MD Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine
Pain is one of the most common reasons for a doctor’s visit. Your physician will evaluate you, consider the need for diagnostic tests, and appropriately recommend over-the-counter aids or offer a prescription for pain medication when indicated. Typical pain relievers often have troubling side effects even when effective, but there are a small number of natural medicines that can safely help relieve pain.
Zyflamend for Back Pain
I often recommend the use of an agent called Zyflamend (New Chapter, Inc) for the relief of uncomplicated lower back pain, most commonly due to inflamed muscles. Zyflamend contains a mixture of ten different anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herbs, including turmeric (Curcuma longa) and ginger (Zingiber officinale), that work together to quench the fires of inflammation and help relieve pain. I usually prefer single agent remedies, but this product has been the focus of research trials and appears to be safe when used properly. Some of the ingredients could thin your blood slightly, so use caution if you are taking blood-thinning medication or are scheduled for an invasive medical procedure. A typical dose of zyflamend for the management of mild to moderate muscle pain would be 1 softgel twice a day with food for up to 4 weeks.
Butterbur for Migraines
One of my favorite remedies to help prevent migraine headaches is the herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus), which appears to help stabilize irritable blood vessels that may contribute to migraine pain, as well as offer anti-inflammatory actions. In one trial, researchers found that taking 75 mg of butterbur daily over 4 months cut the incidence of migraine headaches nearly in half. In addition, butterbur is an effective agent for the treatment of hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis. It is not unusual for people to develop headaches in association with their seasonal allergies, and butterbur might help in this instance, too. Only buy products that are labeled “PA Free,” meaning they do not contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can damage the liver. A reasonable adult starting dose for the prevention of migraine headaches would be 75 mg twice a day with meals. Some people may need to increase the dosage to 100 mg twice daily for symptom relief.
Bromelain for Sinus Pain and More
One other agent to keep in mind, especially with spring and summer just around the corner, is bromelain, a complex mixture of enzymes derived from pineapple (Ananas comosus). Bromelain possesses anti-inflammatory actions, helps minimize swelling, and is very effective for promoting the healing of damaged tissues, especially minor bruises. It is also used frequently to help relieve discomfort associated with sinus congestion as seen with hay fever or sinus infections. Some doctors recommend that their patients undergoing nasal surgery take bromelain for a few days to help manage post-operative swelling and discomfort. Be aware that bromelain is another agent that can thin the blood and increase the chances of bleeding. To relieve sinus pain, start taking bromelain at the first sign of symptoms, 200 mg twice a day for 4-6 days.
For mild to moderate discomfort, the remedies just described may offer you effective pain relief without significant side effects. Check with your doctor first to be sure there is no reason you should avoid using these agents.