Painkillers such as ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac are classified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - they are widely used and available over the counter. However recent studies have brought attention to the potentially serious side effects these drugs have when taken regularly over a long period of time. Specifically they have been linked to kidney, bone, hearing and cardiovascular problems, and most recently they have been linked to an increased risk of suffering a heart attack.
If you are healthy and take painkillers for occasional aches and pains there should be no risk to health however with recent research indicating long term use of anti-inflammatory drugs as potentially damaging to health, it's a good time to look at natural alternatives.
Omega-3 fatty acids
For arthritis and related conditions, studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce pain and inflammation. Omega-3's are found in fish, fish oil supplements, nuts and seeds - research has shown they may help reduce pain and inflammation. In fact the Arthritis Foundation recommends taking fish oil capsules with at least 30% omega-3's.
Following a diet rich in fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains may also ease pain throughout the body - it obviously won’t likely take the place of pain medicines entirely but if foods that promote inflammation are avoided and foods that help reduce it are eaten regularly then it may lessen the degree of pain felt in the body.
Curcumin, a molecule found in turmeric that gives the root its distinctive colour, appears to be a potent inflammation blocker so people seeking pain relief may still want to try adding the yellow spice to their diet or consider taking a supplement.
The chemistry of chronic inflammation is complicated, but put simply, a signaling protein called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) plays a large role in driving systemic, disease-causing inflammation. Pharmaceutical drugs that block or inhibit TNFα are used to treat inflammatory diseases and like those drugs, curcumin seems to lower TNFα
Turmeric can be safely added to food without risk of overdoing, as long as you don’t mind the taste, its quite unusual and not for everyone! To give you an idea, to get 500mg of curcumin you'd need to swallow about a teaspoon or more of ground turmeric. However be aware that your body will struggle to absorb the curcumin if you eat turmeric on it's own - it's water soluble so will pass straight through unless eaten with a form of fat. Alternatively, ensure you're getting sufficient quantities of curcumin by taking a turmeric supplement.
Turmeric and black pepper
Just like approximately 5% of the spice turmeric is composed of an active compound called curcumin, about 5% of black pepper by weight is comprised of a compound called piperine (sometimes known as Bioperine). Piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism. One of the ways our liver gets rid of foreign substances is making them water soluble so they can be more easily excreted. But this black pepper molecule inhibits that process.
When we consume curcumin our liver actively tries to get rid of it but that process is suppressed when black pepper is consumed thereby boosting the bioavailability of curcumin - in fact it shoots up by 2000%.
You might also be interested to know that piperine itself helps to reduce pain - it does this by triggering specific receptors in your body which respond to counteract pain. This is according to a study published in an issue of Molecular Pain.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.