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The natural alternative to prescription pain relief

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Terri R.
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Joined: 21 Apr 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 31, 2004 4:16 pm    Post subject: The natural alternative to prescription pain relief Reply with quote

Tuesday, August 31, 2004
By Melissa Knopper, E/The Environmental Magazine

Severe pain, caused by everything from lower back problems and migraines to common toothaches, sends most of us running to the doctor for a quick fix. Often, that relief comes in the form of a potent pain pill, such as OxyContin or Percocet. But those drugs work their magic with a price. For one thing, they can be highly addictive.

And that's not all. "A lot of prescription drugs for pain have serious side effects," said Mary Beth Watkins, director of research and development for Botanical Laboratories, a Seattle, Washington–area supplement manufacturer. "They don't allow you to drive a car and they cause drowsiness."

And if used on a long-term basis, painkillers can cause kidney and liver damage. Certain arthritis drugs, such as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), can also cause ulcers.

New research shows many of these powerful pharmaceuticals also cause problems for the environment. When they are flushed down the toilet, they dissolve into microscopic particles. Fish and wildlife living in streams polluted by these compounds can develop health problems. So can humans who drink tap water from municipal water plants that do not yet screen out the particles.

Given those risks, it makes sense to look for natural alternatives. Treatments such as herbs and acupuncture can achieve the same result without causing side effects. They also dump fewer toxic byproducts into the water. Luckily, the natural health care market is full of options. Here's a look at some of the most promising therapies.


Pain relief patches are among the hot new products on display at natural products trade shows across the country. Some, such as the Tiger Balm patch, contain herbs such as camphor and oil of clove, which are absorbed through the skin. These herbs, originally used in Chinese medicine, have anti-inflammatory properties to ease back pain and muscle aches. Other companies offer patches that discreetly warm or cool affected areas such as the lower back or the abdomen (for menstrual cramps).

According to the American Botanical Council, arnica is one of the most popular herbs used by homeopathic practitioners for pain. It is especially effective for reducing bruising and muscle soreness.

"If you broke your leg in a snowboarding accident, arnica would be a great thing to take to relieve pain and support the healing process," Watkins said.

Meanwhile, several research studies have shown capsaicin, an extract of cayenne pepper, offers significant arthritis relief when used as a topical cream. Janet Zand, a Los Angeles naturopathic physician, licensed acupuncturist, and Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM), prefers to help arthritis patients address the underlying cause of their pain with diet and exercise as well as herbs.

"If you strengthen and balance the entire body, then the body often has less pain in general," she said. Zand, who has her own line of herbal products, suggests tumeric for arthritis pain. "It's a natural anti-inflammatory that helps to strengthen immune function," Zand said.

Feverfew is a useful herb for migraines. Herbalists have relied on it since the Middle Ages, but recent studies confirm that it works by decreasing the flow of pain-causing prostaglandins.

Since herbal remedies are not as strictly regulated as conventional drugs, it pays to be cautious before using them. Research shows a wide variation in purity, so choose a reputable manufacturer.

The USP logo on the label proves the ingredients meet the quality standards of the U.S. Pharmacopeia (an industry trade group). Watkins suggests checking out the product on the federal Food and Drug Administration's consumer Web site to be sure the company has a good reputation. The safest bet is to go with a well-known national retailer such as Whole Foods Market, she added.

Since many herbs interact with other medicines, check with your doctor before using them. And do not take them if pregnant or trying to conceive.

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