We use pain-killers for the relief of headaches, flu and minor ailments, but if we take them continuously for chronic conditions, they carry considerable risks. The long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin can cause gastrointestinal erosions and ulcers. It’s perhaps less well known that NSAIDs inhibit collagen production and accelerate cartilage destruction. They also impair the production of the body’s own natural painkillers. Paracetamol, another popular over-the-counter drug, causes liver toxicity in excess. Overuse of both paracetamol and aspirin has been associated with kidney damage.
Although not as fast-acting, natural painkillers relieve mild or moderate chronic conditions without the unwanted side-effects of conventional drugs. The resin of the Indian boswellia tree (frankincense) is used to reduce joint swelling, improve blood supply to inflamed joints, increase mobility and provide pain relief. Clinical evidence suggests that boswellia’s anti-inflammatory effects are more potent than drugs and don’t cause unwanted side-effects. Boswellia is available in tablets or as a cream for topical application. Take 200 to 400 mg one to three times a day.
Another useful aid is MSM (methyl-sulphonyl-methane), a sulphur compound that occurs naturally in food, but is easily destroyed by processing and cooking. MSM is required for the formation of healthy body tissue, bones, joints, ligaments and tendons. Around 3 grams of MSM daily helps to relieve the pain in conditions such as arthritis, lower back pain or pain from old injuries and is considered extremely safe. It works even better when combined with another supplement called glucosamine, one of the building blocks the body uses to make new cartilage.
Other alternatives from nature’s medicine cabinet include omega 3 fishoils – these block the production of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines and leukotrienes in the body. The popular spices cayenne pepper and turmeric also have proven anti-inflammatory benefits.
To control chronic pain and inflammation, it’s important to look at nutrition and digestion as a whole. Chronic inflammation usually involves auto-immune reactions that originally began in the digestive tract – this is often overlooked in conventional treatment. We overload our gut with too much sugar and carbs, altered fats, high levels of wheat, dairy, caffeine and alcohol. In addition to a bad diet, the delicate intestinal lining is under siege by viruses, bacteria, pesticides, chemical pollutants, heavy metals and drugs. Once the function of our intestinal membrane becomes compromised, inflammation quickly sets in. Sufferers then find their symptoms can be exacerbated by a high intake of saturated fat (red meat, dairy) and food intolerances.
The job of a Nutritional Therapist is to identify dietary, environmental and lifestyle triggers of inflammation, suggest ways of strengthening gut immunity and recommend natural anti-inflammatories that kill chronic pain without hurting you.
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus 2006