Analgesic medications are also known as pain relief drugs or pain killers. These pain killers, when administered into the body, are capable of suppressing pain by either inhibiting the transmission of pain signals to the brain or inhibiting the production of the neuro-chemicals that cause the feeling of pain. Thus, the drugs help relieve pain, and there are various options of analgesic drugs available.
Analgesics have become so popular that I don’t need to write a whole epistle before you know what they are, and this is partly because pain is a common everyday feeling we all experience and also because analgesics are available on over-the-counter purchase in most countries of the world. For example, when you have a cut injury on your leg, you can easily get Acetaminophen (Paracetamol®) or Ibuprofen over the counter.
Generally, analgesic drugs are classified into three:
- NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs),
- Opioid analgesics
- Acetaminophen, commonly known as Paracetamol (which closely relates to the NSAIDs)
Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Ketorolac, etc, are examples are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory analgesics if you know them. While morphine, codeine, pentazocine, etc, are examples of opioid analgesics.
Natural Alternatives to Pain-killers
Just like most other drugs, analgesic drugs have some unwanted side effects when taken, especially for a prolonged period. For example, Ibuprofen is very effective in controlling pain but it has the notorious side effects of causing or triggering gastric ulcers.
Opioid analgesics like Tramadol, Codeine, and Morphine, are addictive and may cause some psychological/mood changes in your brain when taken for a long time and in exceeding high doses.
Because of these, natural alternatives to pain killers would come in handy. As you already know, natural products are safer and have fewer side effects. Here are some natural alternatives to analgesic medications you should know about.
- Essential oils
- Cannabinoids (CBD)
- Willow bark
Essential oils are natural oils produced from the flowers, leaves or seeds of certain plants. They are called essential because many of them contain natural bioactive substances, that is, they can produce positive health changes in the body.
Lavender oil, for example, is a natural alternative to analgesics that can be used to ease pain from headaches, sprains, toothache and sores. Lavender oil has also been shown to be effective to manage anxiety, insomnia and digestive issues like stomach upset.
Other essential oils with pain relief effects include Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Rosemary, etc. Caution should be taken when using them to heal the pain. You should also consult a health practitioner if you are going to use these essential oils extensively over longer periods.
This natural spice (Zingiber officinale) is a root that has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Even though ginger is a common dietary condiment, Bode A. and Dong Z. have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, analgesic and many other health effects of ginger.
Another study done in 2010 showed that the analgesic effect of ginger is further enhanced by heating it, with results that 2 grams of ginger per day produced moderate-to-large reductions in muscle pain following exercise-induced muscle injury. This means that consuming ginger for about five to seven days can help people who experience muscle pain after vigorous exercises, thus serving as a natural analgesic alternative.
Cannabinoids are another natural alternative to analgesics that have potent pain-relieving properties. Through their action on the central nervous system (brain), cannabinoids can modulate pain signals through their receptors in the brain, thus reducing or totally numbing pain. CBDs also contain significant amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components that can further potentiate their analgesic effect.
Several CBD-enriched products are currently available, including gums, vapes, oils, etc, however, just like the lavender and synthetic medications, they are not without side effects. With an overflowing market for CBD products, some experts at get kush say that CBD products can produce pain relief almost instantly.
Turmeric (scientific name, Curcuma domestica) is a vivid, fragrant, and bitter spice usually grounded in powdery form. As a natural alternative to analgesic drugs, turmeric contains the active ingredient ‘Curcumin’ which possesses significant pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin acts on the same receptors as the NSAIDs and causes the same analgesic effects as Diclofenac and Ibuprofen. This was also supported by a comparative study carried out in 2010 by comparing the analgesic effects of Curcumin from the Curcuma plant and Ibuprofen in patients with osteoarthritis.
In 2016, a review of randomized controlled trials revealed that 1,000mg daily of Curcumin reduced osteoarthritis pain and inflammation as effectively as the non-steroidal analgesics would. Another study in 2016 suggested that Curcumin might help prevent bone breakdown (osteolysis) in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Turmeric and its active ingredient have also found used in Indian and Chinese traditional medicine for the treatment of cancer.
People have been using willow bark to ease inflammation and relieve pain for many centuries. As a natural analgesic, the bark of the white willow tree contains the chemical “Salicin” which is similar to the salicylate, the main ingredient in aspirin (Bayer). So making it a source of natural aspirin.
Originally, people chewed the bark of the Willow tree to treat pain and fevers, however, it is now available as dried extracts, liquid supplements or as herbal capsules. The Willow bark extracts are natural alternatives to analgesics and they can be used to relieve headaches, low back pain, pain from osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions. However, just like aspirin, it has some side effects some of which include, stomach upset and peptic ulcer, renal impairment, bleeding disorders, and salicylate toxicity syndrome (tinnitus, confusion, headache, nausea, vomiting, etc).
If you are allergic to aspirin-containing medications, you should not take Willow extracts and it should not be used by children to whom it may be seriously harmful. Most of these side effects are noticed on prolonged use of the extracts or on excessive intake.
Due to its risk of causing bleeding (aspirin/salicin is also an anticoagulant), you should not combine it with other anticoagulants like Warfarin. Also, its use should be discontinued if you are currently on other pain medications or you should talk to your doctor to see if you can take them simultaneously.
Do you remember the classification of analgesics I put up there in this post? You can refer to it if you missed it because the information will be useful in describing the effect of clove and clove extracts as a natural alternative to analgesics.
Cloves are the flower buds of the clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum). They are domestically used to spice meat and rice dishes. They are also used to season pot roasts, flavor hot beverages, and give a spicy warmth to cookies, cakes, pies and many other foods.
According to a study done in 2013, Clove extracts have been shown to possess analgesic effects resembling those of opioid analgesics. The analgesia was also reversed by the common antidote of the opioids, Naloxone, thus giving credibility to the fact that the active ingredient, eugenol, may share a similar chemical structure to the opioids.
Clove extracts are now useful in the treatment of pain, headaches, arthritis, nausea, colds and toothaches. they have also been shown to be useful in the treatment of fungal infections and are available in powder or capsule form, as well as the oil form.
People with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood-thinning medication like aspirin or warfarin should take precautions when consuming clove products as they can increase the risk of abnormal bleeding.
This is not exactly a natural alternative to analgesic medications because acupuncture is not a plant extract or natural substance.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice that seeks to relieve pain by balancing the body’s natural energy pathways, known as qi or chi (pronounced “Chee”). It involves the use of tiny needles inserted into the skin. Acupuncturists have designed the procedures such that the location of the insertion corresponds to the source of the pain and seek to balance out the pain energy pathways. This is achieved by inserting needles at points (acupoints) far away from the site of the pain.
As an alternative to analgesics, acupuncture has been shown to relieve pain by stimulating the release of serotonin, a vasoactive peptide that relieves pain in the body.
A study done in 2016 showed that acupuncture can play a significant role in chronic pain management. It has also been shown to produce short-term pain relief in patients with osteoarthritis, low back pain, migraines and other acute pain conditions.
Without any side effects, acupuncture is a good non-medical alternative to analgesics. It does not involve any drugs or bioactive chemicals, just the needles in the hands of a skilled acupuncturist can do the magic. It is especially useful for musculoskeletal pain conditions.
Pain relief medications are useful in the treatment and management of pain. The medications can be prescribed by your doctor but can be obtained over the counter.
Due to some side effects of some of the prescription drugs, natural alternatives for these analgesic drugs can become very useful. The natural herbs and acupuncture talked about have very minimal side effects if not none at all, compared to the analgesic medicines. This is a compelling reason to go with these natural alternatives to analgesics. However, their efficacy may be lesser compared to pharmacological preparations (drugs).
Also, the natural alternatives to the analgesics are relatively cheaper to obtain, especially when you live in areas where the herbs are planted, or where they are readily available.
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