Chronic Pain: Nutrients for Natural Relief

According to Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical’s National Pain Survey conducted in 1999, “An estimated 50 million Americans live with chronic pain caused by accident, disease or disorder.

An additional 25 million people suffer from acute pain” (Weiner, “Pain Issues: Pain is an Epidemic.”) Lower-back pain, bone/muscle pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia are the most common complaints, according to the survey.

Chronic Pain Map

Chronic Pain Map photo credit – Critical Science

U.S. physicians have commonly treated chronic pain with over-the-counter Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen and Naproxen, Acetaminphen (Tylenol), and powerful prescription opioids like Hydrocodone and Fentanyl. But the myriad side effects of these medications – gastrointestinal distress, drowsiness, and liver damage are just a few – are leading many chronic pain sufferers to consider other alternatives.

COX-2 inhibitors – drugs that inhibit the production of Cyclooxygenase-2, “a key enzyme responsible for the inflammation response in the body” (Cox-2 Connection, Lavalle, ix) – are extremely popular, and thought to carry fewer risks than traditional NSAIDs.

However, it turns out that COX-2 inhibitors interfere with angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels, which are “imperative to wound and ulcer healing” (LaValle, 54).  And, like traditional NSAIDs, they may affect the kidneys, leading to “an increase in blood pressure and the incidence of hypertension, swelling and other cardiovascular problems” (LaValle, 54).

Fortunately, many traditionally used herbs also have COX-2 inhibition properties.
These include:

  •  Baikal skullcap, used in China for over 3,000 years to treat facial inflammation, restlessness, sore throat, coughs, headaches and chest pains. Scientific researchers in Spain, Korea, Canada, and the U.S. have demonstrated its usefulness in treating inflammatory disorders
  • Feverfew, popular in the UK for arthritic and rheumatoid joint inflammation and used worldwide for migraines
  • Ginger, used for centuries in Brazil, China, Indonesia, India, New Guinea, Sudan and Thailand “to treat pain and fever associated with inflammatory disorders” (LaValle, 75)
  • Turmeric, which contains the powerful anti-inflammatory chemical curcumin, and “is about 50% as effective as cortisone.” LaValle reports that it is useful in the treatment of gout, carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling, gallstones and stroke. However, turmeric can cause gastrointestinal upset in some individuals.


A relatively new product is Nexrutine®, which “inhibits the gene responsible for the production of COX-2 and other chemical mediators responsible for inflammation.”

Nexrutine® “contains an extract of the Phellodendron plant,” which “not only has COX-2 inhibiting qualities, but also protects the gastrointestinal tract from inflammation” (LaValle, 79).

Nor is the natural pantry limited to botanical products.

The April 2006 issue of Surgical Neurology reports on a study in which a patented fish oil supplement manufactured in Norway was administered to 250 patients under a physician’s care. Most of the subjects suffered from degenerative disc conditions.

After an average of 75 days of fish oil supplementation, 60% of respondents reported significant improvements, including reduction in overall pain, and 59% were able to stop taking other pain medicine. And none of the patients said they experienced significant side effects.

According to the website of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, peripheral neuropathy is a term describing “damage to the peripheral nervous system, which transmits information from the brain and spinal cord to every other part of the body.”

John A. Senneff’s Nutrients for Neuropathy identifies symptoms including aching, burning pains in the feet, foot and toe numbness, tipgling in the hands, and muscular weakness” (Nutrients for Neuropathy, Sennejf, 1).

Senneff reconunends such vitamins as B (assists in the maintenance of myelin, the covering around the nerve fibers);C (“an antioxidant which aids in the manufacture of neurotransmitters”); and E (a powerful antioxidant which “sustains normal neurological processes”). He advises using E in its natural form, d-alpha-tocopherol, instead of synthetic dl-alpha-tocopherol.

Minerals also may be useful in treating peripheral neuropathy.

Chromium (found in brewer’s yeast, calf liver, vegetable oil and whole grain cereals) has been shown to lead to a remission or even reversal of this condition.

Further, Senneff advises that magnesium also “may be especially important for those with diabetes and diabetic neuropathy”and perhaps even HIV infections (Senneff, 94).

Other important minerals include silicon, which aids in the elimination of cellular toxins, and sulfur, which “helps maintain joint health and protects against the development of arthritis” (Mineral Miracle, Lieberman and Xenakis, 19-20).

Several recently developed supplements may also be worth exploring. Blends of esterified fatty acid carbons (EFACs), of which Celadrin is probably the best known, may, in addition to inducing “changes in cell membranes and the responsiveness of the membrane to certain immune factors,” also “play a role in suppressing inflammatory cell functions, decreasing cartilage breakdown, triggering cell.. .death, and, like NSAIDs, reducing the inflammatory activities of the COX-2 enzyme.” (Total Health, Vanderhaeghe,p.14).

Then there is MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), which “supplies biologically active sulfur” (Miracle of MSM, Jacobs, Lawrence and Zucker, 3-4). The major metabolite of DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), which is used around the world to treat arthritis, head and spinal cord injuries, and other pain-inducing conditions, MSM delivers similar relief without DMSO’s pungent odor.

Its benefits include “inhibition of pain impulses along nerve fibers, lessening of inflammation, increasing of blood supply, reduction of muscle spasm, and softening of scar tissue.” (10-11).

Also, consider these alternatives, usually applied topically, rather than ingested: balms featuring such time-honored ingredients as camphor and menthol, and rubbing ointments containing emu oil.

Both are supported by numerous customer testimonials.

(from Whole Foods Magazine, used by permission)

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