Modern medicine believes that it has intellectual hegemony over our health. If we do anything that wasn’t developed in a lab or part of a randomized controlled trial, it’s quackery – or the placebo effect. But it turns out that modern medicine isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. The vast majority of today’s drugs don’t actually heal the sick. Instead, they mask the symptoms. Take mental illness, for instance. The drugs that doctors prescribe simply numb the pain. They don’t deal with the underlying psychology that is causing the anguish in the first place. The same is true of diabetes. Insulin injections don’t reverse the body’s dysfunction. They just provide a chemical that it can’t make in sufficient quantities itself. The great thing about natural medicines, though, is that they really do seem to be able to heal the body. Science suggests that they allow us to return to our natural healthy form, letting the body get on with repair work itself. Herbal remedies for common aches and pains are something that people have been using for thousands of years. And, excitingly, many of them work, all without the side effects of prescription drugs.
Why haven’t you heard about these miracles of nature? Well, there are two reasons. The first is that you can’t make profits selling cumin seeds. Yes – it’s a powerful natural painkiller. But you can’t patent it – and it’s in abundant supply. The second is that modern science doesn’t investigate these questions. Because there’s no money to be made in studying herbs, we hardly know anything about their medicinal properties. No company that funds research will ever be able to make a return. The good news is that we have some studies funded by non-commercial interests that seem to point to the wellness-promoting effects of certain herbs. Here are some of the ways they can counteract your pain.
Toothache is one of the most horrible forms of pain out there. For some reason, it is intolerably uncomfortable – perhaps due to the fact that the swelling has nowhere to go. The good news is that you can push back against the pain of toothache while you’re waiting for your dental appointment with cloves – a simple herb you can find at the grocery store. Cloves are small dried buds of an evergreen plant. Place one in the area that’s causing you pain and then wait for the inflammation to die down. You should notice that it provides considerable soothing, making it easier to get to sleep. If the infection goes deep, it won’t be able to get rid of it. But it can make it feel much better.
Chilies contain a powerful compound called capsaicin which is what causes a burning sensation in your mouth after you eat spicy food. It turns out, though, that this chemical is also great for topical pain relief. Putting chilies on your skin might seem like a strange thing to do – and it is. But they have a remarkable ability to “exhaust” your pain receptors and literally make you go numb. Think about the differences in how some people react to spicy food compared to others. For one person, eating chili is the hottest thing they’ve ever put in their mouths. But, for another, they hardly taste it. It all comes down to the levels of pain receptor chemicals in the neurons. Chili activates these, and eventually depletes them over time, leading to a reduction in the overall sensation of pain. So when you apply it topically, you can experience the same effects. Just note that you should never put chili on an open wound. After all, it’s an organic product and could rot, causing infection.
Ginger is one of nature’s most powerful pain relievers. Systematic reviews have found that eating just two grams of the spice per day reduces the pain associated with physical training. Ginger is also highly effective against migraines and reduces the level of nausea people experience afterward. Before you take ginger or any other supplements, be sure to talk to your doctor. Some herbs may interact with medicines you’re already taking.
Turmeric, like ashwagandha, is one of the top supplements for kidney health because of its ability to fight inflammation. But it is also highly effective in treating pain as well. Turmeric has a bunch of potent active compounds that people believe nourish the body. Research shows that it is as effective as ibuprofen for pain relief in people with arthritis when taken for a period of four weeks. What’s more, turmeric has wonderful health-promoting properties, thanks mainly to the fact that it can inhibit the aging process. People who take turmeric regularly seem to have lower levels of mTOR, an enzyme that tells the body to age faster.
Strictly speaking, acupuncture isn’t a herbal remedy, but it seems to be effective at getting rid of aches and pains. Recent studies, for instance, find that prodding people with needles reduces neck pain, knee pain, and lower back pain. One of the largest systematic meta-analyses to date found that acupuncture was highly effective for managing chronic pain as well. It helped study participants reduce the frequency of their headaches, the pain associated with arthritis, and musculoskeletal pain.
People who have chronic pain will often put a diffuser in their bedrooms and use it to pipe out peppermint oil-infused vapor. Why? Well, it turns out that peppermint is one heck of a plant. Research shows that it is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and has independent pain-relieving effects. Investigators also believe that, unlike many plants, it has multiple active ingredients, each with a unique mode of action. A 2015 review, for instance, found that peppermint was able to reduce the pain associated with arthritis and painful spasms.
Again, you’ll want to avoid putting peppermint essential oil in broken skin. It’s powerful stuff, and could also lead to infection. You should also do a spot test since it can lead to allergic reactions in some people.