Clearing's Chronic Pain Blog
16 Best Natural Supplements for Pain Relief
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If you have chronic pain, you may be wondering if there are any other treatment options besides prescription or over-the-counter medications. Maybe you’ve come across the term “nutraceutical,” which refers to vitamins that can provide certain health benefits. Many people with chronic pain use nutraceuticals, or natural supplements, to help manage their pain.
These supplements are generally safe and non-habit forming, without harmful side effects. They also have few interactions with prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
16 natural supplements for chronic pain relief
With so many types of natural supplements, it can be difficult to find one that works. Generally speaking, supplements should be chosen based on the type of pain you are experiencing and its source.
However, there is a difference between supplements that act upon the primary source of the pain and those that act upon the pain pathway (or secondary source). Most natural supplements address the secondary source of pain, since they typically do not reverse or address the condition itself.
Below is an overview of natural supplements that may help with pain relief. Specifically, we will be discussing the following supplements:
- Natural Eggshell Membrane (NEM®)
- Willow bark
- Omega 3’s
- Vitamin B12
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Vitamin E
Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural components found in the body’s connective tissue. Some studies have shown that when swallowed, they may help slow down cartilage damage. Over time, they may also delay the narrowing of the joint space.
This is an example of a supplement that acts on the primary source of pain. Currently, studies are mixed about whether to use glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis. But given the safety profile and low risk of these two compounds, many people with joint conditions do choose to supplement with them.
2. Natural Eggshell Membrane
Natural Eggshell Membrane, or NEM®, is a supplement that can help protect cartilage and reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with joint and connective tissue disorders.
We get NEM from the lining between a chicken egg's shell and the egg white. NEM contains collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, calcium and more, all essential for maintaining healthy joint and connective tissue.
This supplement has gained popularity in recent years among osteoarthritis sufferers because can reduce joint pain and stiffness. And NEM doesn’t only help those with joint disease. In one study, NEM reduced cartilage breakdown due to exercise and joint pain in people with healthy joints. However, don't take NEM if you have an egg allergy.
3. Willow bark
Willow bark is a natural pain reliever used to help ease fevers and pain. It is especially useful for pain from headaches, bursitis, arthritis and lower back pain.
Willow bark contains salicin, which acts together with the flavonoids and polyphenols in willow to relieve pain. Salicin is converted in the body to salicylic acid, which has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
In the late 1800s, chemists created a man-made version of salicylic acid, which we know today as aspirin. Due to the similarity in active compounds, willow bark is often called “nature’s aspirin.” Unlike aspirin however, willow bark does not damage stomach linings and so may be preferred over aspirin for those with sensitive stomachs.
Boswellia is an extract from the Boswellia serrata tree, which is native to India, northern Africa and the Middle East. It is an important herb in Ayurvedic medicine and has been used for centuries to treat inflammatory diseases, including bronchitis, asthma and arthritis. Research shows that boswellia has anti-inflammatory benefits and work by modulating pro-inflammatory cytokines. The extract may also reduce pain and stiffness and improve joint function in patients with osteoarthritis.
Ginger may boost overall immunity and is often used in Eastern medicine. There are a number of active compounds in ginger, such as gingerol and shogaol, which inhibit inflammatory agents in the body. Ginger can also be helpful to people with arthritis or inflammatory digestive disorders. However, ginger may act as a blood thinner and may lower blood pressure, so you may want to talk to your doctor before starting to take it regularly.
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Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb that is native to South Asia and has been used in medicine there for centuries. The active compound in turmeric is called curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive orange color. Curcumin has anti-carcinogenic properties, and is beneficial for inflammatory pain. In one study of patients with osteoarthritis, curcumin supplements were as effective at relieving pain symptoms as diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
Curcumin has also been shown to reduce swelling and joint inflammation with rheumatoid arthritis. Curcumin is not absorbed well in the body on its own, so in supplements it is often combined with piperine, a compound found in black pepper. Piperine has been shown to increase the absorption of curcumin by 2,000%.
Ginseng has beneficial properties for boosting the immune system. It is commonly used in Eastern medicine to treat fatigue and cognitive decline. Studies show that certain components found in ginseng target pathways in the immune system that reduce inflammation by turning off specific genes and blocking some pro-inflammatory signaling molecules.
8. Omega 3’s
Omega 3’s are a type of essential fatty acid with several health benefits. For example, they can lower the severity of mental disorders like depression and dementia. Also, studies show a connection between higher omega-3 intake and reduced inflammation. Omega 3’s also reduce the severity of swollen joints and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
The three main types of omega 3’s are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). EPA and DHA have been shown to provide relief for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Our bodies do not make omega 3’s on their own, so we have to get them through what we eat. Omega 3’s are found in fatty fish, algae, hemp and flaxseed. They can be also be found in supplement form, including flax, fish oil and krill supplements.
9. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is considered essential for nerve health, and low levels can lead to peripheral neuropathy. A lack of B12 can damage the lining that surrounds and protects nerves, hindering the nerves' ability to work properly. B12 can also help restore nerves' structure and function, providing relief from symptoms of diseases like peripheral neuropathy. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal foods like fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy.
10. Alpha-lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant found in foods like spinach and broccoli. It is used by the body to manage or prevent oxidative stress, a process that plays a role in nerve fiber damage in many types of peripheral neuropathy. Alpha-lipoic acid may help to reverse the damage of oxidative stress and slow nerve damage. Studies show that this acid may also relieve neuropathy symptoms, especially for burning and stabbing pain.
Acetyl-L-carnitine is an amino acid created in the kidneys and liver. It is critical to many processes in the body, especially energy production. It is also involved in nerve cell function. In fact, it has been shown to reduce pain and increase nerve repair and function in patients with painful peripheral neuropathy, especially diabetic neuropathy.
Thiamine, also known as B1, is a vitamin that helps turn food into energy. It is critical for proper nerve function. B1 is important to the nervous system because it keeps the insulation layer of nerves (myelin sheath) healthy. It also helps create acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter.
The nerves that run down the arms and legs rely heavily on thiamine. These nerves can become damaged when thiamine levels run low, leading to peripheral neuropathy. B1 is found in foods like beef liver, pork, beans and lentils. Malnourished people, heavy alcohol drinkers, diabetics and people with end stage kidney disease are at higher risk of B1 deficiency.
13. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that supports nerve health by protecting nerves from oxidative damage induced by free radicals. Oxidative stress is a major factor in the development of nervous system disorders. Lack of this vitamin is associated with breakdown of nerve cells, which can cause peripheral neuropathy.
Magnesium is a mineral found in the body and in many foods. It is critical for several important cellular functions, including nerve transmission. Magnesium plays a vital role in mitigating many migraine pathways, and has been well studied in headache medicine. People who suffer from migraines have lower levels of magnesium on average than those who don't, although it is not known why.
Taking magnesium may help prevent migraines. It may also treat certain types of headaches including migraines, cluster headaches and tension headaches.
Riboflavin, aka B2, is a vitamin found in foods like eggs, beef, milk and mushrooms. It is also often added to fortified grains. B2 plays an important role in converting carbohydrates into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and maintaining the body's energy supply. Studies have shown that high doses of riboflavin are highly effective at preventing migraine attacks, as well as decreasing their duration.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates our circadian rhythm and helps us fall asleep. Melatonin supplements are often used to help relieve insomnia.
This hormone is also involved in chronic headache conditions. Melatonin tends to be low in people who suffer from migraines and cluster headaches. And in some cases, taking melatonin has been found to relieve pain from migraines and reduce their recurrence.
4 common types of pain
As you can see, not all natural supplements are created equal. Some work best to alleviate symptoms of arthritis, while others work best for chronic headaches. No matter your situation, there is likely a natural supplement that can fit your needs.
Different types of pain may call for different natural supplements.
Arthritis is a broad family of joint diseases. It can cause inflammation and breakdown of the joints, and can result in swelling, pain and decreased range of motion. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects around 32 million Americans.
Arthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down, letting the bones start to rub together. For this reason, it is known as a disease of “wear and tear” that affects people as they age. The changes typically develop slowly and get worse over time, most often occurring in the hips, hands and knees. This joint wear and tear is not reversible, but some supplements may slow its rate.
For arthritis, natural supplements that may have pain-relieving benefits include glucosamine, chondroitin and NEM®.
As we mentioned above, inflammation is involved in many different pain conditions. Many of the natural supplements that help alleviate pain do this by reducing inflammation. Some of the most popular supplements that reduce inflammation include willow bark, boswellia, ginger, turmeric, ginseng and omega 3’s. These supplements may interest patients with chronic inflammatory pain conditions such as arthritis, bursitis and more.
Neuropathic pain is an umbrella term used to describe pain from nerve damage. The reason why someone may experience pain is because their nerves are not working properly. This means that the nerves may send pain signals even when there is no pain.
For this reason, natural supplements for neuropathic pain are involved in preserving healthy nerve function. These supplements include Vitamin B12, alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl-L-carnitine, thiamine and Vitamin E.
Chronic headaches are diagnosed in people who experience a headache for at least 15 days per month, lasting three consecutive months or more. The most common types of chronic headaches are migraines, tension, cluster and eye strain headaches. For natural supplements that help with chronic headaches, look for magnesium, riboflavin and melatonin.
Are nutraceuticals right for you?
Natural supplements and nutraceuticals may help alleviate pain caused by certain conditions. If you want to avoid taking pharmaceuticals or opioids for your pain, natural supplements are worth exploring. You may also be able to take both; just make sure to consult your doctor first.
It is important to remember that in the United States, natural supplements are not regulated the same as prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs are. Therefore, it’s important to do your research on suggested doses and potential side effects. It’s also a good idea to purchase your nutraceuticals from well-known brands.
Also, some supplements are not recommended for people with certain conditions. If you have food allergies, you should carefully check the ingredients. If you are unsure whether certain nutraceuticals are right for you, always consult with your doctor.
The Clearing solution
Clearing has developed a custom nutraceutical blend under the guidance of pain specialists. It contains ingredients that may help ease your pain. Our nutraceutical blend includes NEM®, alpha-lipoic acid, turmeric, boswellia, ginger root extract, Vitamins D & E, thiamin, calcium and Vitamin B12.
At Clearing, we work closely with you to customize a treatment plan for your chronic pain to help bring you relief. We offer non-opioid, prescription-strength topical creams, nutraceuticals, a personalized home exercise program and quality care from a team of specialized providers.
If possible, it’s ideal to get your vitamins and minerals from your food. Natural foods often make it easier for the body to absorb vitamins and minerals, contributing to better overall nutrition. In some cases, your body may not be able to extract the full benefits from supplements. However, some supplements are better than nothing at all. If you have a specialty diet, unique eating needs or are taking certain medications, supplements could offer nutrients you may not be getting on your own. Your doctor and/or a nutritionist could offer more customized insight.
That will depend on your exact circumstances. In some cases, as with ginger, you could get nutrients straight from the grocery store. In other cases, you may need to rank supplements by your needs. That might mean picking vitamin B12, for example, or, if you’re anemic, iron. Another option is to purchase multi vitamins or single-use packs that include multiple different supplements. You could also rotate the supplements you purchase. A nutritionist, your doctor or possibly even a health information line you may have access to with your insurance could provide more detailed guidance.
Even if you’re on a budget, it’s important to buy high quality supplements to reduce the chances of ingesting unnecessary fillers or harmful contaminants. Supplements are not one-size-fits-all – some, such as St. John’s wort, for example, can interact badly with other supplements or medications. If you take too high an amount of certain supplements, you could have adverse reactions. Supplement side effects can include headaches, fatigue, rashes, digestive trouble, organ damage and more. If you’re noticing anything concerning, contact your medical team.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.