Posted on Health Tips

Which herbs and supplements can help with chronic pain?

Many herbs and supplements help with the management of chronic pain. These supplements are effective for many people, and generally have fewer dangerous side effects compared with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (like ibuprofen or naproxen) or opioids (like morphine or hydrocodone). Individual supplements that can help reduce pain include turmeric, boswellia, and glucosamine sulfate.

Boswellia, also known as Indian frankincense, is an herbal supplement commonly used to treat musculoskeletal pain and inflammation. Studies have shown improvements in pain and inflammation for patients with arthritis. Boswellia is usually well tolerated. Dosing will vary depending on the preparation.

Glucosamine is a substance normally produced by the body that is used to help build cartilage. Taken as a supplement, glucosamine sulfate can help with pain associated with osteoarthritis. Research findings are somewhat contradictory,  but on balance this can be a relatively safe alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for some patients with chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis. The usual dose is 500 mg 3 times a day. Patients with shellfish allergy must avoid this supplement. Although glucosamine sulfate is usually well tolerated, side effects can include gastrointestinal distress and headache.

Turmeric is a spice derived from the root of the turmeric plant. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, and people use it for a wide range of indications. Scientists have shown turmeric to be helpful in treating pain caused by osteoarthritis. As such, turmeric can be an effective and safe alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (eg, ibuprofen or naproxen) for this purpose. The adult dose is 500 mg 2 to 4 times daily. Common side effects include nausea and diarrhea. Turmeric may cause gallbladder contractions, and patients with gallstones or gallbladder disease should be cautious when using this supplement. Turmeric may interact with anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, and again must be used with caution, or in consultation with a physician, in this setting. Turmeric in high doses may stimulate menstrual blood flow and should be avoided in pregnancy.

Alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant that is naturally synthesized by the body. Taking this supplement in a dose of 600mg to 1200 mg/day can help reduce symptoms of painful neuropathy in people with diabetes. Though the supplement is generally considered safe, potential side effects include hypoglycemia, reduced effectiveness of cancer chemotherapy, nausea, and skin rash.

MigreLief is a combination product providing 100 mg feverfew daily (50 mg taken twice daily) combined with 400 mg riboflavin plus 360 mg magnesium. Feverfew is a plant that has been found to be effective in preventing migraine headaches. In addition, both magnesium (a mineral) and riboflavin (a B vitamin) have been found useful for preventing migraines. The Migrelief product simply combines all 3. Another approach a person might reasonably take would be to purchase one or several of these ingredients individually, to be taken daily to help reduce the frequency of migraines. Although prescription drugs are available for migraine prevention, these may not be effective for, or may not be well tolerated by, certain people.

Remember that your physician or practitioner may also recommend a multi-ingredient herbal formula specific to your personal constitutional type or individual situation.  Remember also that it is always important to consult with your own physician before using any supplement or herbal preparation.