8 Natural Alternatives To Tylenol
"Inflammation goes hand in hand with pain, so if you can block the inflammation, you can decrease the pain response," says John DeLuca, MD, DC, of Balance Health and Wellness Centers in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Turmeric, which you probably know best as the spice that gives curry its distinctive yellow color, is a great anti-inflammatory, he says. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is responsible for the spice's pain-fighting abilities; it works by treating or blocking a number of different pathways that lead to inflammation. One study in theJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicinereported that turmeric worked just about as well as ibuprofen for reducing osteoarthritis pain, and a small study published in 2012 found that curcumin reduced joint pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis better than a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that's commonly used for the condition.
You can find turmeric in the spice aisle at your local grocery store. "Including turmeric in your food when you're cooking is a great way to get the baseline benefits, to make your body more anti-inflammatory in general," says Joshua Levitt, ND, owner and medical director at Whole Health, a natural family medicine practice in Hamden, Connecticut. Turmeric works well in curry, soups, rice dishes, smoothies, and teas and on vegetables. It is also available as a supplement, but high doses or long-term excessive use of turmeric may cause indigestion, nausea, or diarrhea. And people with gallbladder disease shouldn't use turmeric as a dietary supplement because it could worsen the condition. (Try this turmeric smoothie with homemade hemp milk.)
"To help ease your dental pain, place one or two drops of clove oil on a cotton ball and apply it to the painful tooth or gum area for 10 minutes, up to several times daily," says Skye McKennon, PharmD, an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy and creator of abetterwaywellness.com. A study published in theJournal of Dentistrysuggests that clove oil may work equally as well as benzocaine, the active ingredient in most popular over-the-counter tooth and gum pain relievers. You can purchase the essential oil at most natural food stores, or you can make your own using fresh clove buds.
Remember, though, that clove oil, like other tooth analgesics, is a temporary fix. If you're having frequent toothaches, it's best to schedule an appointment with a dentist. Another warning: Clove oil contains a chemical that seems to slow blood clotting. People with bleeding disorders should avoid it.
Capsaicin, the ingredient responsible for the amped-up heat you feel when you bite into a spicy pepper, "works by decreasing levels of substance P, which is a pain-signaling chemical that tells your brain the body is injured," says DeLuca. Capsaicin is available as an oral supplement and in topical treatments, but according to DeLuca, "the topical use seems to be more efficient." Topical capsaicin comes in various doses and should be used three or four times per day, he says.
You may be wondering if simply eating hot peppers can help. It's not proved, but it is possible. "I wouldn't use it as a treatment if you have a sprained ankle [or another injury that requires immediate relief], but including hot peppers in your diet will make you have less inflammation in general," says Levitt. (Eating hot peppers can also lower your mortality risk.)
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Dehydration can cause headaches, so if your noggin is throbbing, a tall glass of H2O may help. And if you're dealing with premenstrual pain, that's another time to get guzzling. "Drinking water, warm or hot, helps relax the uterine muscles, which can reduce menstrual cramping," says Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "Your tissues, your muscles, and all of your cells depend on hydration for appropriate function, so it's really important to stay adequately hydrated," Levitt says. But knowing how much water you need can be kind of tricky. The rule of thumb is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses a day. However, fluid requirements can vary based on your age and activity level, so even if you do get in 64 ounces each day, you might still be dehydrated. Rather than aiming for a specific number, Levitt advises paying attention to your body—like noticing if you're thirsty or if your urine is dark or smells strongly. Keep a refillable water bottle on your desk or in your bag and drink throughout the day. And eat water-rich foods like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, cucumbers, and lettuce.
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And drinking it isn't the only way to harness the power of water. Cold water therapy (using an ice pack) can numb the sore or painful areas of your body and thereby reduce pain. Warm water, in the form of a shower or soak, a sitz bath, or a moist heat pad, improves blood flow and decreases muscle tension. And if you have a fever, a bath in lukewarm (not cold) water should help bring down your temperature.
Having hair-thin needles inserted into your skin may not sound like much fun if you're already hurting, but it could make you feel better. A study published inJAMA Internal Medicinereported that acupuncture can help ease headaches, shoulder pain, neck and back pain, and osteoarthritis. (Here's what happens to your body on acupuncture.)
Working out is probably one of the last things you want to do when you're feeling sore. However, "there's no question that for your typical aches and pains, even those from arthritis, movement is medicine," says Levitt, since it stimulates blood flow and synovial fluids, which lubricates the joints. A good cardio session also boosts endorphins, your body's own painkillers, and it releases serotonin, the body's "feel-good" hormones. All of which means you may feel a little less achy once you're done working up a sweat.
Now, of course there are some pains that mean you shouldn't work out (or at least not that specific part of the body). For instance, if your pain is due to a torn ligament, ruptured tendon, or fracture, it's better to rest the injured area. When you exercise for pain relief, don't go overboard. "If you can only move a little, move a little," says Levitt. "If you can move a little more, move a little more." Always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. (Try these workouts for chronic pain.)
As if you really need an excuse to schedule a rubdown, massage has been proven to reduce back pain. A study published in theAnnals of Internal Medicinethat was conducted on people with chronic low back pain found that those who got a weekly massage had less pain after 10 weeks than participants who didn't.
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