Concealed Therapies for Natural Pain Relief are Finally Made Public
Do you recall reading the cigarette industry covered up evidence which clearly showed that smoking was addictive? Well, concealing information that should be public is an apparent cover-up. The same holds true in the food industry. The “big scam” to eat high carb from the 1970’s was unveiled only 2-3 years ago when the low-fat/high-carb perils came to light. The use of natural pain relievers is facing similar scrutiny. On the list of therapies for natural pain relief, some items should be common knowledge, and one which appears to be quite effective is possibly a drug industry “cover-up” because it can’t be patented and sold to their benefit. Below are the topics I’ll discuss in this article:
- Most common natural therapies
- Cold for natural pain relief
- How to increase endorphins
- Helpful herbals and supplements for natural pain relief
- Low-dose Naltrexone
Most Common Natural Therapies
Le’ts open the discussion with some “staples” of which you’re likely aware. To begin, massage therapy is known to improve circulation, lymph drainage, increase endorphins, and it just feels good! Acupuncture is also worth mentioning as it’s helpful for pain as well. Of course, we’ve all felt the comfort of a warm bath and a sauna; wet or day and far or near-infrared. Even a simple, long shower helps when we’re stiff and achy. These practices are no secret, but what about the one most people shy away from—cold therapy?
Cold for Natural Pain Relief
You’d be amazed at the data on everything from ice baths to winter swimming regarding pain, inflammation and even endorphin production. We’re talking about ice vests, cryo tanks and anyway you can think to get cold including ice packs—not just for localized injury pain.
Studies show that several inflammatory cytokines including IL-6 and TNF-alpha increase pain. In a relatively recent study, levels of IL-6 and a host of other inflammatory cytokines were genetically “down-regulated” (significantly and systemically—not just locally) with the use of cold packs.
Cold compresses have been compared to whole body cryotherapy and to ice baths to see if they would decrease the pain of inflammatory arthritis. No difference was found in subjective pain scales between all three forms of cold application.
Another interesting response from cold therapy is the measurable increase of the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. Studies demonstrate that the pain relief from nor-epinephrine makes physical therapy more tolerable for chronic pain. This has been demonstrated in patients with osteoarthritis, low back pain and fibromyalgia.
Lastly, studies show that cold therapy elevates your natural pain-relievers called endorphins. When your body experiences stress or pain, the brain’s pituitary gland releases endorphins.
Increasing your Natural Pain Killers: Your Endorphins
Laugh: When you laugh, your body releases endorphins! Read the jokes friends send you! Watch comedy specials on Netflix. Make an effort to laugh every day as if your health depended on it.
Eat Dark Chocolate: I’m suggesting a square or two of dark vs. milk chocolate because it contains more flavonoids and has less sugar. Cocoa also contains a mood-boosting substance called phenethylamine. Phenethylamine from cocoa measurably gives your body an endorphin boost; while phenylethylamine supplements do not demonstrate to do the same.
Get a hand or good chair massage: A massage is not just a feel-good-at-the-moment activity. A muscle-kneading massage increases endorphins for several hours.
Find a fun group fitness class: A clinical study found athletes who rowed together could tolerate two times the pain; compared to athletes who rowed alone.
Eat your personal favorite foods: All the foods which you find to be delectable make your brain release endorphins. Keep it healthy, though!
Have sex: Sex releases a flood of endorphins as well as other feel-good brain chemicals.
Eat hot peppers: Your body senses the “heat stress” and responds the same way it responds to pain; with endorphin production.
Try acupuncture: Although it’s not severe, the pain of the acupuncture needles sends a message to the brain, which then releases endorphins.
Get some sunlight: Just 5 to 10 minutes of direct sunlight will increase mitochondrial ATP (energy) levels and endorphins too.
Listen to music: Yes, listen and enjoy, but there’s more to it. Your brain produces more endorphins when you take part in creating music. If you’re not a trained musician, tap, sing, hum, or “dance like nobody’s watching” to your favorite songs.
“Live like you’ll never be hurt
Sing like no one is listening
Live like it’s heaven on earth.”
– William Purkey
Herbals and Supplements for Natural Pain Relief Backed by Science
Capsaicin (trans‐8‐methyl‐N‐vanillyl‐6‐nonenamide) is an extract from hot chili peppers. It functions as a topical analgesic for a variety of painful conditions.
Phytodolor is an herbal formulation containing alcoholic extracts of Fraxinus excelsior, Populus tremula, and Solidago virgaurea. Evidence shows it to be effective in various inflammatory arthritic disorders.
Devil’s claw is a plant native to Africa. Iridoid glycosides are the active ingredients. Several studies demonstrate relief with topical use for osteoarthritis.
Extract of soya bean and avocado (“avocado/soybean unsaponifiables”) may be active in OA. Two comprehensive studies suggest that ASU might help with osteoarthritis pain.
Curcumin always makes my list of supplements everyone should take. As the most potent of three major curcuminoids found in the spice turmeric, it suppresses pain via decreasing inflammation. It also has more mechanisms of action than NSAIDs and even steroids such as cortisone!
It’s a safe LOX, COX and COX-2 inhibitor.
Research shows curcumin is even better than turmeric for pain and inflammation. It inhibits COX-2 which is a pro-inflammatory substance. In fact, it inhibits the entire arachidonic acid cascade. It does this via the LOX (lipoxygenase) and COX (cyclooxygenase) pathways used by various NSAIDs. Curcumin has worked as well as phenylbutazone and cortisone for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-operative inflammation in several well-done double-blind studies. Curcumin also inhibits the COX pathway better than indomethacin, a strong (read: heavy on the GI side effects) mixed COX inhibitor.
Notably, curcumin has very similar anti-inflammatory action as NSAIDs, but without the side effects in the majority of cases. NSAIDs can have dangerous side-effects; COX-2 inhibitors are even required to include black-box warnings. If “nothing else,” you are likely guaranteed to have a leaky gut with long-term NSAID usage. Curcumin is generally safe, even at doses up to 8,000 mg per day. High dosing is being used experimentally to reduce tumor spread in cancer patients. Slightly lower doses are on my list as one of the best brain supplements available. I also always recommend curcumin dosing with meals.
There is a good deal of evidence that fish oils are very anti-inflammatory and should be a part of everyone’s supplement regimen; unless they are eating high omega-3 fish twice daily.
CBD is an extract from the cannabis plant, usually made without the usual chemical alterations and additives, so that’s why I’m considering this to be “natural.”
Animal studies demonstrate CBD oil will increase endogenous endorphins. This has all sorts of implications for patients with chronic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia, CIRS, and neuropathies. So far, studies look quite positive for inflammatory arthritic conditions including fibromyalgia. In fact, in a relatively recent online patient survey by the U.S. National Pain Foundation, 1,300 fibromyalgia patients rated CBD as more effective than Savella, Cymbalta, or even Lyrica! And of course, it’s a fraction of the price of a pharmaceutical.
Minimal Evidence of Efficacy
Articulin‐F is an Ayurvedic herbal-mineral formulation containing Boswellia serrata oleo-gum-resin (100 mg), Withania somnifera root (450 mg), Curcoma longa rhizome (“curcumin”) (50 mg), and zinc (50 mg.) In one large clinical trial of osteoarthritis patients, treatment with the herbal-mineral formulation did not improve the severity of pain or disability score in a statistically significant manner.
This is one of the most widely-used herbs in treating inflammation. Patients during the “days of Hippocrates” chewed on willow bark for inflammatory conditions. Aspirin “came to be” as a derivative of willow bark. However, willow bark doesn’t provide any meaningful pain relief!
Several clinical studies comparing the use of topical (herbal) stinging nettle with non-steroidals found essentially no pain relief in several groups of osteoarthritis patients.
Reumalex is a herbal medicine containing a pulverized (Pulv) mixture of the following herbals: 40 mg Pulv Guaiacum Resin BHP, 35 mg Pulv Black Cohosh BHP, 100 mg Pulv White Willow bark, 17 mg Pulv Ext Poplar Bark 7:1, and .25 mg Pulv Ext Sarsparilla 4:1.
In an extensive study administering Reumalex to patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis pain, patients experienced no relief; they did not take any other pain medication. (This study is the most reliable IMHO because of the lack of administering any other pain medication in addition to the herbal concoction; making it a bit more promising than the other herbals studied in this category.)
Mixed Data, but Supported By Consumer Reviews
Anyone who has seen how well the following products work for their dog is a believer! Count me in, by the way.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
These are the main components of cartilage. There are conflicting studies on glucosamine and chondroitin, with some demonstrating a beneficial effect on arthritis pain. More recent studies find that chondroitin does not reduce joint pain. Therefore, the human use of chondroitin has fallen out of favor, but the news is brighter for glucosamine.
Glucosamine for Arthritis
There have been about 35 well-done studies, examining the efficacy of glucosamine for joint pain and mobility. When one examines all of the data, the reviews of the data and compares glucosamine to either placebo or NSAIDS, the glucosamine definitely “wins,” even if it isn’t a “big win.”
What About MSM?
MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is a fairly popular dietary supplement having use as a single product as well as in combination with other nutrients. Although anecdotes argue it’s beneficial for joint pain, there is minimal evidence of efficacy. However, as I always say “we’re all different,” so if it’s working for you, go for it!
Ongoing Clinical trials with No Evidence of Efficacy
If you’d like more details on the following herbals, please see the blog about natural treatments for degenerative joint disease. The list includes Aloe vera, Boswellia, Cat’s claw, Eazmov, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Gitadyl and Green tea.
The Ultimate Unveiling
If you have an autoimmune disease or chronic pain, hold onto your hats because chances are your doctor hasn’t even heard of this! I’ll reveal a bit of history about what I predict will become the “hottest thing” that we can all help “unveil.” There are social media pages and groups you can check out for support. I’m referring to this as natural because there are no side effects other than vivid dreams and insomnia. I also consider the mechanism of action “natural”; using our bodies to do the job, not the drug.
Low Dose Naltrexone
The “opioid-antagonist” drug, Naltrexone, was approved in 1984 by the FDA in a 50mg dose to help addicts wean off heroin by blocking opioid receptors and therefore the effects of opioid drugs. Naltrexone also blocks the reception of the opioid hormones our brain and adrenal glands produce: beta-endorphins, opioid growth factor, and met-enkephalins. All immune cells have opioid receptors; it’s not just about pain receptor tissues.
In 1985, Dr. Bernard Bihari discovered a small dose of Naltrexone (approximately 3mg daily) was beneficial for the body’s immune system. This low dose was able to enhance a patient’s ability to clear infection by HIV.
In the mid-1990s, Dr. Bihari found patients with certain cancers could benefit from taking low dose naltrexone. Similarly, people with autoimmune disease (such as multiple sclerosis and lupus) were showing amazing benefits from low dose naltrexone as well. A handful of thorough clinical studies were also conducted in the 2000s.
Natural opioids have a positive effect on the immune system and improve pain. Recall how I often argue researchers have an aversion to calling findings of non-approved treatments “significant”? Accordingly, this happens to be the case with low dose naltrexone.
Studies reveal very positive results for improvement in inflammatory bowel disease, M.S., and fibromyalgia. Further, the mechanism of action is thought to be up-regulation of OGF via temporary blockade of opioid receptors. This temporary blockade likely increases circulating endorphins and enkephalins; explaining it’s benefit for pain syndromes and that it’s likely an anti-inflammatory.
Extensive research is not probable unless the FDA approves a low dose formula which a pharmaceutical company can patent and sell for far more money than compounding pharmacies sell it for. Until then, Functional Medicine practitioners such as myself who recognize the benefits from patient outcomes will continue to “buck the system” and prescribe it.
Effects of long-term whole-body cold exposures on plasma concentrations of ACTH, beta-endorphin, cortisol, catecholamines and cytokines in healthy females.
Effectiveness of different cryotherapies on pain and disease activity in active rheumatoid arthritis. A randomised single blinded controlled trial.
Efficacy, tolerability and safety of cannabis-based medicines for chronic pain management – An overview of systematic reviews.
Häuser W, Petzke F, Fitzcharles MA
Anti-inflammatory effects of polyphenols in arthritis.
Molecular docking analysis of curcumin analogues with COX-2
The use of low-dose naltrexone (LDN) as a novel anti-inflammatory treatment for chronic pain
Low Dose Naltrexone in the Treatment of Fibromyalgia.
Reduced Pro-Inflammatory Cytokines after Eight Weeks of Low-Dose Naltrexone for Fibromyalgia
The Safety and Efficacy of Low–Dose Naltrexone in the Management of Chronic Pain and Inflammation in Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s Disease, and Other Chronic Pain Disorders.