Natural Supplements for Pain Relief: What You Need to Know
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 can refer to vitamins that are thought to provide health benefits. Many people with chronic pain use nutraceuticals, or natural supplements, to help manage their pain.
This is because these supplements are safe, non-habit forming and don’t have harmful side effects. They also have few interactions with prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
Below we review some of the well-researched natural supplements that can help relieve pain. Specifically, we will discuss:
- Natural supplements for chronic pain relief
- Types of pain
- Are nutraceuticals right for you?
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 consumed orally, they may be used by the body to slow cartilage breakdown. They may also slow down the narrowing of the joint space when taken for longer periods of time.
This is an example of supplements that act upon the primary source of the pain by countering the condition itself. Currently, studies are mixed about whether to use glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis. But given the good safety profile and low risk of these two compounds, many people with joint conditions do choose to supplement with them.
Natural Eggshell Membrane
Natural Eggshell Membrane, or NEM®, is a supplement that protects cartilage and reduces joint pain and stiffness in people with joint and connective tissue disorders.
NEM comes from the lining that exists between a hen eggshell and the egg. 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 it has been shown to decrease 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, NEM should not be taken by those who have egg allergies.
Willow bark is a natural pain reliever used to help ease fever and pain. It is especially useful for pain from headaches, bursitis, arthritis and lower back pain.
Willow bark contains salicin, which acts with the flavonoids and polyphenols found in the plant, to relieve pain. Salicin is converted in the body to salicylic acid, which has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
In the late 1800s, chemists were able to create a man-made version of salicylic acid, which today we know as aspirin. Because of this similarity in active compounds, willow bark is often referred to as “nature’s aspirin.” Unlike aspirin, willow bark does not damage stomach lining and so may be preferred over aspirin to 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 in these regions for centuries to treat inflammatory diseases including bronchitis, asthma and arthritis. Research has found that boswellia has anti-inflammatory benefits in humans via modulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines. The extract is also believed to reduce pain and stiffness and improve joint function in patients with osteoarthritis.
Ginger is thought to boost overall immunity and is commonly used in Eastern medicine. There are a number of active compounds in ginger, such as gingerol and shogaol, which inhibit the synthesis of inflammatory agents in the body. Ginger can also be beneficial to people with arthritis and people with inflammatory digestive disorders. However, ginger may act as a blood thinner and lower blood pressure, so you may want to talk to your doctor before starting regular treatment.
Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb that is native to South Asia and has been used for centuries in South Asian medicine. The active compound in turmeric is called curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinct 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 be effective at reducing the swelling and inflammation of joints in 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% in humans.
Ginseng has beneficial properties for boosting the immune system. It is commonly used in Eastern medicine to treat fatigue and cognitive decline. Studies have shown that certain components found in ginseng are responsible for its anti-inflammatory effect. These components target pathways in the immune system that reduce inflammation by turning off specific genes, and blocking some pro-inflammatory signaling molecules.
Omega 3’s are a type of essential fatty acid that have several health benefits. For example, they can lower the severity of some mental disorders like depression and dementia. Also, studies have shown a connection between higher omega-3 intake and reduced inflammation. Omega 3’s also reduce the severity of swollen joints and stiffness in people who suffer from 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 studied for rheumatoid arthritis and lots of other inflammatory conditions, and have shown to provide relief.
Since people’s bodies do not make omega 3’s on their own, they must be consumed. Omega 3’s are found in both animals and plants such as fatty fish, algae, hemp and flaxseed. They can be also be found in supplement form, including flax, fish oil and krill supplements.
Vitamin B12 is considered essential for nerve health — low levels can cause peripheral neuropathy. A lack of B12 can damage the lining that surrounds and protects nerves, and without a properly functioning lining, nerves stop working properly. B12 can also help restore the structure and function of nerves, providing relief to symptoms of diseases like peripheral neuropathy. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal foods like fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy.
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 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.
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 of the pathways of migraines, 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.
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.
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 unique needs.
Here, we connect different types of pain with the natural supplements discussed above. These pain types include:
- Inflammatory pain
- Neuropathic pain
- Chronic headaches
Arthritis is a family of diseases of the joints. It includes inflammation and breakdown of the joints, and results in swelling, pain and decreased range of motion. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, affecting around 32 million Americans.
Arthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down, and the bones begin 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, and most often occur in the hips, hands and knees. The joint wear and tear is not reversible, but some supplements may slow the rate of it.
For arthritis, natural supplements that may have pain-relieving benefits include glucosamine, chondroitin and NEM®.
As we mention above, inflammation is involved in many different pain conditions, as either a primary or secondary source of pain. Many of the natural supplements that help alleviate pain do this by reducing inflammation via various mechanisms. Some of the most popular supplements that reduce inflammation include: willow bark, boswellia, ginger, turmeric, ginseng and omega 3’s. These supplements may be of interest to those suffering from chronic inflammatory pain conditions such as arthritis, bursitis and more.
Neuropathic pain, or pain from “neuropathy,” is an umbrella term used to describe pain that comes 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 to: 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 before mixing.
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. The blend contains ingredients clinically proven to promote joint flexibility and reduce joint stiffness. Our nutraceutical blend includes NEM®, alpha-lipoic acid, turmeric, boswellia, ginger root extract, Vitamins D & E, thiamin, calcium and Vitamin B12. It is available for purchase along with your subscription as a Clearing member.
At Clearing, we work closely with you to customize a treatment plan for your chronic pain to help bring you relief. Our personalized comprehensive treatment plans combine non-opioid prescription-strength topical creams, nutraceuticals, personalized exercises and stretches and high-touch care from a team of specialized providers. All delivered to you in the comfort of your own home via our telehealth platform and delivery by mail.
Our goal is to help you participate more fully in the life you want. You can live a good life with a chronic pain condition. To learn whether you are a candidate for Clearing’s pain management service, click the button below. Don’t let your pain be in the driver’s seat of your life.
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.