5 Natural Pain Relievers

BY Sue Taggart TIMEOctober 17, 2013 PRINT

Black Birch

Rummaging around your local park may not be the first thing you think to do when looking for a painkiller, but you’d be surprised at what you can find.

Fox News ran a segment on Steve Brill, also known as the “Wildman,” who gives foraging tours of Central Park and recently took Chris Kilham, aka the “Medicine Hunter” with him. Steve encouraged Chris to chew on a twig of black birch, Betula lenta, a natural pain reliever.

Native Americans first discovered the pain-relieving properties of black birch, which is commonly called oil of wintergreen, and is the compound from which aspirin is derived. As well as relieving pain, like low-dose aspirin, drinking black birch tea every day can lower your risk of a heart attack.

Many people in pain are going back to nature for relief. Most people who live with chronic pain will do almost anything to relieve it, but medications can compound the problem with side effects and other risks.

Narcotic painkillers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), for instance, have been known to cause serious gastrointestinal bleeding and sometimes heart attack and stroke. But there are many natural options that are safe and effective.

Devil’s Claw and Fish Oil

Two that I have taken to help manage the pain from rheumatoid arthritis flareups are devil’s claw and fish oils. The herb devil’s claw has been used for thousands of years as a natural pain remedy. It contains an anti-inflammatory agent called harpagoside, which a study found to be just as effective as the prescription drug Vioxx.

In a 2009 study on patients suffering from osteoarthritis, taking a fish oil supplement allowed them to reduce their pain meds by half. The omega 3s in fish oil help to decrease the production of various chemicals that cause inflammation and pain in the joints. Plus fish oil has the added bonus of being great for your skin.


Migraine sufferers can often find relief with feverfew. Feverfew is both edible and medicinal. It has a good reputation as an alternative medicine, and extensive research has proven it to be of special benefit in the treatment of certain types of migraine headaches and rheumatism or arthritis.

The plant is rich in sesquiterpene lactones, the principal one being parthenolide. Parthenolide helps prevent excessive clumping of platelets and inhibits the release of certain chemicals, including serotonin and some inflammatory mediators.

Butterbur Root

Another popular natural pain reliever for migraine is butterbur root. When a migraine strikes, cells in the brain release chemicals that cause inflammation, butterbur interferes with some of these chemicals. In a study of migraine patients, 68 percent of those who took butterbur root reduced the number of migraine attacks by 50 percent.

Vitamin E

Women have been finding relief from menstrual cramps by taking 400 IUs of vitamin E a few days before their periods begin and through the first three days.

Menstrual cramping is attributed to hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins. These compounds cause the uterus to contract and expel its lining. Women who have higher levels of prostaglandins get more intense cramps. Studies have show that Vitamin E can lower levels of prostaglandins, which in turn significantly reduces menstrual pain.

All these natural painkillers can be found on the shelves of your local health food store. There’s no need to go hunting in the park—unless you want to, of course.

Eco18 is a collective of creative-writing individuals from different backgrounds with a common goal—to live a healthier, more natural lifestyle. Their combined expertise, humor, and opinions explore green and sustainable in a practical, fun way.

This article is provided for information only and is not meant to prescribe medical care. Please consult a physician for treatment of any medical problems.

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