Can Herbs & Spices Help Fight Inflammation & Reduce Pain?

Can Herbs & Spices Help Fight Inflammation & Reduce Pain?

Did you know that your spice cabinet might be as helpful as your medicine cabinet for managing chronic discomfort and inflammation? No, we’re not suggesting that if you just broke your leg, drinking a cup of cinnamon tea is going to make the pain go away! However, research suggests that some herbs can help manage chronic pain, with far fewer side effects than pain medication.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger, another popular spice you’ll find in your supermarket, has also been used for its medicinal benefits for eons. In addition to reducing nausea, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, possibly as much as ibuprofen according to one study. One review of multiple studies found that ginger reduced pain by 30 percent and disability by 22 percent in patients with osteoarthritis. Ginger suppresses leukotrienes (inflammatory molecules) and deactivates certain inflammatory genes. Ginger also has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.

How to Use Ginger

You can buy raw ginger root in the produce section. Chop it up and add it to a whole host of foods such as soups, curries, stir-fries, salad dressings, smoothies, pasta dishes, marinades, breads and more. Need some recipe ideas? This article from lists 35 ways to cook with ginger. You can also make ginger tea, use it in powder form and take supplements. For topical uses, you can find ginger in extracts, creams and oils you apply directly to inflamed joints.

Chili Peppers (Capsaicin)

Capsaicin is what makes your mouth burn when you bite into a spicy pepper. As with most other herbs known to have medicinal benefits, chili peppers have also been used for centuries to alleviate pain. Due to its extreme spiciness and potential to cause gastrointestinal distress if consumed in large quantities, capsaicin is used topically to treat pain. Instead of being an anti-inflammatory, capsaicin works by interfering with the neurotransmitters that communicate pain signals to the brain. The brain is “tricked” into not feeling the pain.
Studies of osteoarthritis patients found that applying capsaicin gel to the hands or knees reduced pain by as much as 53 percent compared to a placebo. Study participants also reported better mobility due to reduced pain.

How to Use Capsaicin

For capsaicin to be effective, you need to use it regularly — and it may take a few weeks before you feel pain relief. You can buy capsaicin gels or creams in drugstores but be sure to follow the directions. Avoid the eyes, wounds and irritated skin. If you experience redness and irritation, you might need to reduce usage. You can also buy over the counter capsaicin patches to wear on your skin, though these tend to be best for lower back pain and muscle sprains than joints.

Frankincense (Boswellia serrata)

You won’t find this one in your spice aisle, but frankincense is worth including here due to its proven effectiveness. Native to India, northeastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Boswellia trees produce a gum resin called olibanum, aka frankincense. Frankincense possesses anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, according to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis studies. Boswellia inhibits the production of leukotrienes (substances that attack healthy joints). One study found that a combination of turmeric and Boswellia more effectively treated osteoarthritis than the NSAID diclofenac (Voltaren) — and with fewer side effects. People have been using Boswellia as a pain-relieving remedy for centuries.

How to Use Frankincense

Your best bet is to take frankincense as a capsule, tablet or in an extract. Studies suggest taking 300-500mg two to three times per day produces the best results. Frankincense is also sold as an essential oil, but essential oils shouldn’t be taken orally.

The Takeaway

As you can see, these herbs and many others have been used for centuries around the globe to treat health ailments. Other herbs that deserve mentioning include green tea, willow bark, cat’s claw, devil’s claw, pine bark and stinging nettle. Herbs haven’t been studied as much as drugs and other types of costlier treatments — mostly because there isn’t much financial incentive (many drug studies are funded by pharmaceutical companies). Given that many edible herbs and spices are generally inexpensive and safe, don’t hesitate to spice up your meals — you might find some pain relief!

You should always consult your doctor before taking any supplements since even herbal ones can have side effects or interfere with other medications. If you’re looking for a supplement that contains many of the herbs listed here, check out Lifetones Uric Acid Support! It contains Boswellia, stinging nettle, willow bark and devil’s claw, as well as celery root extract and other herbs known to reduce inflammation.


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