Healthbeat Report: Relieving Pain without Pills

September 13, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Carl Alguire spends a lot of time digging in the dirt. It's not just a hobby it's also his livelihood. He installs organic gardens.

"So I am always using my hands lifting shoveling using tools things like that," said Alguire.

So when the pain of arthritis started in his thumbs he wanted relief. But he had concerns about the daily use of aspirin and ibuprofen.

"Because of the stomach and liver issues, so I really didn't want to do that as frequently as I felt I needed to control the pain," said Alguire.

He wanted to try some natural options. First on the menu: the savory spice turmeric. It not only gives curry its yellow-orange color, it's known to pack a powerful anti-inflammatory punch.

"Find a way to incorporate turmeric in your diet every day," said Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, a family physician who runs the Integrative Medicine Program at NorthShore University Health System.

Dr. Mendoza Temple prescribes alternative treatments that not only work but are considered safe.

Also recommend for achy joints: a paste made of turmeric and salt.

"Wrapping it in saran wrap and just letting it sit there for 10 to 15 minutes," said Dr. Mendoza Temple. "The turmeric externally may help with inflammation and pain."

Newer research is toasting the anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherry juice. Users just mix a couple tablespoons of concentrate in water.

"Drink a glass every day and see if your pain feels a little bit better," Dr. Mendoza Temple said.

Other natural therapies may enhance or replace conventional drugs.

For example, willow bark contains salicin acid. In a study of nearly 200 people with lower back pain, those who received willow bark experienced a significant improvement in pain compared to those who took a placebo. Boil one to two leaves and make a tea when pain sets in.

Another way to end the aches? Other research shows the red seaweed supplement aquamin, reduced osteoarthritis pain in study participants by 20-percent in one month.

For headaches, there's the stuff that makes peppers hot, capsaicin.

"Because it controls the signaling process on the nerves, and you can use it in the topical fashion," said Dr. Kirti Kalidas, naturopathic physician.

Alguire says the alternative treatments are working and he's been able to cut back on other pain killers.

"It didn't get better right away bit it did consistently get better and has continued to over time," said Alguire.

No one should be mixing pain supplements and medications without seeing a doctor first. It could be risky.

Also, aspirin and ibuprofen are inexpensive and effective and many doctors say they should still be considered as part of a pain management plan.

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