Since long before pharmaceuticals were developed, nature has provided pain relief alternatives. Ancient civilizations reaped the benefits of curcumin, white willow bark, green tea, and capsaicin. Taking the lead from our ancestors, we too can look to nature’s bounty for relief.


Turmeric is a best-in-class spice. For thousands of years, its signature orange-yellow curcumin has been used to dye fabric, to ramp up curries and other delectable dishes, and to alleviate inflammation. Native to the ginger family, turmeric rhizomes are boiled, dried, and ground into the familiar powder.

Studies have found that those with rheumatoid arthritis who took curcumin had a significant reduction in joint tenderness and swelling. In addition, animal research has demonstrated curcumin’s potential for curbing the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy. A typical dose of curcumin is 400 to 600 mg taken three times per day.

For the culinary adventurer, golden milk is a tasty alternative to a curcumin capsule. Simply pour one cup of non-dairy milk (such as almond or coconut milk) and 1/2 cup of water into a saucepan, then add a cinnamon stick, 1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric, 1/2-inch sliced ginger, and 2 teaspoons honey. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce and simmer for 12 minutes. Strain into mugs and enjoy, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

White Willow Bark

Hippocrates, who was born around 460 BC and is considered the father of medicine, directed patients to chew white willow bark to curb pain, inflammation, and fever. The bark comes from a deciduous tree that gets its name from the silky silvery hairs on the undersides of its leaves. When the wind picks up, the oval leaves flutter, making the willow appear white.

White willow bark contains flavonoids and salicin, which is converted to salicylic acid by the liver. Its effectiveness is comparable to aspirin, which contains acetylsalicylic acid. Researchers have discovered that white willow bark helps alleviate headaches, low back pain, and the pain of osteoarthritis. People who are advised against taking aspirin – because of blood clotting issues or peptic ulcers, for example – should avoid white willow bark. A typical dose of white willow bark is 240 mg per day.

Green Tea

Green tea has been a cornerstone of Chinese health and wellness for millennia. Made from the same leaves as oolong and black tea, green tea is unfermented, leaving it with higher amounts of polyphenolics and flavonoids. Green tea’s primary flavonoids are catechins, including EGCG, which has been proven to have anti-inflammatory properties and to be helpful in preventing the progression of arthritis.

Typically, three to four cups of green tea each day can confer benefits, as can a 300 to 400 mg capsule of green tea extract. There is an art to steeping green tea, but the rule of thumb is to use 1 teaspoon of tea leaves to 6 ounces of water. Typically, the steeping time and temperature depends upon the quality of the tea, but it’s always a good idea to heat the steeping vessel with hot water before beginning the brewing process. Add mint leaves or lemon juice and a drop of honey to brighten the flavor.


When you bite into a fiery chili pepper and feel the burn, your body is reacting to capsaicin. With the highest concentration found in the inner membranes to which a chili’s seeds are attached, the heat associated with peppers is measured in Scoville units. A bell pepper barely registers on the Scoville scale, cayenne pepper is about halfway up the scale, and Pepper X is off the charts.

While eating capsaicin can cause pain, applying it in other ways can bring relief, since its anesthetic properties capitalize on capsaicin-sensitive nerve endings. Researchers have found that arthritis patients who applied capsaicin cream to their knees reported significant pain relief. Over-the-counter capsaicin has also been shown to lessen post-surgical incision pain, chronic musculoskeletal pain, and diabetic neuropathy, while 8 percent clinician-applied capsaicin patches can help shingles-related and chronic pain.

Capsaicin is available in creams and gels, and is typically applied three times per day. It’s important to wear gloves or wash your hands after applying capsaicin topically, as it can cause burning sensations if you touch other parts of your body.

These gems are just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of natural remedies that confer analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. The bottom line? Choosing nature over pharmaceuticals can represent progress on your path to wellness.

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