Pain and Inflammation: Natural Painkillers without the Adverse Side Effects

By Dr. Al Sears

Even before I went to medical school, I worked with college athletes. And by far, the biggest complaint was joint pain.

While everyone else was using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Motrin, Advil and Aleve, I was giving my athletes real hope with an ancient secret. And now, modern scientists are catching on.

A new study in Italy gathered 52 otherwise healthy young rugby players. They all had acute knee pain and inflammation. The players were given either a placebo or an extract of Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata). Ed: For more information, please click here, here, and here.

After just four weeks, the players taking the Boswellia had a significant reduction in pain and inflammation compared to standard treatments. They could walk farther without pain. They had less damage to their joints, tendons and muscles. And they needed fewer drugs or doctor’s visits.1

But this natural painkiller isn’t only for athletes. Joint pain can be just as debilitating for you and me. And, these days, orthopedic surgeons are quick to cut for joint injuries. More than a million Americans have joint replacement surgery every year.

And Big Pharma’s opioid drugs are dangerous. They have a very high risk of addiction and abuse. Even Ibuprofen has a black box warning about increased risks of heart attack and stroke.

As you know, I use nature’s remedies, like frankincense to relieve the pain and inflammation of any joint aches or injuries. It’s an ancient remedy that goes back 5,000 years.

In Biblical times, it was more highly prized than gold. You probably know it as one of the gifts the three Magi brought to the infant Jesus on the first Christmas.

This resin comes from a tree native to India. It’s one of the most effective treatments I’ve found for arthritis and joint pain. And it doesn’t have the adverse side effects of drugs.

In another large study, researchers followed 440 arthritis patients for six months. They found that frankincense relieved pain as effectively as painkiller drugs. It also significantly improved knee function.2

Boswellia works in many different ways. It contains enzymes that block prostaglandin e2 (PGe2). This hormone-like chemical is produced by the body in response to an injury. It makes blood vessels dilate and expand. This causes the injured area to become swollen and arthritic.

But by directly attacking PGe2, frankincense stops inflammation before it starts.

Frankincense also contains boswellic acid. This compound is a potent inhibitor of 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX), an enzyme responsible for inflammation. Knocking out 5-LOX enzymes helps prevent inflammation and pain.

Look for a Boswellia serrata supplement standardized to at least 65% boswellic acids. I recommend taking 400 mg three times a day.

Frankincense is also available as an essential oil. You can place a drop or two under your tongue. Or dilute a drop in a glass of water or a teaspoon of honey. I also like to mix frankincense oil with coconut oil and rub it right onto a sore joint.

Boswellia is not the only painkiller in nature’s medicine cabinet. There are additional natural ways to relieve joint pain and inflammation.

Protect Your Joints with These 3 Natural Painkillers

  1. First, try holy basil (Ocimum sanctum linn). This herb has a long and ancient history of treating arthritis pain. It contains dozens of nutrients that reduce inflammation.3 One of the most powerful is called ursolic acid. It inhibits the inflammatory COX-2 enzyme. Clinical studies prove holy basil relieves pain and reduces inflammation.
  2. You can buy holy basil tea at most health food stores or on the Internet. Holy basil capsules are also for sale online. Make sure the product you’re buying has at least 2.5% ursolic acid to get the anti-inflammatory effect. I suggest 150 mg three or four times a day.
  3. If that doesn’t work, take white willow bark. This plant contains salicin, the same compound found in aspirin. Hippocrates had his patients chew on white willow bark to reduce inflammation. Studies show it relieves arthritis pain as well as lower back pain.4
  4. White willow bark won’t upset your stomach like aspirin might. You can find it in health food stores or online. I recommend 240 mg per day.
  5. And for arthritis, try ashwagandha. This “smart plant” is also called Indian ginseng and winter cherry. In a recent study, researchers gave 60 arthritis patients ashwagandha or a placebo. After 12 weeks, those taking the herb had significantly less pain according to three different pain-score tests.5
  6. I recommend 300 mg to 500 mg twice a day. Or you can buy dried ashwagandha root powder. Look for a product that’s 100% organic with no artificial flavors or colors. I like to add one teaspoon to a cup of boiling organic milk. I let it simmer for five minutes. Then I add a little honey to taste.

Aim to get at least 600 mg of DHA and 400 mg of its cousin EPA every day. And make sure you take them with meals so these omega-3 fats can be digested properly.

Al Sears, MD

  1. Franceschi F, et al. “A novel lecithin based delivery form of Boswellic acids (Casperome®) for the management of osteo-muscular pain: A registry study in young rugby players.” Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2016; 20(19): 4156-4161.
  2. Chopra A, et al. “Ayurvedic medicine offers a good alternative to glucosamine and celecoxib in the treatment of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis: A randomized, double-blind, controlled equivalence drug trial.” Rheumatology (Oxford). 2013;52(8):1408-1417.
  3. Cohen MM. “Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons.” J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014; 5(4): 251–259.
  4. Chrubasik S, et al. “Treatment of low back pain exacerbations with willow bark extract: A randomized double-blind study.” Am J Med. 2000;109:(1): 9-14.
  5. Chopra A, et al. “Ayurveda–modern medicine interface: A critical appraisal of studies of Ayurvedic medicines to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.” J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2010;1(3):190–198.