The American Academy of Pain Medicine defines pain as "an unpleasant sensation and emotional response to that sensation".
Pain is a side effect of many conditions, complaints, and general ailments, and - needless to say - it's uncomfortable. Whether pain is internal or external, even in mild cases it causes a distraction, and in severe cases, pain is debilitating and all-consuming. In relying on quick-fix painkillers to relieve discomfort, many people in today's society are unknowingly overlooking the medicinal resources the natural world has to offer. Studies have shown that some of the world's most popular spices have anti-inflammatory and analgesic abilities that are superior to pharmaceutical drugs in providing pain relief, often without adverse side effects.
1. Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)
Cayenne pepper is a spice that is most famous for giving curries their heat, but it also possesses significant pain-relieving properties, too. Capsaicin, present in the pulp and flesh, can be used in an herbal poultice and applied topically to the site of pain, causing immediate heat, followed by a period of desensitized nerve endings, which reduces pain for several weeks.
The herb can also be consumed in capsule form. When consumed orally, cayenne reduces substance P - the chemical that sends pain messages to the brain. The topical and oral use of cayenne has been found to be particularly effective in treating shingles, back pain, and relieving joint pain in arthritis.
2. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is a spice with a host of medicinal abilities, perhaps its most important being its anti-inflammatory ones, which studies suggest are greater - and better for the body - than popular pharmaceutical choices like acetaminophen. It works to relieve pain in two ways: by blocking inflammatory compounds, such as prostaglandin and leukotriene, and by breaking down existing inflammation and acidity. This works externally, when ginger root is used to make a poultice to apply to the site of pain; and orally, as an herbal infusion to relieve gastrointestinal and menstrual pain internally.
3. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice is an anti-inflammatory herb that grows wild in Europe and Asia. It contains compounds that taste extremely sweet, and it is easy to source edible licorice from convenience stores and wholesalers to ingest orally. Licorice is especially effective in relieving ulcer pain; studies have found it to have a reductive effect on the diameter of ulcer inflammation.
4. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric is related to ginger and has a similar golden appearance, though turmeric is bitter and less palatable than its sweeter relative. Turmeric root has significant anti-inflammatory abilities, which studies have found superior to ibuprofen in effectiveness, particularly in relation to arthritic pain, which can be relieved by applying the spice ground into a paste to the skin. Turmeric can also be consumed to relieve internal pain as a tea or liquid extract.
It's easy to overlook the pain-relieving resources that are stocked in your kitchen cupboards or growing in your own herb garden when you are used to reaching for pharmaceutical painkillers at the first signs of pain. Herbs have been used for pain relief for centuries, and the benefits of using all-natural painkillers are many - effectiveness, convenience, and affordability, to name but a few.
Bode, A.M. & Dong, Z. (2011). The Amazing and Mighty Ginger. In: Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/
Chrubasik, S. , Weiser, T. & Beime, B. (2010). Effectiveness and safety of topical capsaicin cream in the treatment of chronic soft tissue pain. Phytotherapy research, 24(12), 1877-1885. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3335
Moghadamnia, A.A. , Motallebnejad, M. & Khanian, M. (2009). The efficacy of bioadhesive patches containing licorice extract in the management of recurrent apthous stomatitis. Phytotherapy research, 23(2), 246-250. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2601
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2012). Turmeric. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2013). Cayenne. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/cayenne