Fish oil: For joint pain from arthritis or autoimmune disorders
What the science says: Digested fish oil breaks down into hormonelike chemicals called prostaglandins, which reduce inflammation. In one study, about 40% of rheumatoid arthritis patients who took cod-liver oil every day were able to cut their NSAID use by more than a third, Scottish scientists recently reported. People with neck and back pain have fared even better: After about 10 weeks, nearly two-thirds were able to stop taking NSAIDs altogether in a University of Pittsburgh study.
How to try it: Taking 1,000 mg is proven to help your heart, but you should up the dose for pain. For osteoarthritis, try 2,000 to 4,000 mg daily; for rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases associated with joint pain (such as lupus), consider a much higher dose of upwards of 8,000 mg daily–but ask your doctor about such a large amount first, says Tanya Edwards, MD, medical director at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine. (The same rule applies if you take BP or heart meds, as omega-3s can thin the blood.) Read the nutrition label carefully: The dosage refers to the amount of omega-3s in a capsule, not other ingredients. Nordic Naturals (nordicnaturals.com) and Carlson (carlsonlabs.com) are both reputable brands; for something stronger, GNC’s Triple-Strength Fish Oil (gnc.com) has 900 mg of omega-3s per capsule.
Methylsulfonyl-methane (MSM): For osteoarthritis
What the science says: MSM is derived from sulfur and may prevent joint and cartilage degeneration, say University of California, San Diego, scientists. People with osteoarthritis of the knee who took MSM had 25% less pain and 30% better physical function at the end of a 3-month trial at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences. Indian researchers also found that MSM worked better when combined with glucosamine.
How to try it: Start with 1.5 to 3 g once daily and increase to 3 g twice daily for more severe pain, suggests Leslie Axelrod, ND, a professor of clinical sciences at Southwest. Patients in the Indian trial improved on dosages as low as 500 mg three times daily. Vendors of OptiMSM, the brand tested in Axelrod’s trial, can be found at optimsm.com.
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Counting out loud: For brief “needle stick” pain
What the science says: Patients who counted backward from 100 out loud during an injection experienced and recalled less pain, according to a recent Japanese study. None of the 46 patients who counted complained afterward, and only one of them could remember pain from the injection at all (among the 46 who didn’t count, 19 said the injection hurt and 10 recalled what it felt like). Recitation might work by distracting the brain from processing the sensation, says study author Tomoko Higashi, MD, of Yokohama City University Medical Center in Kanagawa, Japan. The trick is probably only useful for short or acute periods, she says, adding: “The degree of pain reduction really depends on how well patients concentrate on counting.”
More natural cures
To learn about three other proven natural pain relievers, visit prevention.com/paincures.