The chronic pain that accompanies a disease like cancer goes beyond physical discomfort. In the worst cases, it’s relentless and can swallow up your whole life. All you can think about is the pain.
Even when it’s caused by some other health problem, like arthritis or allergies, chronic pain can be so devastating that many experts now consider it a condition in and of itself that needs treating. So what’s the best thing to do? Here’s what I think. . .
For ages, there’s been a disparity in understanding cancer pain. Too many patients receive powerful opioid (opium-derived) medications such as oxycodone, fentanyl, methadone or morphine as medicine’s knee-jerk reaction to cancer pain. In some cases doctors prescribe these opioids when the pain is only moderate.
Of course, when you’re in pain, getting rid of the symptom becomes job #1. It’s easy to take the drug and worry about the cause later. But that attitude is hazardous because most pain drugs—especially those opioids— are damaging. It’s important to find natural, healthier ways to deal with pain.
So, there are two things I want to share with you today. The first is the importance of understanding and getting control over your pain — that’s key. Second, I want to tell you about three proven herbs for pain management that are worth looking into. Unfortunately, you won’t hear about them from conventional doctors.
Here’s why conventional medicine
can’t control your pain problem
The pain that comes from cancer often starts with the cancer itself. Tumors can put pressure on bones or organs, or even nerves. But pain doesn’t always come from the physical presence of cancer.
Chemicals secreted by a tumor can also create a lot of pain. This is a case where you want a root-cause solution, not just something to mask the problem.
And then, of course, it must be said that conventional treatment often causes additional pain. Surgery is painful, radiation can cause burning sensations, and chemotherapy introduces a host of painful side effects that include nerve damage, nausea and mouth sores.
Along with that, too many conventional doctors treat cancer pain with opioid medications. Or they tell patients to take large doses of over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or acetaminophen.
It goes without saying that conventional medicine doesn’t offer long-term pain relief. Too often, the approach is to suppress the pain without addressing the cause, using medications that cause devastating side effects.
Just look at opioid painkillers. They cause constipation, sedation, and possible addiction. Typically, it takes larger and larger doses to do the job as the patient develops a tolerance for the drug. NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen carry the danger of gastrointestinal bleeding. They are, in fact, a leading cause of ulcers and death.
Acetaminiophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) damages the liver. Acetaminophen is not an anti-inflammatory and, in my view, is the least satisfactory solution to pain. It’s of no benefit at all in treating the underlying condition, whether it’s cancer, arthritis, allergies or something else.
Three herbs for the treatment of
A lot of folks are open to natural pain relief, but that poses a different problem.
There are quite a few supplements to choose from and it can be hard to know what to do. The good news is that it’s generally safe to try two, three, five or as many different ones as you like. You can take them all together in virtually every case.
Many supplements are effective in pain suppression, without side effects, or with only mild side effects. Some even work to treat the cancer source itself. Most of the helpful herbs for the treatment of pain have anti-inflammatory properties that work by blocking the enzymes that trigger swelling and subsequent pain.
#1: Turmeric extract
Turmeric comes from Indonesia and South India. It’s well-known as a main spice for curry. It’s also commonly found in Indian food, usually either in curry powder or yellow mustard.
Curcumin is an extract from the turmeric root. If you were to take pure turmeric powder, curcumin would comprise about three percent of it.
Both turmeric and the curcumin extract have anti-inflammatory properties and potent antioxidant properties. Curcumin in particular is credited with anti-cancer properties, including the ability to reduce pain and slow deterioration in the body.
This anti-inflammatory herb is able to seek and destroy free radicals in your body that cause pain. According to a study by the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Research Center in New York, turmeric proved to be more precise (not to mention safer!) than aspirin when it came to stopping inflammation. It works by shutting down the COX2 enzyme that causes pain.
In general, turmeric does a good job of substituting for NSAIDs. I take a curcumin supplement and I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to drastically reduce my use of ibuprofen for the occasional sinus headache.
To get ideal levels of curcumin, you need to eat a moderate amount of turmeric. Eating an Indian diet with lots of curried dishes is one way to do it. Some people also recommend turmeric tea (I haven’t tried it). Otherwise, supplements are a good source.
By the way, turmeric has no adverse side effects.
Papain is an enzyme found in papaya fruit. Specifically, it’s a proteolytic—or protein-eating— enzyme derived from the sappy, milk-like latex that comes from unripe papaya skins. That latex is dried and made into a powder.
Papain has been shown to attack tumor cells. It’s also effective at boosting your immune system. It works by breaking down proteins, though its mechanism of action isn’t fully understood.
In animal studies, papain has also been shown to work as a shield against the damaging effects of radiation. Papain is often administered topically but can also be taken as a supplement when it comes to pain management.
Topical creams are used to treat painful problems like bedsores, burns, and surgical wounds.
As for side effects, some people report of gastrointestinal distress while taking oral papain, and topical remedies have been reported to occasionally prompt a mild burning sensation.
Bromelain is another enzyme (made from pineapples) that’s an effective natural pain reliever and anti-inflammatory, although I don’t know that it has the specific anti-tumor and radiation-protective benefits found in papain.
You can easily buy papain and bromelain in supplement stores, either separately or together in one pill.
#3. Ginger extract
Ginger is a well-known natural treatment for nausea, but it also reduces pain and inflammation. It works thanks to the ability to lower your number of prostaglandins, the messenger molecules that tell you when you’re in pain (sometimes you’d prefer not to know!)
Some studies show that ginger also helps reduce the nausea and discomfort associated with chemotherapy.
Ginger is extremely versatile as a food. Ginger products come from fresh or dried ginger root, and you can get the herb in capsule form, tinctures, extracts, and oils. You can also grate the fresh root as a spice for food, or prepare it as tea.
Side effects are rare unless you take ginger in incredibly high, unwarranted doses.
You deserve natural pain relief
If anything, remember this: The benefits of natural pain management extend far beyond just relieving your pain. They also give you emotional relief and satisfaction. Because really, if you’re dealing with consistent pain over time, you’ll likely have less tolerance for the side effects that come from traditional pain medicines.
Turning to pain-relieving herbs like the ones listed above means you don’t have to just “deal” with the pain — you can lessen it or get rid of it completely, and without side effects.
And here’s one more benefit. Herbs make it easy to spruce up meals. They motivate you to look into fresh or new recipes. They’re a simple, beneficial way to bring some fun back into your life if you or a loved one is facing cancer. And of course, supplements are available and easiest to take.
I generally find that pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory supplements don’t pack the wallop of drugs — and certainly not of morphine — but they can greatly reduce your need for medication.
In addition, they have the advantage that you can take them all the time, they aren’t addictive, and they have a whole range of benefits the drugs don’t have.
Enzymes, for example, are one of the most beneficial nutrients you can take. To tout them as only pain-relievers is to miss 90 percent of the story. They have powerful anti-cancer effects, and provide a boost to your circulation. Some people have reported that merely taking bromelain brought down their cholesterol and enabled them to dodge their doctors who were pressuring them to take statin drugs.