If you’ve ever experienced a headache, body pain, inflammation, or fever, there’s a good chance you’ve used a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or Aleve. While effective for short-term relief, there are severe long-term health risks to taking these drugs. What NSAID alternatives exist? And can CBD play a role as an all-natural alternative to traditional painkilling medications?
How Do NSAIDs Work?
NSAIDS reduce inflammation in the body to alleviate several types of general or localized pain and ailments, such as:
- Dental pain
- Muscle aches and pains
- Menstrual cramps
- Rheumatoid arthritis
But how? Essentially, NSAIDs work like steroids—namely corticosteroids—without causing the same side effects of these powerful drugs (including weight gain, thinning of the skin, and osteoporosis). They do this by reducing the production of prostaglandins, naturally occurring chemicals the body uses to promote healing by causing inflammation, pain, and fever. They also help with blood clotting and protecting the stomach and intestines from acid damage.
The process of reducing prostaglandins is done by blocking the enzymes that produce them, called cyclooxygenases 1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenases 2 (COX-2). But that’s where the potential for severe health consequences comes into play.
What Are the Side Effects of NSAIDS?
Since COX-1 is responsible for producing prostaglandins that aid in blood clotting and protection of the stomach and intestines, an NSAID that blocks that particular enzyme can leave long-term users vulnerable to several conditions, including:
- Increased risk of bleeding
- Kidney and liver failure
Additionally, the FDA warns that NSAIDs increase risk for heart attack and stroke.
However, there are also more minor side effects associated with even short-term use of NSAIDS, like:
- Ringing in the ears
- Allergic reactions
Alternatives to NSAIDS for Inflammation
There are several NSAID alternatives you can try to relieve inflammation and pain, but the right option for you depends on a number of factors. We’ll take you through some options below.
As mentioned before, NSAIDs work by blocking COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, but the issue is COX-1 enzymes produce prostaglandins that protect the stomach and intestines. However, there are some anti-inflammatory medications that are still considered NSAIDs, but block COX-2 enzymes and impact COX-1 enzymes much less. These are known as COX-2 inhibitors. While this class of drugs might be a better option, there’s still risk involved.
For pain, non-NSAID pain relievers like acetaminophen—commonly called aspirin—are a potential alternative. Instead of targeting inflammation, this class of drugs, called analgesics, targets the pain specifically by raising the user’s pain threshold. Basically, more pain would have to develop before the person experiences it. The only downside is analgesics don’t offer any relief from inflammation.
We’ll get into more of the details, but CBD is one of the natural NSAID alternatives because CBD helps boost natural hormones found in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). A particularly useful hormone is called anandamide, which helps regulate pain and mood. By amplifying that particular hormone, we’re better able to control how we feel on a daily basis.
A multi-symptom treatment that’s becoming more mainstream is acupuncture. This type of procedure uses needles to target different points in a person’s body to stimulate nerves. The idea is that the activated nerve sends signals to the brain, triggering the release of neural hormones that give relief. A 2012 meta-analysis of 29 studies found that acupuncture was effective in treating chronic pain.
For some, relief can be as easy as just getting some extra sleep. In a study done at Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that participants who were awakened for long stretches during the night experienced lower pain thresholds. By disrupting normal sleep patterns, the body’s pain control mechanisms were also disrupted.
Mostly used to give the signature flavor in many Indian dishes, Tumeric is another NSAID alternative, thanks to the curcumin found inside. Curcumin is an antioxidant clinically shown to help fight inflammation, especially when paired with other spices like black pepper. The two together create a synergistic effect that can help the body get the most out of turmeric.
Never heard of capsaicin? You’ve most likely tasted it. Capsaicin is what gives chili peppers their spicy kick, but it’s also shown to help relieve pain and inflammation related to everything—from severe headaches to fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis—when applied topically. Just make sure not to get any in your eyes.
Valeriana officinalis, commonly called valerian, is a flowering plant found mostly in Europe and Asia. The root of the plant—called valerian root—is shown to contain antioxidants and compounds that act as anti-inflammatory. Not only that, but valerian root is shown to help promote sleep as well.
Magnesium is one of the most important and plentiful minerals found in the body. Every cell needs it to function, especially those in your nervous system and muscles. However, most of us get less than the amount we need every day. That’s a problem, because low magnesium is linked to chronic inflammation in the body. Taking magnesium supplements to help bridge that gap is shown to help lower certain inflammation markers, especially in elderly adults.
While not as big of a household name as other NSAID alternatives on this list, cat’s claw is shown to have potential benefits in the fight against inflammation. The tropical vine—known for its thorns that look like those on cats—is shown in studies to reduce osteoarthritis-induced joint pain during exercise. It’s also thought to ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by reducing inflammation in the body.
White Willow Bark
White willow bark is commonly referred to as “nature’s aspirin” because it contains salicin, the active compound that converts to salicylic acid in the stomach, which is one of the pain-relieving components of aspirin. However, researchers believe it’s more than just the salicin that helps relieve inflammation and joint pain. One important note: You shouldn’t use white willow bark as an alternative to NSAIDs if you’re allergic to aspirin. Also, anyone under the age of 16 should avoid willow bark because of potential complications.
Foods That Fight Inflammation
A healthy diet likely won’t be able to relieve immediate aches and pains, but it is one of the NSAID alternatives to help fight inflammation. In general, eating a less-processed diet comprised of whole and fewer prepackaged foods provide your body with antioxidants and nutrients needed to fight inflammation.
Some of the best foods you can eat to fight inflammation include:
Strawberries. Blueberries. Raspberries. Take your pick, because they’re all good foods to fight inflammation. Berries are chock full of anthocyanin, a compound that not only give berries their vibrant colors, but is also shown to help fight inflammation.
Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies all contain large amounts of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosatetraenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are both shown to reduce inflammation that contributes to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and more. If you can’t eat fatty fish, taking a fish oil supplement comprised of at least 30 percent omega-3s can still provide the same benefits.
Broccoli may not be on your list of favorite foods to eat, but it should be. Broccoli is full of sulforaphane, an antioxidant that fights inflammation by lowering certain inflammation-causing compounds.
Ginger might not be your favorite way to add flavor to your meals, but its power to fight inflammation is pretty impressive. One study published in 2000 found that ginger extract was an effective NSAID alternative — almost as effective as ibuprofen. Another 2010 study found that ginger was an effective pain reliever for muscle pain resulting from an exercise injury.
Adding a slice of avocado to a burger might be enough to help fight inflammation, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Food & Function. In the study, researchers found that even two ounces of avocado added to a burger was enough to lower inflammatory responses in participants. What’s even better is that avocados are also full of monounsaturated fats, which can help inflammation.
Green tea has a reputation for being one of the healthiest beverages you can drink, and studies show it lives up to the hype. Green tea has plenty of healthy ingredients, including epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a substance known to inhibit inflammation and prevent cellular damage.
Edible mushrooms—specifically portobello, shiitake, and truffles—have antioxidants that are shown to help prevent inflammation. However, cooking mushrooms might reduce some of their anti-inflammatory properties.
Like berries, grapes contain anthocyanin. However, they also include the powerful antioxidant known as resveratrol. Resveratrol is a polyphenol and research shows it can help inhibit inflammation.
Eating dark chocolate made with at least 70 percent coca can have powerful anti-inflammatory properties because it contains flavonols, an antioxidant proven to reduce inflammation.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Rich in monounsaturated fats, extra virgin olive oil is a staple in a healthy diet because of its anti-inflammatory power. The main inflammation fighter in extra virgin olive oil is oleocanthal, an antioxidant that is said to act like ibuprofen.
Cherries are a delicious snack and a great way to fight inflammation, thanks to the antioxidant power of anthocyanin and catechins. They can also have long-lasting effects in the fight against inflammation. In one study, researchers asked participants to eat 280 grams of Bing sweet cherries for one month, then stop. Not only did the participants experience a decline in inflammation, but that decrease also lasted for another 28 days.
Tomatoes are one of the most versatile foods out there and one of the most nutritious. They’re full of vitamins, including vitamin K, potassium, vitamin C, and folate. But the real inflammation buster inside tomatoes is the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient, meaning you’ll get more of the benefits if you eat it with a healthy fat source like extra virgin olive oil.
Garlic adds undeniable taste to any number of dishes, but it’s also a tool to use in the fight against inflammation. Garlic contains sulfur-like compounds known for their ability to reduce swelling in the joints.
Like fatty fish, nuts—especially varieties high in fat like walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans, and hazelnuts—contain high amounts of healthy omega-3s and are shown to help fight against inflammation.
Can CBD be an All-Natural Alternative to NSAIDs?
CBD can potentially be one of the effective NSAID alternatives. There’s growing evidence to suggest CBD can alleviate pain and reduce effects felt from a number of difference sources, including:
How Can CBD Help with Pain and Inflammation?
CBD helps boost natural hormones found in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). A particularly useful hormone called anandamide, which helps regulate pain and mood. By amplifying that particular hormone, we’re better able to control how we feel on a daily basis. But CBD doesn’t stop there with the ECS. It can also have an effect on both types of receptors (CB1 and CB2) found in the ECS.
Although CBD doesn’t form a strong bond with CB1 receptors, which are found mostly in the brain and nervous system, it can help them receive the body’s cannabinoids. Sometimes, the body breaks down beneficial cannabinoids too quickly, but by both amplifying natural hormones and helping the body receive the healing properties from those hormones, CBD users have the potential to feel relief.
Additionally, CBD’s interaction with CB1 receptors can help users get better sleep. As mentioned above, there isn’t a tight bond between CB1 receptors and CBD, but their interaction can help control the body’s serotonin release. Whether that means speeding up or slowing down the release, having better control can mean a calming effect.
On the other hand, CBD does bond directly to CB2 receptors. Those receptors, which have a high presence in the GI and immune systems, are thought to play a role in regulating inflammation and pain. When CBD forms a bond with CB2 receptors, the result is a more balanced ECS system that may help a user experience less pain and help with inflammation.
Which Type of CBD Product Is Right for You?
It depends on the type of relief you need, but Frontier Jackson offers several CBD options that have the ability to help.
To target a specific area, topicals are a potential solution, as you can apply them directly to the affected area. Or if you’re looking for full-body relief, there are a variety of tinctures, oils, vapes, and edibles available. Keep in mind that, no matter which product you choose, you’re able to control dosage to get the customized results you desire.