Inflammation is a major factor in a whole bunch of health issues, including back pain. If you’re sick (perhaps literally) of taking pharmaceuticals to help you manage pain and inflammation, check out these 5 top natural anti-inflammatory substances for back pain.*
Natural Anti-Inflammatory Products
Natural compounds such as curcumin, found in turmeric, have demonstrated impressive anti-inflammatory activity. Curcumin can help prevent the formation and activity of pro-inflammatory molecules and provide antioxidant protection for cells and tissues.
Some studies have found curcumin to be just as effective for relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis as phenylbutazone, a commonly prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) (Deodhar et al., 1980). Curcumin is a great idea for anyone with morning stiffness and swollen joints, who also wants to look after cardiovascular and cognitive health!
Curcumin is poorly absorbed from turmeric though, so make sure to track down a supplement containing highly bioavailable microparticles of curcumin. Here is one I recommend that I use regularly.
If you have ever consulted an Ayurvedic practitioner for back pain, you may have encountered Boswellia serrata. This natural anti-inflammatory and analgesic herb has a long history of traditional use, and has recently been investigated by scientists for its potential health benefits.
Boswellia contains beta-boswellic acid, a compound that decreases the activity of enzymes that destroy joint cartilage. Boswellia also reduces inflammation by decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory substances. In one study (Kimmatkar et al., 2003), people with osteoarthritis who took a Boswellia serrata extract, compared to a placebo pill, had:
- Decreased pain
- Increased joint flexibility
- Less joint swelling
- Improved walking distances.
It may take up to two months for Boswellia to take effect, though, so persevere. And, as a bonus, Boswellia appears to carry on providing pain relief even a month after you stop taking it (Sontakke et al. 2007). This may make it a good option for forgetful folks or anyone worried about taking herbal pills through customs when traveling. Click here to take a look.
A bit of a mouthful, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a natural organic compound that can slow down osteoarthritis development. MSM stimulates mesenchymal stem cells to encourage the formation of new bone and helps stabilize collagen. It also dramatically increase bone mineralization. This makes MSM a great ally in the fight against osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, and any associated back pain (Joung et al., 2012).
MSM is also a powerful antioxidant and natural anti-inflammatory. It inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory interleukin-1beta and prostaglandins and can enhance antioxidant capacity in the muscles. MSM helps relieve symptoms of arthritis and other joint conditions and can also fatigue and soreness after exercise (De Silva et al., 2011; Amirshahrokhi and Bohlooli, 2013).
Another bonus of MSM is that it may actually help protect the gut and liver, both of which can be seriously damaged by regular use of NSAIDs (Reuben et al., 2010; Amirshahrokhi et al., 2011). Here is the one I use, and personally recommend.
Omega 3 is one of the best know natural anti-inflammatory substances and is found in fish, algae, nuts and seeds. Omega 3 fatty acids include eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Both EPA and DHA help decrease production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandin E2 and increase synthesis of anti-inflammatory eicosanoids.
In clinical trials, omega 3 has demonstrated benefits for a range of inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The greatest effects have been seen after taking omega 3 for 3-4 months. So, stick with it if you don’t feel any immediate relief.
Patients with RA who took omega 3 had reduced joint pain intensity and were less reliant on NSAIDs for pain relief. They also had fewer tender joints and recovered faster from morning stiffness (Goldberg & Katz, 2007). Again, I prefer Dr. Tobias’ formula and have had great results with it.
The last item in this list of natural anti-inflammatory products isn’t an excuse to drink a lot of wine. Grape extract is a source of natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds such as resveratrol, which can decrease pain and inflammation.
In one clinical trial, grape extract was better than indomethacin at reducing levels of a substance involved in cartilage degeneration. People taking the extract had a more pronounced decrease in levels of interleukin-1beta, a pro-inflammatory substance, than those taking the common NSAID (Panico et al., 2006).
Why Fighting Inflammation is Key
A little inflammation is a normal and healthy response to injury, helping the body to begin the healing process and keep infection at bay. When inflammation carries on, however, it can actually start causing more harm than good.
Inflammation is linked to a range of health problems, both chronic and acute.
To keep inflammation in check:
- Try to minimize stress
- Stay hydrated
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Don’t smoke
- Limit alcohol intake
- Eat a healthy diet.
Eating healthily means eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Skipping the meat and dairy can also help as these can trigger inflammation.
Natural anti-inflammatory products can have significant benefits for back pain and overall health. Unlike many over-the-counter medications and NSAIDs, these 5 natural anti-inflammatory products are generally safe with few, if any, side effects. MSM has been known to cause a little gastrointestinal upset for some people initially; starting with a lower dose can help.
*Anyone with an existing medical condition, or who is pregnant or breastfeeding, taking medications, or undergoing elective surgery should talk to their physician before using supplements.
Amirshahrokhi, K., et al. (2011). The effect of methylsulfonylmethane on the experimental colitis in the rat. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol, 253(3):197-202.
Amirshahrokhi, K., & Bohlooli, S. (2013). Effect of Methylsulfonylmethane on Paraquat-Induced Acute Lung and Liver Injury in Mice. Inflammation. Oct;36(5):1111-21.
Deodhar, S., et al. (1980). Preliminary study on antirheumatic activity of curcumin (diferuloyl methane). Indian J Med Res, 71, 632-634.
Goldberg, R. J., & Katz, J. (2007). A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain, 129, 210-23.
Joung, Y.H., et al. (2012). MSM enhances GH signaling via the Jak2/STAT5b pathway in osteoblast-like cells and osteoblast differentiation through the activation of STAT5b in MSCs. PLoS One, 7(10):e47477.
Kanai, M., et al. (2013). A phase I study investigating the safety and pharmacokinetics of highly bioavailable curcumin (Theracurmin) in cancer patients. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol, 71(6), 1521-30.
Kimmatkar, N., et al. (2003). Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee–a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine, 10(1), 3-7.
Panico, A. M., et al. (2006). The in vitro effect of a lyophilized extract of wine obtained from Jacquez grapes on human chondrocytes. Phytomedicine, 13(7), 522-6.
Reuben, A., et al. (2010). Acute Liver Failure Study Group Drug-induced acute liver failure: results of a U.S. multicenter, prospective study. Hepatology, 52(6):2065-2076.
De Silva, V., et al. (2011). Evidence for the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicines in the management of osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Rheumatology (Oxford), 50(5):911-20.
Sontakke, S., et al. (2007) Open, randomized, controlled clinical trial of Boswellia serrata extract as compared to valdecoxib in osteoarthritis of knee. Indian J Pharmacol, 39:27-9.