To deal with inflammation and pain, more than 14 million patients turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These NSAIDs, which are used to suppress the symptoms of everything from headaches, musculoskeletal pains, arthritis, sports injuries, and menstrual cramps, are responsible for more than 100,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths a year in the United States alone. While NSAIDs can provide acute pain relief and reduce swelling at the injury site, long-term use has been shown to cause serious health problems.
NSAIDs work by inhibiting enzymes called cyclooxygenase-1 (COX1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2). These enzymes serve numerous beneficial homeostatic functions, such as converting dietary fatty acids into eicosanoids. Although eicosanoids can produce pain & inflammation, they are also used by the body to control different systems of the body, including the immune system, and they act as messengers in the central nervous system. Acute inhibition of the COX enzymes by NSAIDs poses no real danger; however, long-term use of NSAIDs does. Most people know that stomach ulcers can be caused by long term NSAID usage, but it can also lead to more serious side-effects, including heart attack and stroke in susceptible individuals.
Because NSAIDs work so well, they do have their place for treatment of acute pain and inflammation. However, they are some natural anti-inflammatory products that may also be helpful for managing chronic pain that do not have the side effects of the NSAIDs. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, boswellia and turmeric are good natural treatments for pain and inflammation. Turmeric is protective against Alzheimer’s, liver problems and cancers. If you have a chronic inflammatory condition, it may be a good idea to regularly include turmeric in your diet with curried spices or take a standardized curcumin extract, although that can be irritating to the stomach in large doses. Boswellia affects several different enzyme systems, as opposed to NSAIDs. It has been found to be very effective for arthritis, muscle pain, and asthma. Willow bark has also been shown to be as effective or twice as effective as Motrin but without the toxicity. Ginger, in addition to reducing inflammation, is good for those with poor circulation or nausea.
Ultimately, reducing inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases boils down to maintaining healthy lifestyles, which include proper nutrition. Research has demonstrated that many factors can augment the inflammatory state, including insufficient sleep, mental stressors and too much or too little exercise. So taking NSAIDs or herbs may help reduce your inflammation temporarily, but ultimately, you want to look at making your lifestyle more healthy to have a significant impact on inflammation.