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Ginger root and ginger powder

Even when we get our eating habits in order, we might still need help managing occasional pain. Many caregivers suggest herbal remedies because they are safer overall and less problematic than NSAIDs, which fight inflammation and pain, but can also mask important warning signs or lead to larger problems, such as leaky gut syndrome, bleeding ulcers, or renal issues, among others. (For more on this, see “This is Your Body on Ibuprofen,” by Kristin Ohlson.

Here are some commonly recommended botanicals, with recommended dosages, from Dan Lukaczer, ND, associate director of medical education at the Institute for Functional Medicine. (Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for an individualized plan.)


This golden spice, ground from the rhizomes of a plant related to ginger, is a staple of Ayurvedic medicine; its active ingredient is curcumin. Turmeric has been cited in more than 2,500 published studies on numerous conditions, including asthma and cancer. In 2009, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that curcumin is about as effective as ibuprofen in reducing the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee. Like many other botanicals, curcumin is not a quick fix and can take up to two months to be effective. In capsule form, take 750 to 1,500 mg daily. Many practitioners also suggest topical creams containing curcumin.


This tree produces a resin that is used in incense and is another staple of Ayurvedic medicine. It is used to treat arthritis, ulcerative colitis, coughs, and asthma. Also known as Indian frankincense. In capsule form, take 300 to 400 mg three times daily.


People training for a marathon may want to try this Ayurvedic staple instead of NSAIDs: According to studies, taking ginger can reduce exercise-induced pain by up to 25 percent. Turmeric, boswellia, and ginger are often mixed together into one compound along with black pepper, which is thought to aid absorption. In capsule form, take 500 to 1,000 mg two to three times daily.


An enzyme derived from pineapple, bromelain has long been used to combat indigestion and inflammation. Recent studies indicate that bromelain might be helpful for both workout-related injuries as well as arthritis. In capsule form, take 250 to 750 mg three times daily without food.


The active compound that gives cayenne peppers their heat, capsaicin is made into a topical cream used to treat both muscle aches and arthritic joint pain. It interferes with something called substance P, which is involved in both inflammation and sending pain signals to the brain. Apply capsaicin cream topically three times daily.

Arnica montana

Topical preparations from this mountain daisylike plant have been used for centuries to treat bruises, sprains, muscle aches, wound healing, joint pain, and swelling from broken bones. One study found that arnica gel worked as well as ibuprofen in reducing pain in people with arthritis in their hands. New studies suggest that arnica may help with burns and postoperative swelling. Topical preparations shouldn’t be applied to broken skin. Use arnica cream topically three times daily, or take three to four pellets (30x to 30c) three to four times daily.

These recommendations originally appeared in “This Is Your Body on Ibuprofen.

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