Pain & Pain Relief

When we're in pain, we want it to stop—quickly and safely! The NorthStar blog on pain and pain relief contains information on options to help relieve pain fast, including product reviews and comparisons.

  1. Back Pain: How to Relieve Your Aching Back in 6 Simple Steps

    Pain Free BackIf you have back pain, then you understand this…

    Getting rid of your back pain is vital to quality of life.

    After all, if you suffer from pain in your lower or upper back, you know that it can take over your life. Every movement hurts. As soon as you get comfortable, pain flares up again. Even when you lie down, the pain is inescapable.

    That may sound melodramatic - but only if you’ve never experienced back pain.

    So you’re probably wondering…

    How do you get rid of back pain? Or better yet, how do you avoid it?

    And I have good news – there are a few simple steps you can take today to live with a pain free back.

    Long-Term Solutions and Short-Term Results

    Back pain can be a long-term problem that requires a little patience for a long-term solution.

    So it’s important to follow steps which may take a bit longer to deliver results, but that will help you big picture.

    But there are also a few short-term techniques you can use to relieve your pain now. It’s best if you can combine these with long-term solutions in order to get rid of pain quickly, and avoid pain in the future.

    Easing Your Back Pain in the Big Picture

    These back pain remedies may take a little longer to go into effect, but they will be what helps your back stop hurting day after day.

    Simply by making yourself aware of these 3 steps will improve your back, to the point where you hopefully no longer have issues.

    1.  Be Aware of Your Posture. It’s not old-fashioned to care about your posture – it’s the key to relieving and avoiding back pain. Sitting, standing, walking, even being on your cell phone, being aware of your posture, and maintaining your spinal alignment, will go a long way to easing your back pain. When you sit, be sure to sit all the way back in your chair with your feet flat and your shoulders back. It will feel strange at first, but that’s because we’re all so used to slumping at our desks, or in front of our televisions, that we've forgotten how it feels to sit upright. When you’re standing or walking, make sure your back is straight, your shoulders are back (but relaxed), and your neck is straight. Even when you’re texting or looking at your cell phone, hold it to eye level, rather than at your waist. This will help keep your body aligned and your back from hurting.

    2.  Keep Moving. When your back hurts, it’s tempting not to move so you don’t accidentally tweak it more. As counterintuitive as it seems though, rest may not be the best thing for your back pain. Plus, getting some exercise may help you lose weight, which will help ease your back pain, too. Find a low impact exercise, like walking, swimming, or cycling, so you don’t make your back pain worse. If nothing else, be sure to walk every day, and don’t stay seated for hours at a time. Even if all you do is walk around your living room every hour, do that much. It will help keep your back flexible and your muscles strong.

    3.  Sleep in the Best Position for Your Back. Many people find relief from sleeping on their side, instead of their backs or stomachs. Tuck a pillow between your legs to help keep your hips aligned during the night. If you have to sleep on your stomach, elevate your hips with the pillow under them instead. This will keep your back from sagging while you sleep.

    Relieving Your Back Pain Right NOW

    Again, finding long-term relief for your back pain is important. But so is easing the pain you’re in right now.

    Taking these 3 quick steps will help you get a pain free back today – rather than waiting for relief.

    1.  Stretch the Right Way. When you hear “stretch” you may think back to gym class and everyone seated on the floor reaching for their toes. This is not the right way to stretch for back pain. Instead, try these 2 stretches…

    a. Lie on the floor, on your back, with your legs bent at right angles up on a chair. Make sure the chair is tucked under your knees and your back is flat. Let your hands rest on your stomach or out to your sides. Let your back relax completely. Stay in this position for 5-10 minutes.

    b. Lower one leg from the chair, leaving the other in place, still bent at a right angle. Straighten the leg on the floor, so the knee is straight. Prop that ankle, so the foot stays upright and doesn’t roll to the side. Make sure both legs and hips are aligned with your shoulders. Stay in this position for 10 minutes, then switch sides.

    1. Get A Massage – and a Tennis Ball. Deep tissue, therapeutic massage can help release the muscles and tendons that have tightened up from years of misuse and inactivity. As those muscles, or trigger points as they’re called, release, the pain releases as well. So where does the tennis ball come in? Your massage therapist can evaluate where your trigger points are and show you how to put pressure on them using a tennis ball at home. It may not be as complete relief as massage, but it’s immediate and you can do it in your own living room!
    1. Use the Right Topical Pain Reliever. The easiest, fastest way to relieve your back pain is with a topical pain reliever. Unlike pills or medications, topical pain relievers are targeted and rush relief to the site of your pain, without having to flood the body with medication. They’re fast, too, going to work in a matter of minutes – or even seconds – instead of taking more than an hour, as some pain pills do. Look for topical pain relievers with proven, respected active ingredients like menthol and capsaicin so you know you’re getting an ingredient that works, and works as fast as you need it to.

    Living with a pain free back is absolutely within reach. Short-term topical pain relief, along with stretches and trigger points, can get you through the moment so you can focus on long-term relief.

    If you take these 6 steps and still experience pain in your back, be sure to check out our other articles on back pain to discover more fast solutions.

  2. Topical Pain Relievers: Are They Better Than Pain Pills?

    Topical Pain ReliefThe choice between a topical pain reliever and an oral pain pill is an important one.

    You have to consider efficacy, safety, ease of use, and availability.

    The good news is all of that’s not nearly as difficult to figure out as it first seems.

    Let’s take a closer look at topical pain relief…

    What Are We Talking About?

    We’re going to look at these 3 categories of pain reliever: topical pain relievers, over the counter (OTC) oral pain relievers, and prescription oral pain relievers.

     There are different kinds of topical pain relievers, as well: prescription, analgesic, and counterirritant. So we’ll be sure to clarify which is being discussed when.

    And don’t be concerned about the word “counterirritant.” It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. That’s the word used to describe active ingredients, menthol and capsaicin, because of how they work.

     The Pros of Topical Pain Relief

    Regardless of if you’re considering a prescription, an analgesic, or a counterirritant for topical pain relief, the pros are pretty straight forward.

    • Targeted – Instead of flooding your whole system with medication, topical pain relievers focus on the joint or muscle that hurts, keeping the medication focused exactly where you need it.
    • Faster – Oral pain relievers can take as long as 2 hours to start working. Topical pain relievers can start working in less than a minute.
    • No pills – Some people in pain may be dealing with medical conditions that prevent them from digesting pills efficiently. Some people may have a hard time keeping track of which pill they’ve taken so far. And some people just don’t want to have to choke down yet another pill. Topical pain relief can be exactly what these people need.

    The Pros of Oral Pain Relief

    None of this is to say that you shouldn’t take pain pills. They have their own list of pros, as well.

    • Total body pain relief Topical pain relievers work best for a small, localized area. For all-over pain, getting medication throughout your body is important in order to get all the relief you need. Related to that is the fact that topical pain relievers work best on muscle and joint pain. Since oral pain relievers aren’t targeted, they can take on pain in areas that topical pain relievers can’t reach.
    • Skin sensitivity – For people with sensitive skin, topical pain relievers can sometimes create a problem, rather than eliminate one. Swapping out one pain for another isn’t the goal.
    • Mobility Often pain makes moving difficult. Muscles grab up, joints stiffen up, and movement is limited. If you can’t reach the site of your pain, you can’t apply a topical pain reliever. Pain pills give you the ability to ease your pain, even if you can’t reach your back or your toes or your shoulders…

    Answering the Big Question – Do Topical Pain Relievers Work?

    As valid as all of these pros are, though, none of them answers the biggest question about topical pain relief: does it work?

    We've got good news…

    Topical pain relievers can work as well as any oral pain reliever.

    Prescription pain pills and prescription topical pain relievers frequently have the same active ingredient, so it makes sense that they are equally as effective.

    But what about the OTC products? Can a topical pain reliever provide as much relief as a dose of the pain killer you’ve always reached for?

    There are 3 primary active ingredients in topical pain relievers – menthol, capsaicin, and methyl salicylate.

    As we mentioned before, menthol and capsaicin are “counterirritants” which means they “distract” the body from the pain, bringing relief. Methyl salicylate is a topical version of the same active ingredient as aspirin, and you know aspirin works.

    More importantly though is that all 3 of them have been researched, studied, and approved for topical pain relief. In other words, they work to bring you topical pain relief.

    What About Safety? Are Topical Pain Relievers as Safe as Oral Pain Relievers?

    Topical pain relievers are medicines, and as with any medicine, you need to follow the dosing instructions. In general, though, topical pain relievers, especially the counterirritants, can actually be safer than oral pain relievers.

    When dealing with prescription, or analgesic, topical pain relievers, the warnings and risks associated with the oral versions still apply.

    If the oral version has a risk of addiction or overdose, the topical pain relief comes with those same risks. If you need to avoid an oral version of an ingredient, you should be especially careful – or avoid entirely – using the topical pain relief version as well.

    The counterirritants – menthol and capsaicin – have fewer risks of side effects. While some people don’t care for the smell of menthol, that’s not really a side effect.

    So, allergies and skin sensitivities are the most common side effects, making them a safe and effective choice for topical pain relief.

    Only you and your doctor can decide if topical pain relief, or oral pain relief, will balance all of your needs best.

    But having the information you need to help you make an educated decision is the smartest first move you can make. Do your research. Learn the facts. Talk to your doctor. You’ll know which pain reliever is best for you and your health.

  3. What Causes Joint Pain? Simple Tips to Get Relief Today

    When your joints hurt – or ache, or get stiff – it’s easy to assume it’s arthritis. But it may not be. That’s why it’s important to know what causes joint pain. Because each specific type of pain requires a different solution – and you need to address your pain properly in order to get relief. Continue reading →
  4. Are you trading pain for a frightening addiction to Zohydro?

    It’s set to hit shelves this month—a new pain reliever called Zohydro. And if you suffer from any sort of chronic pain, it’s entirely possible that your doctor will be writing you a prescription for it sometime soon. If he does, I want you to follow my simple two-step plan. Step 1:  Hightail it over to the trashcan. Step 2:  Rip up the prescription and toss it in. And if that sounds just a bit melodramatic, trust me when I tell you it’s not. Despite its upbeat sounding name—and its golden promises of pain relief—Zohydro lights up so many warning signs that it’s practically glowing. The drug is yet another addition to a long line of prescription opioid analgesics that seem almost tailor-made to lead to, and support, addiction. But this time, with the drug being reportedly five times as powerful as any of the others we’ve seen, the threat may even be worse. An unprecedented epidemic of addiction could be lurking right around the corner.

    Opioids kill more than heroin and cocaine combined

    To get an idea of just how bad things could get we only have to take a look at another opioid—one that you probably even recognize by name—OxyContin. ‘Oxy’ hit the market in 1996, and with millions spent on aggressively marketing the drug, sales soon shot through the roof, and it quickly became the biggest superstar in Perdue Pharma’s stable of drugs. By some accounts, it was responsible for up to 80 percent of the company’s profits, at one point. But at the same time Oxy’s star was rising, a black market for desperately addicted “junkies” (you know, folks like your Aunt Ethel, that sweet young man who cuts your grass in the summer, and Pastor Bob) practically sprung up overnight. OxyContin, and others opioids like it, turned out to have the potential to be highly addictive. Lots of normal, upstanding, every-day citizens become hopelessly hooked on the drugs, and accidental overdose isn’t all that uncommon. In fact, opioids kill more people every year than heroin and cocaine combined. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from prescription opioid overdoses have skyrocketed, more than quadrupling since the late 90s. OxyContin abuse didn’t start to level out until the manufacturer finally created a “tamper-proof” version in 2010 that turned the once highly crushable pills—perfect for snorting or injecting—into a gummy mess when crushed.  Now, some of those same “non-traditional” addicts have been forced to turn to other drugs like heroine to get through the day. Imagine Pastor Bob walking the back alleys of your home town, desperately looking for some relief, and you’ll start to get an idea of just how bad an addiction like this can be. And that brings me back to that new drug Zohydro, which is not only five times more powerful than Oxy, but will also hit the market in an easily crushable tablet, making it potentially ripe for abuse.

    Devastating prediction:  “It will kill people…”

    I’m far from the only one sounding the alarm here. According to a recent report on CNN, a group of over forty health care, consumer, and addiction treatment groups have banded together to strongly urge the FDA to revoke its approval of the drug. One of the signers of the letter to the FDA, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, president of the advocacy group Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, painted a devastatingly clear picture of the near future when he told CNN, “It will kill people as soon as it’s released.” Last year a group made up of 29 attorney generals sent a similar request to the FDA, and members of Congress have even asked the agency to reconsider its approval of the drug. So now you can understand my concern, and why I’ve advised you to toss that Zohydro prescription. Otherwise, you may end up trading in your pain for a frightening drug addiction… or worse! Instead of taking a heavy duty, potentially-addictive, prescription pain med, find yourself a holistic doctor that can create a personalized plan to help you get rid of your chronic pain once and for all. Meanwhile, safe and natural topical pain relievers like capsaicin and menthol can speed some much-needed pain relief right to where it hurts. While proven chronic-pain-relieving acupuncture or physical therapies… like spinal manipulation… could help in the long term.
  5. Flexanol’s multi action formula is tops for joint comfort

    It never fails. When the holidays get close, my inner kid suddenly emerges. It seems no matter how many years I manage to put under my belt, I still can’t help getting excited about the holidays like… well, like a kid at Christmas. And with visions of turkeys and Christmas trees dancing through my head, the only thing that could keep me from dancing right along with them are what I like to call uncomfortable “winter joints.” The fact is, very few of us are getting everything we need to keep our joints feeling smooth and comfortable. And as the temperatures drop, and the mad dash through the holidays starts, feeling stiff after an evening of merry-making is a very real possibility. But you can beat “winter joints,” sidestepping them altogether by giving your joints the soothing support they need. The Flexanol formula, combining the best joint-supporting breakthroughs of the last three decades, was essentially thirty years in the making. Because hey, let’s face it, you just don’t rush perfection! From joint-lubricating chondroitin to a triple shot of targeted joint-friendly vitamins, Flexanol supports your joints from all angles. Don’t face the holidays and “winter joints” unprepared.
  6. 4 Pain Problems and 12 Pain Relief Solutions

    Senior couple on cycle ride In talking with customers who are looking for pain relief solutions, it seems that most types of pain fall into one of 4 categories --  fibromyalgia, joint pain, migraines, and sore muscles. And because these are the issues you care about, they are the issues we care about. You gave us 4 painful concerns, so we came up with 3 pain relief solutions for each one!

    How Can I Get Fibromyalgia Relief?

    So little is understood about fibromyalgia, it’s hard to know exactly why something helps the pain. Still, many patients say these steps can help with pain relief…
    1. Light exercise keeps the body moving, and often eases the pain. Some slow walking, swimming, even a few stretches or gentle yoga have been reported to help.
    2. Lack of sleep due to pain can make you hurt worse – which keeps you up at night. Break the cycle with a melatonin supplement, and get a good night’s sleep.
    3. Sometimes, the pain requires a prescription. Find a doctor who will listen to you and respect you and your body.

    What Makes Joints Stop Hurting?

    Whether it’s arthritis, or just getting older, joint pain can be restrictive. Even if we feel up to moving, our bodies won’t always let us. Not only can it be painful, it can be disheartening. Here are some pain relief solutions that may help…
    1. Studies have shown topical pain relievers can be effective against joint pain, especially those with capsaicin or cayenne listed as an active ingredient.
    2. Glucosamine has been shown to ease joint pain, especially in cases not directly involving arthritis. Many people find it works best in conjunction with chondroitin.
    3. The ancient art of acupuncture is frequently used as an alternative, or complementary, medicine when dealing with joint pain. While many mainstream doctors are still skeptical, practitioners swear by its effects.

    How Can I Make A Migraine Go Away?

    Anyone who has ever had a migraine knows just how debilitating it can be. When one hits, all you want is for it to be over.
    1. Oral pain relievers seem to be the best pain relief solution for severe headaches. Most sufferers look for an over-the-counter drug that includes caffeine as an ingredient.
    2. Some people have found relief without medicine at all. If you can’t take medicine, or don’t have access to it, try a cold compress over your eyes and/or at the hairline on the back of your neck. For the most effective pain relief, stay away from light and loud noises, too.
    3. For some, only a prescription strength medication is strong enough to address their pain. In this case, speak with your doctor. Many medications can even prevent the onset of a migraine.

    What Can I Do For Sore Muscles?

    Sometimes, it’s a temporary situation. Sometimes, it’s a chronic condition. Either way, our muscles are not supposed to feel like this!
    1. This is another time when a topical pain reliever can be a helpful pain relief solution. Some products use capsaicin; some use menthol. Some products even offer both!
    2. It’s also a time when an oral pain reliever might work. Many over the counter medications, including ibuprofen and naproxen, claim to target sore muscles.
    3. Therapeutic massage can offer relief and relaxation, all in about an hour. Be sure to find a licensed massage therapist for the best results.
    Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that any of these pain relief solutions will work on your specific pain. And be sure to talk to you doctor or health care provider before starting a new treatment, especially for a chronic condition. But don’t give up and don’t get discouraged. There are ways to relieve or manage your pain. And we’re right here with you, every step of the way.
  7. Avoid aching painful joints with the “broccoli cure”

    A certain felt-covered frog once quipped, “It’s not easy being green.”  And I’m sure if broccoli could speak it would agree. Sadly, this healthy veggie seldom gets the respect it really deserves. All too often it’s the butt of jokes about kids feeding it to the dog under the table. And I probably don’t need to remind you what our 41st President had to say about the stuff. But the truth is, broccoli is a superfood in every sense of the word. And if the king of cruciferous vegetables isn’t a regular on your dinner plate, than you’re missing out on the “broccoli cure”. Hidden inside those green stalks is a whole lot of healing power, starting with the potential to ward off cancer. Research has shown that broccoli extract can kill breast cancer cells. In fact, women who regularly eat this cruciferous vegetable have a 62 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer and a 35 percent reduced risk of it ever coming back, according to one study. In a University of Oregon study it was prostate cancer that was the target. Broccoli extract not only killed the prostate cancer cells it managed to do it safely, leaving the nearby healthy cells intact. (You know… pretty much the opposite of what chemo does.) I shared all the details on that prostate study on the NorthStar blog—including Big Pharma’s intense interest in the results. Click here to get the whole scoop.

    Reverse arthritis with the “broccoli cure”?

    It’s a natural phytochemical called sulforaphane that appears to be responsible for the broccoli cure’s cancer-fighting abilities as well as its anti-inflammatory properties. This plant-based chemical, known as an isothiocyanate, is also at the heart of an exciting new broccoli-based discovery. Researchers from the University of East Anglia say that munching on sulforaphane-loaded broccoli could be the key to heading off agonizing joint pain. A lab study shows that the phytochemical literally slows down the destruction of joint cartilage that’s seen with the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis. Mice fed a sulforaphane-rich diet were practically ready to get up and do the tango. They had significantly less of the painful cartilage damage that you’d expect to see with osteoarthritis. And similar exciting results were seen with human and cow cartilage cells. The sulforaphane blocked the enzymes that lead to the wearing away of the cartilage in arthritic joints, heading off the molecule that leads to inflammation, according to the findings published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

    Get the “broccoli cure” now

    Now that the researchers have proven that the “broccoli cure” works in the lab and in animals, they hope to prove that it has the same effect on human joints as well. They are conducting a trial on osteoarthritis patients who will be having knee replacement surgery. But there’s really no reason to wait around for those results. Broccoli is chock full of important nutrients and there’s no time like the present to bump up the amount of this delicious and nutritious veggie in your diet. We already know those good-for-you green stalks fight inflammation, could help keep cancer in its place and may even help tame the tummy-troubling symptoms of Crohn’s disease. (To learn more about the Crohn’s and broccoli connection visit the NorthStar blog. Despite what Crohn’s sufferers are often told, this “forbidden” food is beneficial!) Just make sure your cooking your broccoli the right way. A light steaming… just three to four minutes… is all it takes. If you end up with a limp mushy side dish it’s a sure sign you’ve overcooked it, and killed the enzymes that release that all-important sulforaphane in the process.
  8. Low levels of vitamin D may lead to headaches

    Help for headaches

    If you suffer with occasional headaches you may have low levels of vitamin D. I'm seriously beginning to wonder if there's anything that this vitamin isn't good for. A recent study, published in the journal Headache, has found a link between low levels of vitamin D and non-migraine headaches. The Norwegian Tromsø Study has tracked 11,614 volunteers since 1974. Over the years researchers have surveyed participants on various health issues and the latest round of surveys revealed an interesting association between non-migraine headaches and D. Volunteers with the lowest levels of vitamin D had 20 percent more headaches. If your D levels are low raising them may be just the trick you need to say goodbye once and for all to the headache pain.
  9. Omega-3 battles illness by reducing systemic inflammation

    Hidden cause of illness reversed with simple nutrient

    It's a good thing gone wrong. Inflammation, you see, starts out with its "heart" in the right place, but can end badly with systemic inflammation Much like the pain that makes you pull your hand away from the hot stove, or the fever that raises your body's temperature just enough to make it an unfriendly place for a bug to live, inflammation has an important and underappreciated job to do as well. When you're injured or get an infection your body sends special immune system cells to take care of the problem. The cells surround and overwhelm the infection or get rid of any debris left behind by the injury. The inflammation you see is a sign that your body is doing its job. But there's a more sinister side to inflammation. This normally helpful process has a dark side called "systemic" inflammation. And instead of the redness, swelling, and pain that you expect to see, systemic inflammation changes the rules. It's internal, and what docs like me like to call "low grade," (yup, just like the lighter version of a fever that also can be easily missed) and chronic. The problem with this kind of inflammation is that it's virtually invisible. But just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there or having an effect. In fact, experts are now starting to link this hidden inflammation with a number of major diseases. And the potentially deadly list includes heart disease, Alzheimer's, arthritis, cancer, and type-2 diabetes. And if you're carrying around some extra weight the news gets even worse. Systemic inflammation goes hand in hand with excess body fat. So just being overweight may make you susceptible to it and could be raising your risks of a number of major diseases.

    Reverse hidden systemic inflammation

    But new research from Ohio State University has found that if you're both overweight and middle aged just having enough of one simple nutrient in your diet could help you cut your inflammation numbers without even trying. (Hint... your likely not getting enough of it.) According to the study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, volunteers took supplements for four months. They got either 2.5 grams of active omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, 1.25 grams of the omega-3s, or two teaspoons of a mix of oils representing what a typical American's eats. Now, if you'll recall, earlier I told you that systemic inflammation is almost invisible. Well the way we find it is to look for certain proteins in the blood that are telltale signs of its presence. And it's those proteins the researchers at Ohio State were looking for. It turns out that those volunteers who got the omega-3s had one of those proteins drop by an average of more than 10 percent! And they also saw a modest, but measurable, decrease in a second one of the inflammation markers to boot. But the volunteers who got the supplement of mixed oils didn't fair so well. In fact, they saw jumps in their inflammation marking proteins... a staggering 36 percent in the one and 12 percent in the other.

    Omega-3s may beat disease

    Lowering hidden inflammation is important for your health. And it may even slash your risk for heart disease, Alzheimer's, arthritis, cancer and diabetes. So adding more omega 3's to your diet seems like a no-brainer. (Hm, or perhaps knowing what we know already about omega 3's and brain health--and its ability to ward off depression and Alzheimer's--maybe I should call it a yes-brainer instead?) And the good news is that it's super easy to add more omega 3's to your diet. Sardines, salmon, halibut, chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts are all excellent... not to mention delicious... sources of omega-3.
  10. Back pain drugs, like etanercept, perform no better than salt water

    Somewhere between $500 to $700 a pop. That's what a painful spinal injection of steroids or the arthritis drug etanercept (brand name Enbrel) for back pain will set you back. Sure, if you're in severe pain that cost might seem totally worth it, if comes along with some much-needed relief. The only problem is the results of a new study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine suggest that those shots don't relieve the pain any better than an injection of plain old salt water. That's right. You're paying $500 bucks for a drug that probably doesn't come with any more benefits for you than that salt shaker over there on your kitchen table. They do, however, come with a whole slew of nasty side effects.

    Serious side effects

    I'll give you all the details on that study in a moment, but first let's talk about those side effects. Steroids can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. They've also been linked to stomach problems, anxiety, cataracts, sleeplessness, worsening pain, and immune system depression. Etanercept, on the other hand, blows steroids out of the water when it comes to potential immune system side effects. The drug works by intentionally short-circuiting your immune system. And, as you can imagine, that can have some pretty hefty consequences. The fact is, when you're on etanercept, you may be more likely to get an infection. And although the infections are rare they can be very serious and any infection you do have can be made much worse with the drugs in your system. And, of course, let's not forget that nervous system problems are always a possibility when you're talking about injecting anything into your spine.

    Pass the salt skip the drugs

    While I'm not at all surprised that yet another drug (and in this case two) was found to not be living up to its promises the study that outed these two as likely losers involved 84 volunteers at four different hospitals. The patients all had sciatica... a painful compression of the root nerve in the spinal cord... and were in their early 40's. They were split into three different treatment groups and given two spinal injections two weeks apart. The first group got injections of the steroid methylprednisolone. The second group got injections of etanercept. And the past group got injections of salt water (saline). When the patients checked in one month later their back and leg pain had improved a similar amount. And this, of course, was regardless of which injection they had received. But no matter which group, the improvement wasn't much to write home about, anyway. Their back pain scores dropped an average of just one or two points. Their leg pain scores were a bit better, dropping an average of two to four points. Critics of the study will point out that this was a small study... and even the researchers readily admit that this is true. But the results are pretty rock solid and shocking when you consider both the costs, and the risks involved with these injections. Also this was the best kind of study... a double blind one. In a double blind study like this neither the doctors nor the volunteers know which injection they're getting. So the results are that much more reliable.

    Nix the drugs and go natural

    The bottom line is that there are much more reliable ways to reduce your back pain and they don't come with all the dangerous side effects. I've written to you before about the incredible pain-relieving results you can get from yoga. One NIH study that followed participants for three years found that those back pain sufferers who practiced yoga for just 90 minutes a week did much better than a group who got standard medical care with drugs. According to the study published in Spine Journal, the yoga group had measurably less pain, functional disability, and depression than the drug group. And when they did have pain it was less intense. Plus their improvements lasted for six months after they stopped exercising. There are also a number of natural remedies that can ease muscular aches and pains like backaches away in a hurry. I like to keep an herb called white willow around. The herb, which contains a component very similar to aspirin but doesn't have the same stomach trouble issues, has a long history of traditional use and can help relieve pain and inflammation. Another herb I'm fond of for lower back pain relief is devil's claw. The herb can reportedly reduce pain and help with mobility. Just keep in mind that it can interact with certain medications so you should check with your naturopathic doctor to be sure it is the right herb for you.
  11. From pain relief to saving lives…the benefits of vitamin D

    I feel like I should label this reasons 154 and 155 to make sure you're getting enough of the benefits of vitamin D, because I'm sure I've written to you at least that many times about the virtues of this vital vitamin. And just in the last couple of weeks, two more reasons for maintaining your vitamin D levels have surfaced. The first is a warning for anyone in a nursing home...or for anyone with a loved one in a nursing home. A study published in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has linked vitamin D deficiency in nursing home residents to higher mortality. Researchers found that 92.8 of study participants were deficient in vitamin D and missing out on the key benefits of vitamin D. This deficiency puts them at a much higher risk for skeletal diseases, and was linked to a higher death rate. And for women suffering with debilitating menstrual cramps it turns out that vitamin D may be the key to finally getting some relief. A small study out of Italy, and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that a single high dose of vitamin D3 was incredibly effective at relieving menstrual cramping and pain. The vitamin apparently works by hampering the production of the hormone-like substance prostaglandins. The dosages used in the study were quite high however, 300,000 IUs, so this one is going to require some more study, as well as supervision by a good naturopath. But based on the findings I'd say that just maintaining your optimal levels of this vitamin could go a long way towards easing your once-a-month cramps.
  12. Study tests turmeric for inflammation relief

    A few weeks back, I told you about a spice used in cooking that might help prevent cancer and Alzheimer's disease. It seems to work by fighting off inflammation throughout the body. Plus, now a new study testing turmeric for inflammation shows this spice may even target inflammation in your joints. Curcumin is the ingredient in turmeric that gives the spice its bright yellow color. Researchers applied the extract to human tendon cells taken from patients with tendonitis. Tendonitis is a form of inflammation that commonly strikes tendons in your wrist, hands, shoulders, elbows, knees, and hips. But when researchers applied the curcumin extract to tendon cells, inflammation decreased showing that turmeric for inflammation may be effective. According to the published report, "These results demonstrate, for the first time, a potential role for curcumin in treating tendon inflammation." Of course, more studies are needed. But in the meantime, if you've got tendonitis, add curry and turmeric to your cooking.
  13. Antioxidant eases tinnitus in four weeks

    For anyone who has tinnitus (or ringing in the ears) that won‘t go away, a new natural treatment holds a lot of promise. Pine bark extract is a powerful antioxidant that improves blood flow, even to the inner ear. And that‘s exactly why it‘s gaining attention as a natural treatment for tinnitus. You see, many researchers believe lack of blood flow to your ear triggers tinnitus. But if you can improve blood flow to the ear, the ringing in your ears will improve as well. To see if this theory held any weight, Italian researchers recently tested pine bark extract on 82 patients with tinnitus. They divided the volunteers into three groups. The first group received 100 mg of pine bark extract per day for four weeks, the second got 150 mg and the third got a placebo. Researchers found that blood flow to the inner ear improved in both groups taking the pine bark extract. Plus, at the study‘s outset, the researchers gave volunteers the Subjective Tinnitus Scale (STS). It‘s a test to evaluate the symptoms of tinnitus. Following the pine bark supplementation, the volunteers‘ symptoms decreased in severity. In fact, the group taking 100 mg of pine bark dropped from 8.8 to 5.2. And the group taking 150 mg dropped to just 3.3. That‘s an improvement of 60 percent! Pine bark has a very good safety record. But because it does affect your circulation, make sure to consult with your doctor before trying it.
  14. Natural arthritis relief options

    If you‘ve got arthritis and take 1200 mg of ibuprofen every day, I have some safe and effective options for you to consider. You see, NSAIDs are rife with problems. Take one for too long and you‘re setting yourself up for gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure, liver problems, kidney disorders, or even heart attack and stroke. In fact, widespread use of NSAIDs results in 107,000 hospitalizations (mostly due to bleeding in the GI tract) and 16,500 deaths in arthritis patients each year. But there are safe, effective options you can try so you don‘t wind up taking an NSAID for the rest of your life. First off, a new small study found that a natural plant extract might help relieve your pain as well as ibuprofen. Passion fruit peel extract is not exactly well-known in nutritional circles to treat arthritis, but previous studies show that it does reduce overall inflammation in the body. And that‘s probably why it appears to work against joint pain as well. For the recent study, scientists recruited 33 men and women with osteoarthritis in the knee and gave them a test to assess the severity of their arthritis symptoms. Then, the researchers randomly divided the volunteers into two groups. One group received 150 mg of passion fruit peel extract each day for two months. The other group received a placebo. At the end of two months, researchers checked back in the volunteers and again assessed the severity of their symptoms. The researchers found that the passion fruit group improved their overall arthritis scores by 20 percent. Plus, their pain, stiffness, and physical function scores also rose by about 20 percent. On the other hand, the group taking the placebo reported no improvements. According to the researchers, "The passion fruit peel extract supplementation should help patients to reduce their reliance upon NSAIDs that may have undesirable side effects in the treatment of osteoarthritis symptoms." Now, based on this small study, I‘m not convinced that passion fruit peel extract will magically make your joint pain completely disappear. But it may help...and you may be able to back off your other meds. Plus, over the years, I treated arthritis pain a number of different ways...

    Ease joint pain and stiffness without drugs

    First off, if you are lucky, you may respond to a short trial of either B3 or B6. I say you‘re "lucky" because there are types of arthritis that will respond to this kind of vitamin treatment within a mere week or two. First I‘d try 250 mg of B3 (or niacin) two to three times a day. Taking B3 at this dose can cause flushing of the skin, so look for inositol hexanicotinate. It is considered a ‘no-flush‘ type of niacin. If that doesn‘t work after two weeks of steady supplementation, try 100-200 mg of B6. (Don‘t go higher than 400 mg per day. Some nutritionists worry about neuropathy at B6 levels higher than 400 mg, but I personally think it‘s very rare. Also, magnesium helps with B6 absorption. So make sure to get 400-500 mg per day of that as well. Secondly, I‘d definitely look for a supplement that contains glucosamine and chondroitin to help support the growth of cartilage in your joints. But worn cartilage isn‘t the cause of all types of joint pain. And if that‘s your story, I have another suggestion. You see, there is a sticky, thick substance called synovial fluid that oils and lubes your joints. But when you don‘t have enough, your hips, knees, shoulders, and elbows ache, throb, and grind. And most of us over 50 don‘t have enough synovial fluid. But you can improve your synovial fluid with hyaluronic acid (HA). You see, HA is the main building block of synovial fluid. In fact, the more HA you have, the richer your synovial fluid. HA is naturally found in miso, beans, and radishes. You can also get it by injection. And recently, a few companies now offer it as a supplement. But make sure to do your homework. A lot of companies offer a synthetic form of HA that uses bacteria fermentation. Natural HA, on the other hand, is the way to go as it‘s stronger. Lastly, I‘d take a look at a substance called CMO (Cetyl-Myristoleate). It‘s a substance produced by certain animals that do not get (and cannot be induced to get) arthritis. This is harder to find and more expensive, so I only recommend it when all else fails. I‘ve gotten a lot of feed back about CMO...and it seems to either work wonders for you or not a wink. There‘s no grey area.

    One last word about arthritis pain...

    Even though I‘m a nutritionist, there‘s one last thing I need to tell you about arthritis: Get moving and you‘ll feel better! Sure, the last thing you feel like doing if you‘ve got arthritis in both hips is to exercise, but it‘s exactly what your body needs. In fact, the less you use the joint that‘s stiff and painful, the worse it becomes. Exercise is critical. First and foremost, it stimulates your circulatory system. This distributes healing nutrients to the joint that‘s causing you problems. Plus, remember the synovial fluid found in all your joints? When you don‘t exercise, that fluid gets thick and gunky. But when you exercise, your synovial fluid thins out and lubricates your joints properly. Plus, exercise keeps your cartilage healthy. You see, when you work out, the cartilage between your joints takes a pounding. But with each pounding, it also absorbs the nutrient-rich synovial fluid like a sponge and actually gets stronger. So what‘s the best exercise for you? For someone with arthritis, I always recommend walking, swimming, or bouncing on a trampoline. All three are gentle forms of exercise. You don‘t even need to break a sweat (though that‘s always good too). Just get going enough to raise your pulse and get the blood flowing throughout the body. Sure, tackling arthritis is not a quick-fix. You didn‘t get it in a week and you‘re not going to get rid of it that fast either. But there are steps you can take--without resorting to drugs--that can help you feel a little better each and every day.

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