For Pain, Heartburn, Flu and More

Sometimes you need powerful, fast-acting medications. But prescription and over-the-counter drugs can present serious risks. It’s estimated that more than 2 million adverse drug reactions occur in the US every year and are responsible for more than 100,000 deaths annually.

I strongly recommend and use natural remedies. They contain lower doses of chemically active agents. They’re less likely than drugs to cause dangerous side effects. And they often work just as well, sometimes better. All are available at health-food stores and online.

Important: Always check with your doctor before taking any new medication or supplement.


Aspirin and related painkillers often ­irritate the stomach and increase the risk for ulcers. Natural analgesics are much gentler and just as effective.

Boswellia, a tree found in India, ­Africa and the Middle East, has a milky resin that inhibits the body’s production of inflammatory molecules. A study that looked at patients with osteo-arthritis of the knee found that ­boswellia extract relieved pain and stiffness as effectively as the drug valdecoxib (Bextra), which has been withdrawn from the market because of side effects. A small percentage of boswellia users experience digestive upset. If that happens, reduce the amount. If you don’t start to feel better within 48 hours, stop taking it. If you are taking it for chronic pain, give it two weeks.

Dose: 750 milligrams (mg), two to three times daily during flare-ups.

Curcumin is the active ingredient found in the spice turmeric. In a study, rheumatoid arthritis patients reported that it helped relieve morning pain and stiffness. Caution: Taking curcumin with blood thinners can increase the risk for bleeding.

Dose: 500 mg, three times daily. You can take it every day to keep pain and inflammation down or just take it during flare-ups.


Chamomile tea is a gentle relaxant that has traditionally been used as a “nerve tonic.” Other herbs have similar effects. One of my favorites…

Passionflower. Despite the name, passionflower is more relaxing than arousing. It increases brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that dampens activity in the part of the brain that controls emotions, making you feel more relaxed. In one study, participants drank either passionflower tea or a placebo tea before going to bed. Those who drank passionflower tea slept better and were more likely to wake up feeling refreshed and alert.

How to use it: Steep one teaspoon of dried passionflower in three ounces of just-boiled water. Drink it two to three times daily when you’re stressed. Or take passionflower capsules or tinctures, following the label directions.


There are many drugs for treating ­migraines, but they’re rife with side effects—and may increase the risk for liver damage or even a heart attack.

Butterbur, a member of the daisy family, is an effective alternative. It contains two potent anti-­inflammatory compounds, petasin and isopetasin, which may help blood vessels in the brain dilate and contract more normally.

A study published in Neurology found that people who used butterbur had a 48% reduction in the frequency of migraines. You also can use butterbur to reduce migraine intensity.

Dose: For prevention, take 50 mg of Petadolex (a butterbur extract) three times daily, with meals, for one month. Then reduce the dose to twice daily. For treating a migraine, take 50 mg three times daily until the migraine is gone.


For an aching back or sore arms, apply an ice pack or a heating pad…or alternate cold and warmth. Also helpful…

Arnica is a plant in the daisy family that reduces muscle soreness and swelling. It also helps bruises heal more quickly.

A new study from the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, Australia, published in European Journal of Sport Science, found that the topical application of arnica reduced the level of achiness for up to three days after a vigorous workout. The participants included men who ran in five bouts of eight-minute bursts on a treadmill, followed by two minutes of walking on a flat surface. They applied arnica gel or a placebo gel every four hours.

How to use it: Apply a small amount of cream or tincture to the sore areas. Repeat every hour as necessary. Don’t apply if the skin is broken.

Helpful: If a large area is sore, you can take arnica orally instead. Take two pellets of a 30C potency three times daily for one to two days.


I advise patients to start with natural approaches, including sleeping on their left side (sleeping on the right side makes heartburn worse)…avoiding “trigger” foods, such as onions and chocolate…and maintaining a healthy weight (excess weight makes stomach acid more likely to enter the esophagus and cause heartburn). Also helpful…

Melatonin, a supplement that is often used for insomnia, also is effective for heartburn. A study published in Journal of Pharmacology found that melatonin reduces the amount of acid produced in the stomach without blocking it altogether. This is important because you need stomach acid for good digestion—you just don’t want too much of it.

Dose: 3 mg to 6 mg, taken daily at bedtime.


A healthy immune system is the best way to protect against flu. Starting at the beginning of flu season (typically early October), take…

Influenzinum, a homeopathic remedy that I’ve recommended for more than 15 years. The makers of influenzinum reformulate it annually based on the flu viruses that are expected to predominate that year.

Dose: Three pellets (of a 9C potency) dissolved under the tongue, once a week for six weeks.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an antioxidant, reduces both the chance that you will get the flu and the severity of symptoms if you do get sick. An Italian study found that only 25% of older people who were injected with flu virus after taking NAC for six months experienced flu symptoms, versus 79% who took a placebo.

Dose: 1,000 mg daily in tablet form for prevention during the flu months (typically October through April). If you get the flu, increase the dose to 4,000 mg daily until you ­recover.

Also helpful: 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. During the peak flu months, increase the dose to 5,000 IU.


Don’t waste your money on often ineffective over-the-counter cold medicines. Instead…

Pelargonium sidoides, a South African plant, has been tested in more than 20 clinical studies. It relieves congestion, sore throat and other cold symptoms. It is available in syrups, lozenges, capsules and tablets. Follow the dosing instructions on the label.