Move over Tylenol and Advil. There are natural pain relievers that work just as well as, or better than, over-the-counter pain relievers. And they are much gentler on your body. Drugs may be fine for temporarily relieving pain, but they have unhealthful side effects that you might not be aware of. These side effects are particularly noticeable when you use these pain medications and others over time for chronic conditions—they can irritate the stomach, cause stomach and intestinal ulcers and increase heart disease risk. The four herbs described below can help with a variety of ailments, from headaches to arthritis pain.

How the remedies can help you…

For the conditions listed below, take the first natural painkiller on the list for four weeks. If you notice an improvement, stay with it. If not, try the next one. They are all available at health-food stores or online. Caution: Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not take these remedies, because they have not been studied in these populations.

For headache (tension or migraine), take white willow bark.

For inflammatory bowel disease, take Boswellia, curcumin.

For low back pain, take devil’s claw, white willow bark, curcumin.

For muscle aches and pains, take white willow bark, curcumin.

For menstrual pain, take white willow bark.

For osteoarthritis, take Boswellia, white willow bark, devil’s claw.

For rheumatoid arthritis, take Bowellia, curcumin, devil’s claw.

For tendonitis, take devil’s claw, curcumin, white willow bark.

The remedies…


What it is: Part of India’s Ayurvedic healing tradition, Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) comes from a tree found in India, Northern Africa and the Middle East. The tree yields a milky resin containing boswellic acids, substances that inhibit the body’s synthesis of inflammatory leukotrienes. A study of patients with knee arthritis found that Boswellia extract relieved pain and stiffness as well as daily doses of the prescription drug valdecoxib (Bextra). And Boswellia’s benefits persisted for one month longer than those of Bextra.

Dose: Take 750 mg of a standardized extract containing 60% to 65% boswellic acid two to three times daily for as long as symptoms last. Recommended brand: Solgar Boswellia Resin Extract (877-765-4274,

Side effects: While generally safe, Boswellia has been known to cause occasional mild digestive upset.


What it is: Curcumin (diferuloylmethane), a constituent of turmeric, is the pigment compound that gives the spice its distinctive yellow coloring. In one study of rheumatoid arthritis patients, 1,200 mg daily of curcumin extract improved morning stiffness and joint swelling.

Dose: Take 500 mg of standardized turmeric extract (containing 90% to 95% curcumin) three times daily. Recommended brands: New Chapter Turmericforce (800-543-7279, and Life Extension Super Curcumin (888-771-3905,

Caution: It has blood-thinning properties, so do not take curcumin if you take blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin, unless monitored by a physician. Do not take curcumin if you have gallstones since it can cause gallstones to block bile ducts.


What it is: Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), a shrub found in southern Africa, works similarly to many pharmaceutical pain relievers—by blocking the action of pain-promoting compounds in the body—but without damaging the digestive tract. In studies involving people with chronic low back pain, devil’s claw extract proved as effective as prescription pain relievers.

Dose: Devil’s claw extract is available in capsules. Look for 1.5% to 2% harpagoside, one of the active ingredients. Take 1,000 mg three times daily of a standardized extract. Recommended brand: Nature’s Way Standardized Devil’s Claw Extract (800-962-8873,

Side effect: The only significant potential side effect is diarrhea.


What it is: White willow bark is a pain reliever that has anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning benefits similar to those of aspirin, but unlike aspirin, it doesn’t appear to damage the stomach lining. For centuries, the bark of the white willow (Salix alba), a tree found in Europe and Asia, was noted for its pain-relieving qualities. Its active ingredient is salicin, which the body converts to salicylic acid, a close cousin to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).

Dose: Take 120 mg daily of white willow bark extract capsules. If this amount does not reduce pain, try 240 mg. Recommended brand: Solaray White Willow Bark (800-579-4665).

Caution: Don’t take this if you have an aspirin allergy and for one week before undergoing surgery. White willow bark is a blood thinner, so take it only while being monitored by a physician if you take blood-thinning medication.