Surprising Drug-free Remedies for Aches and Pains

It’s hard to be happy when you’re in pain. The discomfort can be disabling, and the treatments—such as aspirin, ibuprofen and codeine—can cause complications of their own.

Example: Between 10% and 20% of patients who regularly use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include aspirin and ibuprofen, will have gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort or damage to the intestinal tissues.

Better: Natural remedies that target specific types of pain, without the risks of synthetic painkillers.

Here are the best choices—all available in most health-food stores or Whole Foods or Sprouts markets. Of course, you always should check with your doctor before stopping any medication or starting any new remedy.


Curcumin, the active compound in the orange-yellow spice turmeric, is a potent anti-inflammatory that is widely used for joint pain. It causes none of the GI side effects that are associated with NSAIDs, and it may be just as effective.

Researchers compared the effects of curcumin and ibuprofen in 107 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. The study found that curcumin reduced pain and improved knee function about as well as the drug did.

Dose: 1,000 milligrams (mg) of curcumin in supplement form, two to three times daily. People who add the spice turmeric to recipes might get some relief, but only if they consume large amounts every day.

Helpful: Take one dose at bedtime. It will reduce inflammation while you sleep and help prevent morning pain and stiffness. You can combine it with protease, an enzyme-containing supplement that also reduces inflammation.

Possible side effects: Curcumin can interfere with the ability of blood to clot. Don’t combine it with blood thinners (such as warfarin or aspirin) without your doctor’s OK.


Most people with headaches get rapid relief when homeopathy is used. There are more than 100 homeopathic combinations for treating headaches—the exact formula will depend on individual factors. A homeopathic or naturopathic physician can advise you. But Bryonia can be effective for a patient suffering from tension headaches who often is thirsty and experiences a hot type of pain over the entire head.

Dose: 30C potency, every two to four hours, until the headache is gone.


The traditional treatments for gas and gas-related cramps are the carminative herbs. They prevent gas and help the gas that has already accumulated escape. Fennel is one of the best carminatives. It contains compounds that inhibit intestinal spasms that cause painful cramps. It’s particularly effective when combined with mint, another carminative.

Dose: 60 drops of a combination fennel-mint tincture (you may have to buy the fennel and mint tinctures separately). Mix the drops in four ounces of water, and drink the whole thing. Do this every few hours to relieve gas pain. To prevent gas, drink it two to three times daily.

Alternative: Caraway and dill seeds. You can mix equal parts or use individually. Grind to a powder…add up to one-quarter teaspoon to four ounces of water…and take two to three times daily.


Over-the-counter and prescription medications for gastroesophageal reflux disease are among the best-selling medications in the US. They’re very effective at reducing/neutralizing stomach acid, but the regular use of these medications—particularly the proton-pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec—can increase the risk for diarrhea, bone fractures and impaired digestion.

You need hydrochloric acid in the stomach for healthy digestion. Most people would have less heartburn if they ate more plant foods and cut back on red meat and other fatty foods.

When you do get heartburn: Take the supplement deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). This form of licorice is a demulcent that soothes irritated tissues in the stomach and esophagus. It also appears to act as a mild anti-inflammatory. (Note: Licorice candy is not the same thing and will not work.)

Dose: Start with one 380-mg tablet before each meal. If you still are getting heartburn, increase the dose to two to four tablets. Caution: Licorice potentially can raise blood pressure in some patients. If you have hypertension, talk to your doctor before using it.

Also helpful: Add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water, and drink it before meals. It’s not clear why this helps prevent heartburn, but some of my patients swear by it.


One way to know that you have the flu rather than a cold is the presence of severe muscle aches. Ibuprofen and aspirin can help with the aches, but they also reduce fever—and fever is one of the body’s healing mechanisms.

Better: Home hydrotherapy. Before you go to bed, soak a cotton T-shirt in cool water. Wring it out as much as possible and put it on. Then put a dry shirt over that. It may feel uncomfortable for a minute after you put on the damp shirt, but this therapy is very effective. Or you can try damp socks instead. Either way, your body responds by raising your body temperature between one-half and one degree. This increases immune activity and reduces muscle aches. Caution: This technique is not advisable for anyone in a frail state, especially the elderly.

Also helpful: Homeopathic Nux Vomica, Gelsemium or Eupatorium. See a homeopathic physician at the first signs of flu—the remedies work best when they’re taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms.


Unlike other types of head pain, a sinus headache is caused by pressure in the sinus cavity. Patients who get sinus headaches also tend to experience facial pain, fatigue and a reduced sense of smell and taste.

Helpful: Grate one teaspoon of fresh horseradish root, and chew it thoroughly for about one minute, until the taste is gone. Then you can swallow it if you want. Do this three or four times per day. It liquefies sinus mucus and helps mucus drain from the sinus cavities. Horseradish also has antibacterial compounds that help prevent sinus infections.

Also helpful: An over-the-counter formula that contains goldenseal and echinacea will help with drainage. The tincture form works more quickly than capsules. Put 60 to 90 drops in four to eight ounces of water, and drink some of it every few hours.