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Contain the pain

Natural help for headaches, chronic pain and inflammation

The function of pain is to give us a warning that something in the body is wrong. Think of your reaction to touching a hot plate or having a bee sting. There are many different types of pain and people react to pain very differently,” says Jill Bell of health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork. The most obvious causes of headaches are dehydration, stress and poor sleep. Common sense steps such as drinking more water and getting enough sleep can help to prevent this becoming a common problem. If that doesn’t help you may need to seek advice.

Chronic pain

“The type of pain we see most often is chronic, and customers often seek help for on-going arthritic pain when they find prescribed painkillers hard on the system and not very effective,” says Jill Bell. “Fibromyalgia is another form of chronic pain, as are recurring migraines, post-shingles neuralgia, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and many more conditions, all resulting from tissue or nerve damage which won’t clear.”

Stress and pain

Stress may seem normal in our busy lives, but it can lead to real health problems including migraines and headaches because it depletes the body of nutrients such as zinc, vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins. Taking a high quality daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can go a long way to redressing the balance.

Food triggers

For some people headaches and migraines are triggered by food and drinks that contain amino acids such as tyramine and histamine. These include aged and fermented foods like cheeses; dried and fermented meats such as bacon, pepperoni, salami and ham. Sourdough breads, yeast breads and yeast extracts also contain high levels of tyramine and also fermented foods like vinegar, sauerkraut and alcohol. Tannin-rich foods and drinks like tea, coffee, berries and nuts should be avoided where possible.


“Inflammation is the most common cause of pain that we see,” says Jill Bell. “It can be acute or chronic. Chronic inflammation in, say, a knee or hip joint, can often be helped, and a favourite traditional remedy is taking enzyme-rich organic apple cider vinegar diluted in warm water with a spoon of honey. Adopting a low-acid diet – mainly avoiding processed foods, sugar, tea, coffee and alcohol – is often helpful, and glucosamine and green lipped mussel extract can help protect and support cartilage in joints. These days the importance of including anti-inflammatory oily fish or omega-3 supplements in the diet is well recognised. A useful anti-inflammatory herb is devil’s claw and we can offer a variety of anti-inflammatory gels and ointments.”

“Ginger and curcumin (the active part of turmeric) are well known for their benefits for joint health,” says Galway-based nutritional therapist Olive Curran who works with PPC. “Ginger helps to maintain joint mobility and avoid morning stiffness and promotes energy and vitality, overall supporting zen-like focus and well-being. Curcumin, the yellow pigment in the spice turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. You can use these spices in cooking or make a warm herbal drink regularly to help combat inflammation. If this proves difficult, you can take a curcumin and ginger complex daily to help keep inflammation at bay.”

Research studies have also shown that the anthocyanins found in Montmorency cherries possess anti-inflammatory properties and can help to alleviate inflammation and pain associated with painful joint conditions, including osteo and rheumatoid arthritis. You can include Montmorency cherries in your diet in juice, dried or powdered form.

Health store recommendations

“In Well and Good when a person is on medication we might recommend a product such as fish oils, CBD oil, Devil’s Claw, turmeric, or Boswellia to help reduce inflammation, with the assurance that we will willingly refund the cost if the customer’s prescribing pharmacy or doctor advises against using the product,” says Jill Bell. “Magnesium can be very helpful for muscular pain and cramps and is available as a spray, tablet and capsules.”

Practitioner help

“Quite often we feel that a customer in pain needs more than an over-the-counter solution,” says Jill Bell, “and we are lucky to have some first class practitioners on tap to whom we can confidently refer customers – acupuncturists, herbal practitioners, nutritional therapists and others. We can act like the hub of a wheel, connected to lots of spokes indicating other skilled and effective options to support our customers.

Natural remedies for pain relief

Basil oil – good for headaches caused by tight muscles due to tension. B-vitamins, especially riboflavin or vitamin B2 – thought to help prevent migraines.

CoQ10 – thought to help prevent migraines due to its omega-3 content, found in oily fish and wholegrains or as a supplement.

Flaxseed – rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can be taken as an oil.

Lavender oil – relaxes your mind and body. Place a drop on your temples or add 2-4 drops to boiling water and inhale.

Valerian – good for relaxing stiff muscles. Take as a tincture or in tea.

The power of CBD

"Cannabis is becoming one of the most popular alternative treatments for chronic pain," says Jess Burke of Hempture, an Irish company that cultivates hemp and produces CBD products. "This can range from pain caused by conditions such as migraines or arthritis to pain caused by injury. In fact 80% of cannabis users indicate severe pain as to why they use it. Today’s versions of legal cannabis come in the form of CBD oils, capsules and creams with many different strengths. Many health stores now stock cannabis products. When the cannabis plant was ‘banned’ nearly 100 years ago they essentially removed cannabinoids from the human diet - in essence what they did was deprive the human race of what is now widely considered an essential micronutrient that your body needs in small quantities for the proper functioning of its metabolism. Today’s retail CBD products are different from prescribed CBD and range from 1% to 25% in concentration.”

“CBD oil has had a lot of publicity in the last couple of years and can give great relief to many pain-sufferers, and there are some excellent Irish brands available,” says Jill Bell. “It can also help with sleep and relaxation issues which often feature alongside chronic pain. The oils we recommend have all been approved by Irish regulators as being safe and with no illegal ingredients.”

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