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Ease the pain

How to reduce pain and inflammation with common health store supplements by Jill Bell, owner of health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork

In the most basic terms, 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.

Acute pain

Sharp, acute pain which occurs suddenly can indicate a serious problem such as a heart attack, and if somebody came into a health store asking for help with a sudden onset headache which hadn't cleared in 24 hours we would advise seeking urgent medical advice. It's very rare that a health store should be the first port of call for any problem of acute pain.

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.

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. Any form of chronic pain can also cause emotional and mental issues such as anxiety and depression, and this often brings customers looking for help.


Whenever a customer asks for help with pain relief our immediate response is to ask if they are on any prescribed medication, as this affects what we can suggest.

Whatever medication a person is on, they can accept advice on how to reduce inflammation through their diet, and we offer a leaflet looking at the role of food and the relative values of different foods in acid/alkaline terms. Apple cider vinegar has a role to play here, and the role of collagen in bought or home-made chicken and beef stock can be very significant, hand-in-hand with reducing or eliminating sugar, processed foods, caffeine and alcohol. Oddly, lemons have an alkalising effect on the body, and a glass of lemon juice in warm water can get the day off to a good start.

What we recommend

In our shop 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. When a customer asks which supplement works best, it's really impossible to be precise which can be frustrating. It's often a case of suck it and see, not taking more than one type at a time, and waiting at least a month to test for benefits.

Omega-3s and joint pain

"Getting the right balance of fats in the diet is vital to managing inflammation," says Olive Curran, a Galway based nutritional therapist who works for PPC. "Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential as our bodies cannot produce these fats, so we must obtain them from diet or supplementation.

Omega-6 mostly sends pro-inflammatory messages, whereas omega-3 helps calm inflammation by sending anti-inflammatory messages.

Unfortunately, we consume up to 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3, leading to more inflammation being produced.

To manage inflammation, I would recommend 2-3 portions of oily fish weekly (salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, tuna) or taking a high quality omega-3 fish oil daily."Spices such as curcumin and ginger are good at reducing inflammation and benefitting joint health. Ginger helps to maintain joint mobility and avoid morning stiffness.

Altman et al (2001) found that among 247 patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee with moderate-to-severe pain, those taking ginger extract for six weeks experienced significant reduction in knee pain on standing, compared with those taking a placebo.

"Curcumin and ginger extract both offer anti-inflammatory benefits. They work synergistically as they both reduce different inflammatory markers, thereby having a complete anti-inflammatory effect.

"Exercise is a vital part of managing pain. Focus on stretching, range-of-motion exercises and gradual progressive strength training. A physical or occupational therapist can help you develop an exercise program that's right for you."

CBD oil has had a lot of publicity in the last couple of years and can give great relief to many pain-sufferers, though it doesn't work for everybody, and there are some excellent Irish brands available. 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.

Turmeric, whether taken as a powder, in capsules, with ginger or black pepper to aid absorption, or in the form of curcumin, which is turmeric's active ingredient, has become a very popular anti-inflammatory in recent years.

Magnesium, for muscular pain is very helpful. We find a spray particularly effective, but it also comes in tablet and capsule form. As magnesium sulphate, Epsom salts baths or foot soaks can relieve pain, and magnesium is the first thing we would recommend for cramps, whether leg cramps at night or stomach cramping linked with menstruation.

Practitioner help

Quite often we feel that a customer in pain needs more than an over-the-counter solution, and we are lucky to know some first class practitioners 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.

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.

Discuss your decision with a healthcare practitioner before beginning or stopping any medical or herbal treatment

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