In my recent post 2019 Running Review I mentioned that I transitioned from Ibuprofen to natural inflammation remedies.
This comment generated a lot of interest and questions.
Most of what I know is from journal and news articles and anecdotal stories from friends.
I decided to write this post to answer some of the questions and take an overview of some articles on the subject.
Natural Remedy Skepticism
In The West we have long been accustomed to doctors doing procedures and prescribing medications. There seems to be a drug or procedure for everything.
Watching TV, I am often surprised to learn about new drugs for conditions I have never heard of.
Most of us have cabinets full of drugs we use without much thought. If they are available without a prescription, they have to be safe, right?
In ancient times before chemistry and modern science, physicians derived remedies from the plants and minerals around them.
Hippocrates recommended chewing on willow bark to relieve pain and fever.
Willow bark contains salicin and German scientists isolated salicylic acid from willow bark in the early 1800’s.
It was expensive to extract, tasted awful and could cause bleeding. In the late 1890’s scientists at Bayer synthesised acetylsalicylic acid which Bayer went on to sell under the brand name Aspirin. 1
Peruvian bark, which contained quinine, was used to treat malaria. Today you can buy quinine over the counter. 2
While our ancestors chewed on bark or drank bitter concoctions, we now get most of our treatments through a tablet or pill. Bayer actually created the first tablets with aspirin to counter competitors.
In part, because most of our medicines come in a bottle these days the efficacy of natural remedies is questioned by many.
How can spices or teas do anything? They are just food and food is not medicine.
Many societies still rely on natural treatments
In a CNN series Chasing Life, Dr. Sanjay Gupta examined how societies around the world maintain health and treat illness.
In one episode he traveled to Kerala state in India. Thousands of years ago in this Indian state they began the practice called Ayurveda which means the science of life. 3
It was a fascinating program. While Ayurveda involves much more than just using food as medicine they did discuss the spices that go into the foods this practice utilizes.
In addition to ginger and cinnamon they used spices we associate with Indian food like cumin, turmeric, hot peppers and others. The food looked unbelievable.
It’s difficult to believe there isn’t something to a medical practice which has survived thousands of years.
Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen
I’m not a medical professional or scientist. I’m just a runner who is constantly dealing with inflammation. Between muscles, joints and tendons, I often experience pain from inflammation.
In the past I would take Ibuprofen or Tylenol to manage this pain.
I had bursitis in my left hip for years. A few years ago I visited an orthopedist due to chronic knee pain. I’ve pulled or strained various muscles in my legs over the past seventeen years.
Over the years my doctors have recommended rest and ice, sometimes compression and elevation.
None prescribed meds and my PCP and orthopedist both cautioned me about over-use of Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Acetaminophen controls pain but does not reduce inflammation. Controlling pain is good, but my pain is often caused by inflammation. Taking too much acetaminophen can damage the liver, sometimes leading to a liver transplant or death.
Doses over 3,900 milligrams or 12 325 mg pills per day can cause liver toxicity. The safest daily dose is 8 pills or 2,600 mgs. 4
Years ago I stopped taking Tylenol and started taking Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID.
NSAIDS do treat pain and inflammation, so I thought I was doing the right thing.
When treating an injury I would often take the maximum daily dose (1200 mg) for weeks.
According to the FDA: NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding, reduced kidney function, and other side effects. The chance of harmful side effects increases the more you take and the longer you take them. 5
A small study published in the July 2017 edition of Emergency Medicine Journal found that 44% of ultra-marathoners who took 400 mg of ibuprofen three to four times toward the end a seven-day, 155-mile race experienced significant reduction of kidney function. 6
The study only had 89 participants in an extreme event but it did highlight the risk of kidney damage. Taking the maximum dose over a prolonged period may have similar consequences for the rest of us.
During several marathons I took 400 mg of ibuprofen. While that is a lower dose and a less extreme event than the study cited above, my kidneys were probably impacted.
When I learned how both classes of drugs could effect my health I made changes.
My Inflammation Remedies
As I mentioned before, I’m not a medical professional or scientist. Please consult your physician before changing your treatment.
First I switched to ibuprofen and then in 2018 I cut back on ibuprofen. Then I began to read about foods and spices that have anti-inflammatory properties.
I was surprised to learn that spices in my own kitchen were potent anti-inflammatories.
Both ginger and cinnamon have anti-inflammatory properties. Most studies use purified, concentrated and precise doses of these spices. In order to conduct a scientifically valid study you have to use standardized extracts and try to control all variables.
You can search the web and find thousands of studies on these and other spices. Some using purified extracts others using common spices.
One VA study looked at 247 patients with significant knee pain over a six-week study period. 7
The VA study found a statistically significant difference in the relief of knee pain between the control group and those receiving the concentrated ginger extract.
Both spices have been in common use for centuries and their medicinal properties have been known for that long also.
You can buy concentrated extracts at your local drug store, or you can eat delicious food.
A cinnamon roll each morning doesn’t have enough spice to make any difference. I think I’m pretty safe in saying that.
Inflammation Remedies that work for me
Most days I have oatmeal for breakfast. I used to add brown sugar and raisins, but cut the sugar and added ginger and cinnamon.
The raisins add enough sweetness and the spices add a lot of flavor.
I’m not a scientist, so you wont find me in the kitchen with a scale or even measuring spoons.
I add 3/4 cup of oatmeal and about an ounce of raisins to a Pyrex container. To that I add 2-3 shakes of cinnamon and 1-2 shakes of ginger.
My guess is that this equals about 1-2 teaspoons of each spice.
I’ve tried adding more but the flavor can be overwhelming. I also try not to eat an entire cup of oatmeal for breakfast.
If I’m dealing with an injury I have this breakfast 5-6 days a week.
Probably 15 years ago I started drinking water at work. I wanted to reduce my coffee consumption and to stop drinking soda.
Over the years my daily water consumption has increased. To make things more interesting I started adding two bags of green tea to my water bottle.
After about five minutes the tea infuses into the water and adds some flavor.
I use two to four bags of green tea five days a week and sometimes at home also.
The health-promoting effects of green tea are mainly attributed to its polyphenol flavonoids which can represent 30% of fresh leaf dry weight.
Green tea is not fermented like black tea so the flavonoids are preserved. This gives green tea it’s healthy benefits. 8
If an average teabag contains 1.5 grams of tea or 1500 mg, then each bag contains approximately 450 mg of polyphenol flavonoids.
Two bags of tea per day should be enough to achieve the healthful benefits, according to some studies.
Studies have also confirmed that green tea helps control Type II diabetes, blood pressure and many other conditions.
As a runner, I train and push my body twelve months of the year. I consistently experience higher levels of inflammation than most people.
Now I only take ibuprofen for a head ache, and those are rare.
We all experience inflammation caused by the environment and stress so I think that anyone can benefit from adding these food items to their diet.
Consuming tea, ginger and cinnamon are part of my regular diet now.
If you add these items to your diet your health will benefit also.
You don’t like tea, ginger or cinnamon? Try adding or consuming more of these spices:
1. Curcumin (Turmeric)
4. Cayenne pepper
9. Black pepper
10. Green tea 9
There are so many great options.
Eat well my Friends!
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11710709 – VA study