Three Herbs for Powerful Pain Relief

Herbs offer effective treatments for pain of all kinds, often as effective as Western pharmaceuticals, with dramatically fewer side-effects and risks. These are three of my favourites, but there are literally hundreds of herbs and combinations with pain relieving abilities. As always, I’m sharing information, not providing medical advice. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.

Ginger

It’s a food, it’s a spice, it’s a healer. Ginger is effective internally and externally for a wide variety of problems, including pain. Stomach pain, discomfort, indigestion and nausea respond rapidly. Sip ginger tea, chew candied ginger or try a topical application on your tummy. I created a topical ginger based treatment for just this type of problem, Ginger Belly Soother Oil with infused ginger and fennel oil and essential oils of patchouli and sweet orange, all of which act to relax the digestive system and relieve gas and bloating, common causes of stomach pain. Ginger oil + massage = relief.

Muscular pain, acute or chronic, also responds well to ginger, (Source). I use straight infused ginger oil with pure menthol and ginger essential oil in Ginger Menthol Balm, and ginger with cinnamon and mugwort with menthol in Warming Menthol Balm for pain that responds especially well to heat (read Should You Apply Ice or Heat for Pain by Lynn Palmgren L.Ac) 

Ginger also relieves menstrual pain - better than ibuprofen with added anti-nausea benefits (Source). Make a tasty and gentle menstrual cramp relieving tea by mixing chamomile and dried ginger half and half and steeping in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Use about a tablespoon per cup of water. Externally, both Tranquil Palace Oil and Warm the Palace Oil use ginger’s pain relieving and warming power to relieve menstrual and abdominal pain.

Turmeric

Turmeric has gotten lots of attention as an anti-inflammatory superpower. In Chinese medicine it ‘moves the blood’ ‘moves the qi’ and ‘cools the blood’ indicating its effectiveness for pain related to constraint like digestive and menstrual pain and to chronic internal inflammation and bacterial and viral infections. Here’s a massive overview of research into the abilities of turmeric for stomach pain, arthritis pain, post surgical pain, dental pain, hemorrhoid pain and more!

A meta analysis of research on the zingiberaceae family, ginger, turmeric and galangal, for chronic pain treatment finds them to be effective and safer than NSAIDs (Source)

Turmeric can be taken daily as a capsule for joint health, but check in with your health practitioner before launching into it - it has some contraindications and you don’t want it to interact with an existing health condition or medications you may be taking.

You can get the benefits of turmeric in food form without the worry that comes with large doses or extracts. Add a teaspoon to lentils while they cook, sprinkle a tablespoon onto sauteed veggies for a soup or pilaf base, or make chai or golden milk, the traditional combination with black pepper which modern research has shown increases the bioavailability of active components in turmeric

Here's a golden milk recipe I like.

Mugwort

I use a special moxa box to hold sticks of burning herb over painful areas

I use a special moxa box to hold sticks of burning herb over painful areas

I love mugwort! Called Ai Ye in Chinese, the latin name is artemisiae argyi (although western mugwort, artemisiae vulgaris, is sometimes substituted). Mugwort is the herb used to make moxa - a phenomenal pain relieving technique from traditional chinese medicine, where a cigar or cigarette of packed herbs is lit and held over the painful area or acupuncture points. Moxa powers up all Angelica & Peony’s Healing oils when used together with them, (here’s Denise Cicuto L.Ac explaining how to use moxa at home especially for menstrual cramps

A device called a tiger warmer or lion warmer is another safe and easy way to get the power of moxa at home. We did a TCMTalk about that as well! 

Mugwort makes a great warming and pain relieving bath if you have achey joints in cold, damp weather. It’s also a beneficial addition to a ‘v-steam’ blend for vaginal steaming, especially for pain and heavy bleeding. I infuse mugwort into sesame oil along with ginger and cinnamon to make my Warming Blend, the base of both Warming Menthol Balm and Warm the Palace Oil

There are safety and health considerations with using moxa, so be sure to speak with your acupuncturist or health practitioner before folding it in to your pain management routine. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.

You can get ginger and turmeric at most grocery stores, and certainly healthfood stores. You can ask your acupuncturist about bulk mugwort, moxa sticks and tiger warmers. This is the type of moxa stick I especially like.

Tune in to TCMTalk on Thursday August 4th and 18th at 4 pm PST on Periscope for more discussion about natural pain relief and management, ask your questions while we're live, or email them to us at traditionalchinesemedicinetalk@gmail.com!

Kirsten Cowan L.Ac is a Physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine and CEO and Chief Alchemist at Angelica & Peony, Radiant Natural Health and Beauty. She lives and works in Oakland California.

 

 

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TCM Talk in August: Natural Pain Relief

Join Denise from Cicuto Acupuncture and myself on Thursday August 4th and 18th at 4 pm PST on @tcm_talk on Periscope. This month we'll be discussing Natural Pain Relief - how acupuncture, herbal medicine, topical treatments, diet, movement and mindfulness practices can relieve and manage pain. As always, we'll answer questions about what you can expect from working with a practitioner, and load you up with practical at-home practices and strategies.

Send your questions to us at: traditionalchinesemedicinetalk@gmail.com 

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Friday Roundup, May 20, 2016

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week.

Podcasting about Pain: I'm super excited to have met Shelly Jackson, a coach who works with those living with chronic pain. Next week she's launching PAINIAC, the first ever podcast for mindful pain management. I've donated some A&P balms to a lucky listener, and I'm so happy that she's bringing this much needed resource into the world. Check out her website Peaceful Body Coaching, for more, and join the virtual launch party live on May 25 for inspiring, informative listening for people living with chronic pain or illness and the awesome people who love them.

The Story of Lead Poisoning: The Nightly Show on Comedy Central made this depressing yet hilarious and very informative short explaining how the US came to have a lead poisoning epidemic. Get your depressing history lesson with a side of laughs.

Jojoba Happiness: I LOVE jojoba oil. I quickly became a convert when I started making my own skin care products, and it's now a key ingredient in all my facial serums as well as hair oil. It's a skin and hair care superhero, and it's local too - I get mine from organic farmers in Arizona. This article and infographic lay out just what's so special about jojoba and why you should be using it from head to toe!

Have a great weekend!

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Friday Roundup, May 13, 2016

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week.

Prince, Pain and Pills: This moving and thought-provoking article from Lorraine Berry questions the conversation about prescription drug dependency and chronic pain in light of Prince's death and how the circumstances of it are being reported.

Ecosystems of Health: the world of the 'microbiome' - the billions of organisms that live on and in our bodies, is increasingly understood to be hugely important in our health and disease. Chris Kesser looks at our skin's microbiome, its role in common skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis, and how we can encourage the health of our skin's microorganisms.

Mandrake Madness: these adorable sculpted Mandrakes with mischievous personalities appeal to both to my herbalist side and my Harry Potter fan side! 

Have a great weekend!

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What Western Studies Say about Painful Periods Will Surprise You!

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Painful periods are known in Western medicine as 'primary dysmenorrhea'. 'Primary' means there's no clear underlying cause (such as endometriosis, fibroids or cysts), and dysmenorrhea means 'bad monthly flow' which is pretty accurate! Painful periods affect almost all people who menstruate at some point in their lives, and at least 1 in 4 have pain severe enough to result in missing school or work. (source)

As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I know what to do for painful periods, and that most sufferers can experience tremendous relief using acupuncture, topical treatments, dietary and lifestyle changes, and herbal medicine. But I'm always curious about what Western style studies have to say. So I put on my adventuring hat and took a tour through PubMed, the archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine. Here's a few studies that you might find as interesting as I did!

1. A hot water bottle works better than acetaminophen. A randomized, single-blind (meaning the investigator asking the questions didn't know which treatment the women had received) study of 344 women found that a heat wrap not only relieved pain more effectively and for longer than acetaminophen, but also reduced fatigue and moodiness - probably because a hot water bottle is a lot nicer than a pill that can damage your liver! (source) Numerous other studies support this conclusion, finding heat therapy as effective or more effective than over the counter painkillers and NSAIDs.

2. Your kitchen cupboard works better than your medicine cabinet. Numerous studies conducted in Iran (where traditional Persian medicine uses these herbs medicinally) found that common spices are more effective than ibuprofen - with no risks of side-effects. Researchers studied ginger, fenugreek and cinnamon. Ginger stopped nausea as well as pain (source), fenugreek reduced pain, as well as other symptoms such as fatigue, headache, nausea, and fainting, better than ibuprofen (source), and cinnamon reduced both pain and heaviness of bleeding better than the drug (source). Wow!

3. Acupuncture works better than anything else! Well, I could have told you that without inflicting any scientific jargon on either of us! Acupuncture is very hard to study in a typical Western way (here's a long article about it), but the overall consensus is that it works (source, source, sourcesource)

You can learn even more about what really works to stop period pain at my upcoming class with Denise Cicuto of Cicuto Acupuncture, Sunday, July 19 at 4 pm, at Back to Life Wellness in Alameda. Get more info and RSVP on facebook

 

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