Alternatives to Ibuprofen and Tylenol for Pain Management
How to leave Ibuprofen and Tylenol on the medicine shelf
Nothing against ibuprofen or Tylenol for occasional pain, but if they are becoming a daily practice then other considerations should be made. This is also where I mention that if you are using these substances daily it may be good time to make an appointment with your primary care doctor.
Pain has a great number of varied causes and most people think of it only being associated with muscles and bones or old injuries. Did you know that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that nutritional factors and inflammation can be playing a significant role in pain as well (1)?
Here are a few considerations for ways to reduce the use of the Tylenol and ibuprofen for reducing the frequency and intensity of ongoing, nagging pain, old injuries and even things like muscle sprain/strains.
Alternatives to Ibuprofen
Magnesium: In traditional medical use magnesium has a long history of usage in analgesia (pain relief). Magnesium is also useful for treating migraines and reducing muscle tension pre and post workouts. It also appears that most people are functionally low in this key element, especially those taking medication for acid reflux (proton pump inhibitors specifically). Here are a few of my favorites for delivery methods.
- Epsom salt bathes: 1-2 cups of Epsom salt in a warm bath. Sit and steep for 10 minutes or so.
- Magnesium Glycinate: 150-300mg is well tolerated by most people. How do you know if it is too much? Loose stools mean you are taking too much. Just cut the dose in half and it is usually enough to reduce these symptoms. The reason I recommend the glycinate form is because it is not as laxative as other forms and has an affinity for the nervous system.
Vitamin D: Didn’t expect this one I bet. Most people think of Vitamin D in association with bone health and seasonal affective disorder. Aside from the fact that we all need it here in the lovely northwest there is some evidence to suggest that being replete in vitamin D can also reduce pain levels (2). Typically, most people benefit from and are safe to take 2,000IU’s per day. Unfortunately insurances have stopped covering testing in most instances, but talk to your doctor about options for testing to make sure you are in a healthy range.
Turmeric (Curcumin): This one has been getting a good amount of hype lately as an herbal anti-inflammatory. It should also be mentioned that this one is slightly blood thinning so be mindful if you are taking blood-thinning medication like Coumadin or warfarin. Turmeric is a spice used in some Indian cuisine. It is naturally anti-inflammatory, but poorly absorbed in its standard form. Adding fat to a meal with turmeric helps systemic absorption. The active component of turmeric that gets most of the credit for its anti-inflammatory properties is called curcumin. This can be helpful in naturally reducing inflammation and decreasing pain levels, especially when bound with various substances that help it absorb better as is done in a number of currently available products. The standard dose of curcumin is roughly 1 gram 2 times per day.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet: This may seem like a laborious undertaking, but as I discuss with my patients there are a few simple tenants that we can all benefit from considering and can also help to reduce pain and lower inflammation levels. Even if these are temporary changes, say for a week or two, you may be amazed at how they can change pain levels
- Stop eating fried foods: It really does make a difference. Plant oils that exposed to such high heat become oxidized. These oils then go to make the lining of your cells including your nervous system, which is the system responsible for the pain signaling. This can lead to hyper-excitability and increased pain sensitization.
- Alcohol reduction or cessation: Not only is alcohol associated with an increase risk with different cancer types and liver disease, it is also associated pain. I find that people in pain tend to drink more alcohol because of it’s own pain relieving effects. Unfortunately, it is a temporary fix and can actually exacerbate ongoing pain by triggering inflammatory pathways that affect the nervous system in the long run.
- Eat more vegetables: Sorry folks, but potatoes don’t count. Shooting for at least 3 servings a day getting as many different colors of veggies as possible.
These are just a few simple ideas that may decrease the dependence on medications like ibuprofen or Tylenol. Again though, this is not a replacement for your doctor’s advice. If you are using these medications daily it may be worth consulting a physician. Also of note this list is by no means exhaustive or complete in regards to integrative approaches to pain management.
Written by Dr. Ian McLogan