The use of natural ingredients to remedy or relieve various health problems is increasing with every passing year and for good reason. Many common kitchen foods and spices have health-promoting properties that can provide adjunctive benefits.
Beyond their culinary use in making foods tastier, these ingredients can help us deal with various health issues, especially those that arise over time and are chronic in nature. Home self-care measures can thus be time-saving, inexpensive, and, most importantly, effective.
People nowadays tend to have extremely low thresholds for pain or discomfort. It has become standard practice to pop a pill the minute you experience an inkling of a headache, toothache, stomach ache, backache, or any other type of pain.
Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen – known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – are some of the common painkillers that you might have in your medicine cabinet.
Oftentimes, there might not even be a legitimate cause of concern, but people would take a painkiller just in case to proactively avoid any problem in the future. Little do they know that this type of mindless drug overuse is itself a problem. It is better to brave a bearable degree of pain than subject your body to such toxic excesses.
Besides, painkillers can also end up compromising your body’s natural defense system to a great extent.
It’s true that medicines that relieve pain are valuable tools for doctors and patients for the management of pain, inflammation, and swelling. However, their use on a daily basis only works to camouflage the symptoms of the underlying problem and does not address the root cause of it.
To add insult to injury, NSAIDs, like all pharmaceutical medications, tend to come with potential short-term side effects, such as rashes, heartburn, nausea, and stomach upset. (1)
Worse yet, prolonged use of certain pain-killing medications can cause other life-threatening side effects in susceptible individuals, such as liver damage, kidney problems, stomach ulcers, and increased risk of a stroke and heart attack. (2)
A study published in Postgraduate Medical Journal stated that people with a history of ulcer problem, smoking, underlying cardiovascular or respiratory disease, concomitant drug use with corticosteroids and anticoagulants, and high doses and use of multiple NSAIDs, those who are over 70 years old, and those who are H. pylori positive are more prone to gastrointestinal damage due to NSAIDs. (3)
Caution: As tempting as it may seem to rely completely on these natural alternatives to fix all your pain-related issues, their success rate can vary from individual to individual and upon the severity of your condition. Also, the underlying cause of your pain can be something that is beyond the scope of these relatively mild natural painkillers.
It is always a good idea to get yourself medically evaluated to determine the source of your pain before deciding upon the course of treatment.
Natural Pain Killers That You Have in Your Kitchen
There are certain staple ingredients that are celebrated not only for their culinary prowess but also for their pharmacological benefits against both major and minor maladies.
Much of this health potential can be traced back to their nutrient-dense composition that contains several disease-fighting and immune-boosting minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Here are 17 readily available kitchen ingredients and their uses as “natural medicines.”
1. Apply an ice pack for pain relief
The ice pack is one of the most effective pain relief treatments available. The fact that it is so easy to fix makes it one of the first lines of treatment for a variety of injuries and aches, including jaw pain, back pain, and pain due to a sudden fall or other kinds of physical trauma.
In fact, ice pack therapy has even shown promise for alleviating postpartum pain. This claim draws scientific support from a 2016 study published in Women and Birth, which demonstrated that applying an ice pack for 20 minutes helps reduce postpartum perineal pain.
Moreover, the therapeutic effect lasted for anywhere from 1 hour and 35 minutes to 2 hours after the application without any impact on breastfeeding. (4)
An ice pack helps reduce inflammation and pain during the first 48 hours of an injury like straining your muscle, tendon, or ligament. The cold temperature restricts circulation and offers a numbing effect on the nerves, which play a key role in reducing swelling and inflammation.
There are many types of ice packs that can be used for pain relief. You can find reusable cold packs or ice packs in your local drugstore and grocery store, but you can always make one with ice cubes that you have in your freezer.
How to use:
- Put some ice cubes in a plastic bag and wrap it in a towel.
- Apply it on the painful area for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
- Repeat several times a day, as needed.
2. Hot compress works by stimulating blood flow
Another very common home remedy for pain relief is applying heat directly on the painful areas.
A hot compress is effective for any kind of acute or chronic pain. The heat helps dilate blood vessels, making it easier for the blood to distribute nutrients throughout the body as well as flush out toxins. This, in turn, helps relieve pain.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research indicates that the application of thermotherapy and cryotherapy, accompanied by a pharmacologic treatment, could relieve pain in patients with an acute low back injury. (5)
A study published in Spine found that continuous low-level heat-wrap therapy was superior to both acetaminophen and ibuprofen for treating lower back pain. (6)
For heat therapy, you can buy hot packs, but you can also make one at home.
How to use:
- Soak a cotton cloth in hot water and wring out the excess water.
- Place the warm cloth on the affected body part for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
- Repeat every 2 hours, as needed.
3. Turmeric has significant healing potential
Turmeric, touted for being the crowning jewel of Indian cooking, is an all-natural anti-inflammatory agent and a potent pain reliever. Turmeric owes its bright-yellow color and its therapeutic goodness to a compound called curcumin, an antioxidant that helps protect the body from free radicals that cause cell and tissue damage.
In fact, turmeric can match or even outshine regular over-the-counter pain killers in treating body aches, joint pains, and internal body injuries that are often the cause of inflammation.
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reports that curcumin displays anti-inflammatory activity by inhibiting a number of different molecules that play a role in inflammation. (7)
A 2007 study published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology describes both the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin and its therapeutic use against different pathological conditions such as cancer, atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, and inflammatory disorders. (8)
Another study published in Alternative Medicine Review in 2009 indicates that curcumin may have considerable potential as a therapeutic agent in diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, arthritis, chronic anterior uveitis, and certain types of cancer. (9)
How to consume:
One great way to use turmeric is to mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder in 1 cup of hot milk and drink it regularly throughout the day.
Note: Even though turmeric serves as a safe alternative to other more conventional pain relievers, ingesting excessive amounts of it might disrupt your digestive functioning. People with gallbladder disease should also abstain from its use.
4. Use ginger as a potent anti-inflammatory agent
If you love to drink ginger tea or use ginger in your cooking, you’ll love to use it even more knowing it’s a naturally occurring pain reliever.
Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory properties that can be traced back to the compound gingerol in it. This compound has been proposed as a potential remedy to treat pain associated with gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis, although more scientific research needs to be done to support these claims.
According to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, ginger affects certain inflammatory processes at the cellular level. This makes it an effective treatment for both acute and chronic inflammatory diseases. (10)
Another study published in 2010 in the Journal of Pain reports that consuming ginger daily can help mitigate muscle pain caused by exercise. (11)
How to use:
- For consumption, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of ground ginger to your meals daily.
- For topical application, apply a warm ginger paste mixed with a little turmeric on the affected area twice a day. However, this should not be applied to an open wound.
- Also, steep 1 tablespoon of ginger slices in 1 cup of hot water for 5 minutes, and then drink it 2 or 3 times a day to help relieve the pain.
5. Olive oil helps manage body inflammation
Besides being a gastronomic treasure popularly used in Mediterranean and Italian cooking or as salad dressing, olive oil has also emerged as a beneficial and safe alternative to traditional pain relievers and anti-inflammatories.
A study published in Nature reports that olive oil contains a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent that inhibits the activity of cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, which cause inflammation in the body. (12)
Another study published in Current Pharmaceutical Design in 2013 showed that the compound called oleocanthal in extra-virgin olive oil prevents the production of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes in the body, which are responsible for inflammation. (13)
A 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy reports that topical application of extra-virgin olive oil outperformed topical NSAIDs in alleviating the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. (14)
Thus, when it comes to fighting inflammation, extra-virgin olive oil is a safe bet.
How to use:
- For topical use, massage the painful area with warm olive oil to reduce the pain, swelling, and inflammation from arthritis and muscle cramps.
- For consumption, eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil on a daily basis to fight inflammation from within.
6. Cloves can help relieve a variety of common aches
Whole and ground cloves are often used to enhance the taste and smell of a wide range of culinary preparations. As a medicine, cloves work as a powerful painkiller.
Cloves work as a natural anesthetic to numb the affected area and provide some degree of comfort from the pain associated with toothaches and arthritic inflammation.
Both whole cloves and the oil derived from them can be used topically as safe and effective pain relievers against mild aches and discomfort.
A 2014 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine reports that the analgesic application of clove to treat toothaches and joint pain and as an antispasmodic dates back to the 13th century, with eugenol being the main compound responsible for this activity. (15)
Another study published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy found that eugenol, the wonder compound found in cloves, exhibits potential anti-arthritic properties. (16)
How to use:
- For a toothache, chew a whole clove or dab a little clove oil on the sore tooth and the surrounding gums using a cotton ball to relieve the pain.
- For muscle or joint pain, mix a few drops of clove oil with any carrier oil. Use it to massage the painful area for a couple of minutes.
- You can follow either of these remedies a few times a day, as needed.
Note: Applying superfluous amounts of undiluted clove oil on your gums can prove detrimental and cause additional pain. So, it is recommended that you consult your doctor first before adopting a clove oil-based remedy to relieve toothache.
Because clove oil also poses the threat of abnormal bleeding, people with bleeding disorders or those on blood-thinning medication should exercise extra caution when consuming it.
7. Cayenne pepper is a natural analgesic
If you’re a lover of spicy food and have a bottle of cayenne pepper in your spice rack, then you have a natural painkiller right in your kitchen.
The compound capsaicin in cayenne pepper exhibits an anti-inflammatory effect that helps reduce joint, nerve, and muscle pain and inflammation. (17) It also prevents the activation of the brain’s pain pathways, which in turn reduces the feeling of pain. (18)
This is why many over-the-counter analgesic creams or ointments contain some amount of purified capsaicin.
A 2011 study published in the British Journal of Anesthesia notes that topical application of capsaicin cream is effective for pain management. (18)
Another study published in 2016 in Molecules further corroborates the analgesic effects of capsaicin and its clinical applicability in treating pain. (19)
Capsaicin creams can be bought over the counter, but you can also make it yourself. Using cayenne pepper, you can make a homemade pain-relieving ointment.
How to use:
- Mix ½ teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper and 2 to 3 teaspoons of warm olive or coconut oil.
- Apply it on the painful area.
- Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, and then rinse it off.
- Repeat this once daily until the pain is improved.
Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after application to prevent unwanted contact with other areas of the body.
8. Cinnamon is a natural healing agent
Cinnamon has antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, carminative, and anti-flatulent properties. (20) This spice is also an excellent source of minerals, such as potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, and copper, along with vitamin A, niacin, and pyridoxine. (21)
Cinnamon is often used to treat symptoms such as those associated with the common cold, flatulence, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, joint pain, and menstrual discomfort. (22) It has also been found that regular consumption of cinnamon can help people with type 2 diabetes to control their blood sugar level.
In addition, it helps lower cholesterol and reduces the risk of various types of heart disease. (23) It should not be taken in large amounts over time, though, as it may have side or adverse effects especially in people with liver disease. (24)
9. Asafetida relieves stomach aches and colic
Often, people experience stomach pain due to indigestion, gas, heartburn, constipation, a stomach infection, and overeating. Asafetida, also known as “hing,” can help solve these problems.
This spice has been found to have a positive effect on digestive enzyme activity, which may help relieve digestive pains. (25)
How to consume:
Mix a pinch of asafetida and rock salt in a glass of warm water and drink the solution two to three a day. Also, include a little asafetida in your daily cooking to improve digestion and reduce gas or bloating.
10. Garlic can help your body heal naturally
Garlic is prized for its impressive medicinal value, all thanks to it’s stimulant, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiseptic properties.
In addition, garlic is packed with health-promoting vitamins and nutrients, such as protein, potassium, calcium, zinc, and many others. (26) It is used by many to get relief from coughs, chronic bronchitis, sore throats, hoarseness, sinus problems, asthma, ear infections, indigestion, stomach aches, colic, toothache, and bug bites.
11. Lemon is a mighty adjunctive aid
Lemon’s antioxidant and immune-boosting properties are renowned the world over, making it one of the most sought-after healing aids. It also contains nutrients such as vitamin C and folate, both of which are vital for maintaining optimal health. (29)
This citrusy gift of nature has been traditionally used to alleviate headaches, throat infections, indigestion, constipation, insect bites, and joint pain and discomfort.
Lemon has also gained a lot of popularity as a detoxifying agent due to its rich antioxidant supply, which helps keep free radicals in check.
It is a favorite among weight-watchers who are looking to lose some extra flab. (30) A glass of lukewarm lemon water on an empty stomach is believed to facilitate digestion and improve the body’s metabolic rate. It also helps in maintaining the body’s natural pH balance.
Moreover, lemon is also credited with some potential to prevent stroke, cardiovascular disease, and various types of cancer. (31) This tangy favorite has also demonstrated considerable effectiveness in lowering high blood pressure when combined with brisk walking, as well as in treating specific kinds of kidney stones.
12. Honey possesses health-promoting goodness
Often referred to as “the nectar of the gods,” honey is known to possess antiviral, antifungal, antiseptic, and antiparasitic properties. (32)
This viscous fluid contains a plethora of essential vitamins and minerals including magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, copper, iron, manganese, sulfur, zinc, and phosphate, all of which help recharge and repair the body. (33)
Many people have found honey to be useful in alleviating cough, throat irritation, laryngitis, canker sores, morning sickness, and stomach distress. It also relieves issues such as skin infections and minor wounds and burns when applied topically. (34)
In addition, this great natural source of carbohydrates can instantly boost athletes’ performance and endurance and can reduce muscle fatigue. (35)
13. Onion can help restore your health
Onion has outstanding anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibiotic, antimicrobial, and carminative properties. (36) It is also a very good source of vitamins C, B1, B6, and K, biotin, chromium, calcium, folic acid, and dietary fiber. (37)
Onion has been used as a folk remedy to achieve symptomatic relief from several respiratory ailments such as the common cold, cough, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. (38) Moreover, this kitchen staple may even help combat stomach infections, nausea, and diarrhea.
14. Cardamom helps the body in a number of ways
This aromatic spice, known popularly as the “queen of spices,” has carminative, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, diuretic, and expectorant properties. (41) It is also a good source of minerals, such as potassium, calcium, copper, iron, and magnesium.
Cardamom has been used as a traditional remedy to help combat problems such as bad breath and mouth ulcers. In addition, due to its carminative properties, it relieves indigestion, nausea, heartburn, flatulence, and stomach cramps.
This spice is also purported to help alleviate various symptoms caused by asthma, bronchitis, and respiratory allergies. Also, cardamom helps to increase appetite, reduce stress levels, and ease muscle tension. (42)
15. Cumin seeds can provide digestive relief
Cumin seeds have anti-inflammatory, carminative, antiflatulent, and antioxidant properties. (43) The seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber along with various minerals, such as iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, and zinc. (44)
Cumin seeds have been employed as a folk remedy to alleviate symptoms such as indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea, acidity, stomach pain, morning sickness, renal colic, (45) the common cold, cough, fever, sore throat, and insomnia.
It is also purported to boost metabolism and enhance the absorption of nutrients into the body.
16. Peppermint can help soothe headaches
People of all ages suffer from headaches from time to time. They can be due to dehydration, stress, tension, restlessness, colds, sinus problems, migraines, spending too much time in the sun, and lack of sleep.
If you want an alternative to over-the-counter painkillers, try drinking a glass of water. In many cases, headaches, even migraine headaches, are caused by dehydration.
Peppermint is also a potential home remedy for headaches. Its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and calming properties may have a positive effect on headaches. (46)
How to use:
- You can use peppermint oil to massage your temples or drink a warm cup of peppermint tea sweetened with honey.
- Another option is to add a few drops of peppermint oil to a small pot of boiling water and then inhale the steam for a few minutes.
17. Salt can help relieve foot pain
Foot pain is another common problem that affects people of all age groups. Pain can occur anywhere in the foot including the toes, heel, sole, ankle, and arch. Common reasons behind foot pain are age, uncomfortable shoes, and too much walking and standing on your feet for a long time.
Epsom salt, in particular, is loaded with magnesium, which is attributed with the exceptional anti-inflammatory potential to relieve muscle soreness and body aches. (47)
You can even use the garden variety cooking salt to give your tired, painful, and worn-out feet a therapeutically rejuvenating soak.
How to use:
- Add a ½ cup of table salt to a small tub of warm water and dip your feet in the warm saline solution for 10 to 15 minutes. The combination of heat and salt works well to relax the feet and ease the pain.
- To make this simple home treatment even more effective, use Epsom salt rather than common salt.
These common kitchen ingredients exhibit properties that help prevent some health issues while alleviating or remediating others.
In the recent past, there have been many incidents that warn us against the long-term, regular use of traditional NSAIDs, which can greatly compromise our threshold for pain and often render us hopelessly dependent on them for even the minutest physical inconvenience.
The instant relief often makes one lose sight of the cumulative damage wreaked by conventional painkillers in the long run. Prolonged use of traditional analgesics can increase the toxic burden inside the body and make one susceptible to kidney damage, heart attack, strokes, bruising, clotting, gastrointestinal problems, and high blood pressure.
It is for this reason that some health experts recommend natural alternatives to beat the pain sans the potential side effects. The fact that most of these miracle workers are readily at our disposal as part of our kitchen condiments just adds to their charm.