Natural Pain Relievers: Safe Foods, Herbs, and Supplements for Pain

By Val Silver

Natural pain relievers can be a godsend when aches and pains are ruining your quality of life and you want to limit or avoid pharmaceutical drugs and their nasty side effects. Natural supplements, herbs, and anti inflammatory foods ease safely ease discomfort, inflammation, make movement easier, and provide other health benefits when properly used. 

Opiods analgesics such as morphine and oxycodone are the go-to prescription drugs for severe pain. They may be effective, but at the high cost of addiction, toxicity, and potential death with long-term use. Prescription opiod drugs were responsible for 60% of drug overdose deaths (42, 249 people) in 2017.

Some natural pain relievers provide close to the same level of relief for severe pain without negative side effects when used properly. For milder pain, gentler remedies work well, too. They work by either reducing inflammation, blocking nerve signals to the brain, relaxing muscles, and/or helping to heal ailing body parts.

Important Note: Consult your licensed health provider before using natural pain relievers if you are pregnant or nursing, have kidney or liver conditions, or use medications. Match specific natural pain remedies and foods to your specific needs for best results and give them time to work. 

Natural Supplements for Pain and Inflammation 

natural pain relievers, supplements for inflammation and pain

Pain and inflammation often go hand-in-hand. Acute short-term inflammation is necessary for healing injuries but its accompanying swelling and heat causes pain. The chronic long-term inflammation is also a contributor to the pain of the -itis conditions such as arthritis (-itis means inflammation)

Natural supplements for inflammation and pain work in different ways and often have multiple effects in the body. Many are anti-oxidant rich and reduce inflammation. Others boost circulation, promote relaxation, have lubricating or protective effects, or block pain signals to the brain. Some are applied externally while others are taken orally.

The active ingredients in most pain and anti-inflammatory foods and supplements are naturally found either in healthy food or they are made by your body. However, it is not usually feasible to try to get the amounts you need from food. Natural pain relievers safely supply the amount you need.

Fish, Krill, and Emu Oils

Omega-3 rich fish oil and krill oil are helpful natural pain relievers. Wild salmon get their deep pink color from eating shrimp and krill, which contain a compound called astaxanthin.  Astaxanthin is a powerful anti-inflammatory fat soluble antioxidant from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae. It gives krill, salmon, and flamingos their pink color because of its high carotenoid content. At doses of 4-8mg, astaxanthin shows promise as a natural pain reliever. It reduces muscle and joint soreness in arthritis sufferers, athletes, and weekend warriors. 

For best results, krill and fish oil work best together to protect your joints and reduce disease causing inflammation throughout your body.

Research shows that krill oil does a better job of protecting joint cartilage from damaging inflammation than fish oil. Fish oil excels at reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines in your blood. Suggested optimal doses for pain relief are 300 mg of krill oil and 1400 mg EPA and 1000 mg DHA from purified fish oil. (read more here)

Emu oil rubbed into the skin are reported to be helpful. Emu oil has a long history of use by the Australian aborigines as natural pain relievers for burns, wounds, bruises, and sore bones, muscles, and joints.

Glucosamine and chondroitin

Gluscosamine and chondroitin are naturally found in the cartilage that acts as a cushion between bones and joints. These substances are well known for protecting joint cartilage damaged by arthritis and even helping it rebuild over time. It may take from three to eight weeks for symptoms to improve if oral intake is going to help you. If you don't note any improvement by then, these are probably not the right pain relievers for you. 

Combine these supplements with Omega-3 rich fish and krill oils to slow and prevent further damaged caused by inflammatory cells.


Enzymes are natural pain relievers that safely control inflammation and quell pain. There are several effective enzymes. For example, protease reduces inflammation from soft tissue injury when taken on an empty stomach. Catalase and bromelain reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation from injuries.

Choose a well-researched systemic enzyme formula such as Wobenzym or Phlogenzym and follow directions for use. 

Wobenzyme contains pancreatin (100 mg), papain (60 mg), bromelain (45 mg), lipase (10 mg), amylase (10 mg), trypsin (24 mg), chymotrypsin (1 mg), and rutin (50 mg). Phlogenzym contains bromelain (90 mg), trypsin (48 mg), and rutoside (100 mg). 


MSM - Methylsulfonylmethane is an anti inflammatory supplement also found in many foods including fruits, vegetables, cow's milk, seafood and meat. It is a sulfur-rich detoxifier and anti-inflammatory.

MSM works by reducing inflammation and boosting circulation. It makes cells more permeable so nutrients get in and toxins get out. This is important for healing and pain relief.

Look for OptiMSM, the pure form. Some proponents of MSM suggest that you start with four grams a day and work up to ten or more after a week. Starting with the lower amount helps you avoid detoxification symptoms.

DMSO is a sulfur compound derived from Pine trees. Because it effortlessly penetrates the skin barrier and body tissues when applied topically, DMSO is for natural pain relief and to speed the healing of muscle injuries, strains, sprains, skeletal injuries, burns, and wounds. It can help relieve headache pain, inflammation, and arthritis pain. DMSO is also used as a carrier to enhance penetration of other ointments through the skin. 

Remarkably, applying DMSO to one area may also lead to pain relief in another part of the body as it travels through the system via the blood stream. Once in the blood stream, it can cross the blood-brain barrier and dilate blood vessels, thus improving blood supply and oxygen to an injured area.

DMSO is usually applied to the skin in gel, cream, or liquid form. Do not take internally or use industrial-grade DMSO. It may interact with medications or cause allergic reactions or redness. Always test on a small patch of skin before applying to larger areas. 

About 15% of DMSO becomes MSM inside the body.


SAMe may be for you if you have joint pain and feel depressed. Your body naturally produce this S-adenosylmethionine molecule, but production drops off as we age.

SAMe has been proven as effective as Celebrex for arthritis pain, but it takes up to a month for best results. The study groups used doses of 600-1200mg daily, but people report good results at 400mg. Take this pain supplement with food and use enteric coated tablets to avoid stomach upset.

Because SAMe helps produce neurotransmitters in your brain it also helps improve mood. It is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It is used for making cartilage and also glutathione, which is important for detoxifying the liver. 

Epsom Salts and Topical Magnesium

epsom salts pain relief supplements

Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) or Dead Sea salts (magnesium chloride) in a bath of hot water a few times a week help you relax and ease pain. You get pain relief three ways from this remedy.

The hot water and magnesium relaxes tense muscles and feels wonderful and relaxing mind and body also eases pain and promotes healing. 

Another option is to apply magnesium chloride gel or liquid directly to the skin or added to a bath. Leave it on for at least 20 minutes before showering. If it stings, you can dilute it with a little water. If you get the bath flakes, you can dissolve some of it in water for topical application.

Herbal Pain Relief

The plant kingdom offers many natural pain relievers. The two plants receiving the most attention now are turmeric and hemp, but they are not the only spices and herbs for pain relief. Different herbs are specific to different types of pain.

Muscle-Relaxing Herbs

Herbs that relax the muscles relieve pain by reducing or alleviating tightness and/or spasms in the muscles. Muscle-relaxing herbs include valerian, hops, kava kava, and cramp bark. Valerian root calms spasms and muscle cramps, Saint John's Wort can ease  nerve pain, such as sciatica. Kava kava is helpful for neuropathy and tension headaches. Valerian and hops have the added benefit of acting as mild sedatives to help you relax and sleep. Kava eases social anxiety.  

Anti-inflammatory spices and herbs

Inflammation caused by an injury or illness is a natural part of the healing process, but if it gets too intense or lasts too long, the result can be uncomfortable swelling, pain, and hindered blood flow to the area. When this happens, anti-inflammatory herbs and spices can help.

For example:

  • White willow bark eases minor body aches and pains in the same way as aspirin due to its salicin content. Salicin reduces inflammation and pain as it travels through the bloodstream. By reducing swelling, joint pain may be also be eased. 
  • Wintergreen Essential Oil is used in muscle rubs and vapors. Its active ingredient is methyl salicylate, which is a main ingredient in aspirin. Rub the cream or lotion on for muscle aches, headache. Do a steam inhalation or inhale from the bottle to ease the discomforts of cold and flu symptoms. Peppermint oil helps relieve headaches, too.
  • Saint John's Wort, Scullcap and Turmeric have mild to powerful pain relieving properties for muscles, nerves and joints. A lot of research supports the benefits of curcumin for reducing stiffness, pain and inflammation. It is a helpful remedy for joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthrits and muscle pain.
  • Evening Primrose, Black Currant and Borage Oils contain gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty that is also good for treating the discomfort of arthritis. 

 Read about a variety of anti-inflammatory spices and herbs for pain and health here.

Herbal Pain-Signal Blockers

Capsaicin from hot peppers is applied to painful areas in creams or rubs. It is an effective remedy for headache, back pain, neuropathy, fbromyalgia, shingles, and arthritis. Capsaicin works quickly by blocking the pain signal to the brain by releasing a substance that stops communication between nerve endings and the spinal cord. Wash your hand before touching your eyes- it burns!

A drop of clove essential oil applied to a tooth and surrounding gums inhibits infection and numbs the nerve to dull pain. 

Hemp Oil and CBD

Hemp oil is also rich in gamma-linoleic acid and stearidonic acid which reduces symptoms of atopic dermatitis and dry skin.  People have experienced positive results applying it to the skin to relieve eczema pain and improve skin conditions.

Hemp oil contains omega-3 fatty acids which benefit cardiovascular health. It's fatty acids ease ease symptoms of PMS and rheumatoid arthritis. The alpa-linoleic acid (ALA) helps organs function properly. Together its oils and other helpful compounds inhibit the progression of some disabling conditions. 

Take a few drops of this potent oil a day as a starting dose. Build up to the recommended dose slowly.

herbs and supplements for pain, hemp and cbd

Cannabidiol (CBD) comes from Cannabis sativa minus the psychoactive effects. This compound works with the body's stress regulating endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system keeps functions such as sleep, appetite, pain, inflammation, and the immune system in balance.

CBD administered in appropriate doses comes close to providing pain reduction similar to opiod drugs. You can take much less opiod medication when used with CBD. This reduces the toxic load on your kidneys and liver and lessens your chance of becoming another opiod addict or death statistic. 

Cannibis works by acting on the brain opiod receptors. The nerves still send pain signals to the brain, but the message is blocked. 

Talk with your medical provider about whether or not this natural pain reliever is a viable option for you.

Anti Inflammatory Foods as Natural Pain Relievers

The foods you eat contribute to pain relief or make it worse. On-going pain, a leaky gut, or a weakened mucus lining in your intestines might be fueling chronic inflammation. Take steps to heal your intestines with anti inflammatory foods and supplements, especially if you suffer from bouts of diarrhea and/or constipation.

anti-inflammatory foods, chocolate
  • Enjoy an ounce or two of dark anti-oxidant rich chocolate. Choose at least 70% cocoa or more to block inflammation and to release feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain.  85% cocao is more effective, but you may find it too bitter for your taste. Of course, you can always add a bit of stevia or other natural sweetener to make it palatable.
  • Season your food with lots of cinnamon, chili powder, turmeric (be careful it stains everything!) and ginger. Grate a piece of root into a cup of water. Enjoy! 
  • Eat lots of cooked and raw vegetables. Besides their undisputed nutritional value, the fiber escorts inflammatory substances out of your body. 
  • Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir and probiotic-rich refrigerated or homemade sauerkraut and other cultured vegetables heal and support the gut, plus they benefit your immune system which plays a big part in your body's inflammatory responses. 
  • Eat a portion or two of wild-caught salmon every week for high quality protein Omega 3's, and astaxanthin. Choose olive oil for dressing salad and vegetables instead of store bought dressing made with unhealthy oils.
  • Tart cherries and cherry juice as a regular part of your diet have years of folk wisdom and science behind them as natural pain relievers for joint and muscle pain. 
  • A healthy diet free of foods you are sensitive to, with  limited amounts of processed food, sugar (spikes blood sugar which increases inflammation), and conventionally raised red meat is important naturally improves overall health, gut health, and helps normalize inflammation.

Freedom from pain is important to your mental and physical well-being. Natural pain relievers including anti-inflammatory foods and pain supplements are an important part of your holistic pain relief plan. They ease acute and chronic discomfort as well as provide other important health benefits. 

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For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult your healthcare provider before using herbs or supplements if you are pregnant, nursing, or being treated for a health condition. Be aware that certain herbs interact with medication. 

The Miracle Healing Power of DMSO

Natural Pain Relievers page updated 03/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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