How to Counter Inflammation: A Natural Alternative to Advil and Aspirin

You probably have these over-the-counter medications in your home right now. But does “over the counter” mean that the drug is completely safe? Drugs such as Advil and Aspirin have been Western Medicine’s “safe solution” to chronic inflammation for the last century. Over 30 million Americans use Advil regularly to treat headaches, fever, arthritis and chronic inflammation, as well as a number of other symptoms and conditions.

Advil, Aspirin, Aleve, Motrin among many others are a class of drug known as NSAID’s – Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. Yes, NSAID’s are relatively effective for most people and probably won’t cause death from occasional short term use. But, overuse of these drugs over a long period of time can lead to tolerance and ultimately lack of effectiveness.

Building tolerance to a drug causes the user to increase the dose to get an effective response. A large dose of NSAID’s consistently over a long period of time can lead to serious health complications affecting the cardiovascular system, digestive system, liver and kidneys. Nonetheless, some people need to use these drugs to keep inflammation under control. 

*Note: The appearance of major side effects are mostly found in chronic long-term users of NSAID’s. Using these drugs once in a while after an acute injury that involves swelling should not kill you and probably won't have any noticeable effects. But taking NSAID’s multiple times per week for years may lead to damage of internal organs and premature death.       

Why is Chronic Inflammation Bad?

Chronic inflammation is the consequence of poor health leading to various diseases and ultimately death. Long term inflammation is an indication that something is wrong at cellular level and is wide spread across many tissues and/or systems in the body. Chronic inflammation is a factor that leads to the serious health issues that cause the majority of death related illness. These include: heart disease, cancer, various autoimmune diseases, obesity, Crohn’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, among many others.

 

  *Note:  that short term inflammation is a natural response in the body that is needed for certain processes, like recovering from exercise. Not ALL inflammation is bad or chronic.

*Note: that short term inflammation is a natural response in the body that is needed for certain processes, like recovering from exercise. Not ALL inflammation is bad or chronic.

When is Inflammation Chronic? Inflammation becomes chronic when it remains a constant low-level physiological response. In simpler terms, the body is always swollen and it becomes the new norm or our “default state”. This happens over years of poor diet choices and a high stress lifestyle.

Think of it like starting a small camp fire that doesn’t get put out. It starts as harmless fun, but negligence in the right conditions can cause a raging forest fire. Once it gets started, it is hard to stop. The forest will continue to burn until everything is dead.

Symptoms of Chronically High Inflammation

  1. Swollen joints
  2. Bloating
  3. Constant pain in the body (joints or muscles)
  4. Ulcers
  5. Irritable bowel syndrome (constipation or diarrhea)
  6. Blood sugar irregularities
  7. Allergies
  8. Constant fatigue or lethargy
  9. High blood pressure
  10. Skin rashes
  11. Red, bloodshot eyes
  12. Asthma

The Main Culprit of Inflammation

Simply any and all kinds of stress may lead to inflammation. Stress is a complicated subject due to the fact that there are many types and many causes. There is a good type of stress called “eustress” which includes activities like lifting weights or eating spicy food. The stress we will focus on is “distress” or bad stress caused by anything from losing a family member to constantly eating poor quality food.

Increased stress will lead to increased inflammation through the effect of the hormone cortisol. As a general rule, inflammation and cortisol should be reduced to maintain good health and prevent disease. Some small spikes of cortisol in the blood is essential and even beneficial for various complex reasons. But, when cortisol levels are chronically elevated due to distressful environments, inflammation occurs. Elevated cortisol levels may also lead to obesity, high blood pressure and a multitude of other stress-related conditions.

Every stress-related choice we make about our health boils down to this: Pro-inflammatory (swelling producing) or Anti-inflammatory (swelling reducing).

*Years of making pro-inflammatory choices add up to chronic inflammation!

  • Working 100 hours a week with no sleep? Pro-inflammatory.
  •  Eating a high-carb, low-fat diet filled with sugar? Pro-inflammatory.
  • Drinking a few beers or sodas per night? Pro-inflammatory.

 

  • Eating Omega 3 fatty acids? Anti-inflammatory.
  • Getting 8 hours of sleep? Anti-inflammatory.
  • Avoiding refined carbohydrates? Anti-inflammatory.

How NSAID’s Work and Are they Effective?

Advil, Aspirin are clinically proven to work as claimed. Most NSAID’s work by inhibiting an enzyme (COX-2) involved in the natural pain and inflammatory response. Well, actually there are many enzymes and metabolic pathways that contribute to pain and inflammation, COX-2 is just one of them. This is why Advil is good for some types of pain but not others. NSAID’s are also effective for lowering high fevers.

Why are NSAID’s Harmful?

Pharmaceutical companies want you to believe that these medications are 100% safe and you have nothing to worry about. But these companies are more interested in your money than your health. The truth is, NSAID use is attributed to over 100,000 hospitalisations and 16,000 deaths every year. Not to mention the undocumented damage to internal organs that leaves the body susceptible to disease.

Major side effects and complications of NSAID use include:

1.    Increased risk of cardiovascular disease - heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure

2.    Gastro intestinal complications – ulcers, vomiting, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, reduced appetite, intestinal swelling

3.    Liver complications – cirrhosis (liver scarring) potentially leading to liver failure

4.    Kidney damage – potentially leading to failure

5.    Hearing loss – seen in high doses over time

6.    Miscarriage during pregnancy

Is there a Safe, Effective and Natural Alternative?

Yes! It is as simple as the combination of 2 spices that have been used for thousands of years and continue to be the staple of many cultures cuisine. These 2 two spices could be sitting in your spice rack right now! Hundreds of studies have confirmed the effectiveness of the natural alternative and the mechanisms of action of now been established. Understanding how something works is vital for understanding the benefits and risks.

Disclaimer: Most alternative medicines are not backed by sound scientific evidence. This is mainly because the science hasn’t been done yet and we don’t understand how the mechanisms of action work. Therefore, caution is warranted for using natural remedies. See the references for scientific support for this natural solution to inflammation.

The Two Spice Combination to Replace Advil and Aspirin

1.    Turmeric= A root in the ginger family and common spice used in India and Asia. Turmeric has been used in eastern cuisine and traditional Chinese Medicine for over 4000 years as an anti-inflammatory remedy. Turmeric contains a medicinal compound called “curcumin”.

2.    Black Pepper= The same pepper you find at any dinner table. Science has now shown that black pepper has numerous health benefits, especially when used with other medicinal substances. Black pepper contains a compound known as “piperine”.

The Medicinally Active Compounds

Curcumin:  Is a polyphenol substance in turmeric which gives it the yellow colour Benefits include anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Curcumin works by inhibiting the same enzymes that NSAID’s act on (COX-2). Only problem with turmeric is that the liver breaks down curcumin before it enters the bloodstream and has a chance to be effective.

Piperine: is an alkaloid compound found in black pepper that prevents the liver from breaking down curcumin. Piperine is improves the absorption of curcumin into the blood stream by over 2000%! Only a small dose (1/20 tsp) of pepper is required for this to be effective.

How do use Turmeric and Black Pepper

Turmeric is available in some products as natural coloring such as organic mustard, but only provides a tiny dose of curcumin. Curry is a spice combination that has been used in Asia and India for over 4000 years which contains both turmeric and black pepper, but still in relatively small doses. There are plenty of recipes that involve curry, so do a Google search and find one you like. Post your favourite recipe in the comments.

As with anything to do with your health, it is best to take it into your own hands. I am going to share my personal favourite shake that I use in place of NSAID’s, to aid in recovery from exercise and maintain overall health and wellbeing.

The first step is to buy whole turmeric root at the grocery store and I bet you have ground black pepper on your kitchen table right now. The freshness of the turmeric and black pepper is vital for potency and effectiveness.

RECIPE: The Blueberry Kale Shake with Turmeric and Black pepper

Simply throw all ingredients into a blender, pour and serve

  • 6-8 kale leaves................................. fresh, stalks removed
  • Water.................................................. as much as needed to blend leaves
  • 1-2 cups of blueberries .................washed
  • 2-3 tsp flax oil..................................high in omega 3 (anti-inflammitory)
  • 2-4g Turmeric root....................... skinned and chopped into chunks
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper ....................don’t overdo it

Optional additions:

  • 1-2 cups spinach...............................more greens, the better
  • 1 banana ............................................ emulsifier
  • 1-3 scoops protein powder........... Whey or Hemp, if muscle gain is a focus
  • Milk/ fruit juice................................. substitute for water, use for additonal calories

These ingredients are just as, if not more effective than NSAID’s such as Advil and Aspirin. Drink 1-2 shakes per day, anytime will work. It is best time to drink this shake is first thing in the morning or after a hard workout. Do you have a creative way to incorporate turmeric and black pepper in a "semi editable" recipe? Include it in the comments. 

**With enough interest, this post may be expanded in to an ebook. There are a lot of complex details that had to left out of this short article. 

References

1. Fioruccia, Stefano, et.al. "Dual inhibitors of cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase. A new avenue in anti-inflammatory therapy?" Biochemical Pharmacology 62 (2001): 1433-38.

2. Leray, Ve´ronique, et. al. "Effect of citrus polyphenol- and curcumin-supplemented diet on inflammatory state in obese cats." British Journal of Nutrition 106 (2011): 198-201.

3. Silver, Kristopher et.al. "Inhibition of Kv channel expression by NSAIDs depolarizes membrane potential and inhibits cell migration by disrupting calpain signaling." Biochemical Pharmacology 98 (2015): 614-28.

4. Singletary, Keith. "Black Pepper: Overview of Health Benefits." Nutrition Today 45.1 (2010): 43-47.

5. Singletary, Keith. "Turmeric: An Overview of Potential Health Benefits." Nutrition Today 45.5 (2010): 216-25

6. Tomisato, Wataru et. al. "Role of direct cytotoxic effects of NSAIDs in the induction of gastric lesions." Biochemical Pharmacology 67 (2004): 575-85.