Many natural therapies can be very helpful for pain. My three favorite pain relieving herbals are willow bark, Boswellia, and tart cherry. All three of these can be found in combination in the End Fatigue "Pain Formula" by Integrative Therapeutics. Begin with 2-4 tabs 2-3 times a day as needed until maximum benefit is achieved (~ 4-6 weeks) and then you can use the lowest effective dose. Let’s look at these three herbals.
Willow bark is the original source of aspirin, but when used as the entire herb it has been found to be much safer and quite effective. The active ingredient is salicin, and Willow bark has been shown to be effective in both osteoarthritis and back pain. People who are severely allergic to aspirin (e.g. – aspirin induced asthma or anaphylaxes-which is very unusual) should not use Willow bark. Like aspirin and Celebrex, it acts as a COX (Cyclooxygenase enzyme) inhibitor, decreasing inflammation. There are clearly a combination of other factors in willow bark that markedly enhance its effectiveness and safety – which can be a major benefit over aspirin and NSAIDs (e.g. – Motrin) which cause an enormous amount of gastritis and ulcer bleeding, to the point of killing 15,000 – 20,000 Americans yearly! The studies on willow bark are quite consistent in their effectiveness in reducing pain. Let’s look at some of the research.
In one study, 210 patients with severe chronic low back pain were randomly assigned to receive an oral willow bark extract with either 120 mg (low dose) or 240 mg (high dose) of salicin, or placebo, in a 4-week blinded trial. In the last week of treatment, 39% in the group receiving high-dose extract were PAIN -FREE, 21% in the group receiving low-dose extract were pain-free, and only 6% in the placebo group were pain-free. The response in the high-dose group was evident after only 1 week of treatment. They then studied 451 patients who came in with low back pain in an open study, using salicin 240 mg,120 mg, or standard orthopedic/NSAID care for four weeks. 40% of the patients in the 240 mg group and 19% in the 120 mg group were pain-free after four weeks. In the standard treatment group using standard medications, only 18% were pain-free. The study showed that willow bark was not just far more effective and safer than standard prescription therapies, but also decreased the cost of care by approximately 40%!
Another review found that Willow bark extract has comparable anti-inflammatory activities as higher doses of acetylsalicylic acid/aspirin (ASS), as well as reducing pain and fever. In pharmacologically active doses, no adverse effects on the stomach lining (e.g.-indigestion, ulcers, etc) were observed, in contrast to aspirin.
A daily dose of willow bark extract standardized to 240 mg salicin per day was also significantly superior to placebo in patients with osteoarthritis of the hip and the knee. In 2 open studies against standard active treatments as controls, willow bark extract exhibited advantages compared to NSAIDs and was about as effective as Vioxx. Another placebo-controlled study found that willow bark (salicin 240 mg/day) was more effective than placebo in treating arthritis (the normal wear and tear type called osteoarthritis) after only two weeks of therapy. Other references are also available in my Pain Free 1-2-3! book for those of you who would like more information on willow bark.