Natural Health Journals

The Dangers of OTC Pain Medications

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Plus: Effective, Natural Remedies for Headache, Arthritis and Joint Pain

It is all too easy to get into the habit of taking over-the-counter pain medications to relieve a headache, arthritis pain, muscle pain or other kinds of pain that many of us experience now and then.

But no matter what brand of pain medication we grab from a store shelf, they all have potential dangerous risks when used too frequently.

Aspirin (active ingredient: acetyl salicylic acid) can cause stomach irritation, and a 2012 Italian study of more than 300,000 patients found that taking aspirin regularly can increase the risk of stomach or brain bleeding by up to 55 percent.

Tylenol, or more specifically, its active ingredient acetaminophen, increases risk of liver failure. So much so, that Tylenol, the most popular OTC pain medication in the United States, is also the number-one cause of acute liver failure in the country. And combining acetaminophen with alcohol can be fatal, even when acetaminophen is taken in recommended doses.

One study also found that people who took acetaminophen regularly and for long periods had almost twice the risk of developing blood cancer. Other studies have linked long-term use of acetaminophen to brain damage and increased blood pressure.

The class of OTC’s known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) has risks of its own. These drugs include ibuprofen-based medications such as Motrin or Advil, and naproxen sodium, the active ingredient in Aleve. They are associated with an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. They also raise the risk of serious gastrointestinal problems, including bleeding, ulcers and perforation of the stomach or intestines. These events can occur without warning symptoms.

Clearly, then, OTC pain medications are not harmless and should be used as infrequently as possible, if they’re used at all. (Consumers should also be on the look-out for prescription pain medications that contain OTC pain ingredients like acetaminophen, and take the amounts of these ingredients present into consideration when determining what is a safe dose to take of any OTC pain medication.)

Natural Remedies for Pain

On many occasions, you may be able to relieve your pain without using medication at all. The following are helpful suggestions for doing so.

If you are someone who gets headaches often, it may benefit you to talk to your doctor about it. Getting blood work done will help pinpoint nutrient deficiencies that may be causing your headache. If nutritional deficiencies or more serious conditions are ruled out, then chances are you are getting tension headaches, which is what 90 percent of all headaches are.


For a tension headache, massaging your scalp, neck and shoulders will help a lot, especially if you can get someone else to massage you. Some people also report headache relief by massaging a little natural peppermint oil around the hairline. (Rub a little peppermint oil on your palms, and take some deep breaths; this will feel pleasant, as well.)

When massaging your head, you can also use both sets of fingertips to gently press along the top of your forehead, so that your whole head will be pushed back slightly. Also try placing one palm on the back of your head, and the other on your forehead, and give your skull a few gentle squeezes. This will help ‘loosen’ things around your skull and release some tension.

Relieve Stress:

Another reason for headaches and for other types of pain, including back pain, may be emotional stress. So, finding ways to de-stress is important.

If you’re feeling tense while at home or at work, take a few minutes to walk away from where you are; step outside, if possible, and get some air. Or go into your backyard at home and admire nature for a few moments. This will automatically relieve your tension. Taking a few deep breaths will further relax you.

Get Enough Nightly Sleep:

Few things will make a person as prone to getting a headache as not getting enough sleep. Aim to get eight hours of sleep every night — that’s uninterrupted sleep, in a dark and quiet room. Don’t make the mistake of “catching up” on lost sleep on your days off too often. For good health, it is far better to get enough sleep every night.


Maintaining a regular exercise routine (at least 30 minutes, several times a week) will do wonders for your overall health, including improving your circulation and lowering your blood pressure. Both of these will help keep you healthy in many ways and make you less susceptible to stress symptoms.

Ginger Tea:

This delicious, powerful health-promoting spice is an anti-inflammatory; it will help with headaches, as well as arthritis and joint pain. Make ginger tea by dissolving half a teaspoon of powdered ginger into a cup of hot water; add a little honey to enhance taste. You can also slice or grate fresh ginger and boil it in water.

Add Turmeric to Your Diet:

Another super-healthy spice to add to your diet is ground turmeric; the active ingredient, curcumin, is also an anti-inflammatory with a long list of health-boosting properties. Try a teaspoonful of ground turmeric in hot water or in a glass of milk, or add to your favorite dishes.

Other Natural Remedies for Bone and Joint Pain:

Apply a hot or cold gel pack to affected area for 20 minutes. Some people do well with heat, and others prefer cold. Still others may want to try the hot pack first, immediately followed by the cold pack.

Stretching Exercises or Yoga:

The goal of regular, moderate to strenuous exercise is to strengthen and condition your entire body, as well as your cardiovascular system. The goal of gentle exercise, such as stretching or yoga, is to make you more limber and make your joints more flexible. This will help prevent aches and pains. If you suffer from back pain, doing abdominal exercises, which will tone your abdomen, will lessen strain on the back bones.

Lose Weight:

Carrying around excess weight puts undue strain on the joints and bones. Dropping even a few pounds will help relieve joint pain.

Eat Plenty of Fruits, Vegetables and Dairy Products:

Calcium and vitamin D, present in dairy foods, are the stuff of which bones, cartilage and tendons are made. Consuming plenty of these foods will help keep your bones, muscles and even your veins healthy. Fruits and vegetables will help cleanse your system and provide a practically endless number of important nutrients — including antioxidants, which will help the cells of your body (to include bone cells) stay young and healthy.

Limit Alcohol Intake:

By now, you’ve probably heard that one drink a day for women and two for men are beneficial to one’s health. But exceed those limits, and you quickly begin to harm your system in many ways, including reducing the absorption of calcium from the foods that you eat.

Use Orthotic Insoles:

Cushioning your steps will put less strain on your knees, hips and back. You can have insoles custom-made (though they’re pricey) or you can buy them at the store. Gel insoles last much longer than the foam kind.

Use Support Devices, if You Are Injured:

If you hurt, by all means use a cane or another device to help you keep the weight off the injured joint or bone. Use an arm sling for shoulder injuries. Stay off your feet as much as possible until pain has subsided for knee, leg or hip injuries, and avoid using injured arm as best as possible. It is important to allow injured tissues to heal, which will speed up your recovery.

By Eirian Hallinan

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