Pain and inflammation? Natural products can be the solution

Category: Integrative Nutrition, Pain

If you suffer from pain or various inflammatory processes, natural products should be your first choice to reduce the possible adverse effects caused by some drugs.

Pain and inflammatory processes are closely related defence mechanisms, which are triggered when there is tissue damage. In the first case, nociceptors, or pain receptors, are involved, while in inflammation, both blood vessels and cells that are part of the immune system are involved. In the following, we will analyse how herbal extracts can help us when these physiological phenomena exist.

Inflammation and pain, acute or chronic

These two processes allow us to detect and locate the lesions that are generated in any part of the body. Each one has different and very relevant characteristics.

  1. Pain can have different locations, such as visceral pain, which comes from the internal organs. Somatic pain derives from the skeleton, from the muscles and joints or from the skin. In any case, it is accompanied by a very important emotional component, such as anxiety or fear; reactions that increase its perception at a subjective level. It is also the most frequent reason why we consult a medical specialist.
  2. Inflammation is identified by the Celsus Tetrad, namely: flushing (redness), local heat, tumour (increase in volume) and pain itself. In addition, the function of the affected organ deteriorates, as is the case with arthritis and osteoarthritis. Certain diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, can lead to chronic inflammatory processes in both old and young people. This is due to an accelerated and excessive function of the immune system. In such circumstances, the ongoing process damages the tissues of many organs. (1)

Natural substances and plants with anti-inflammatory properties

There are natural herbal extracts that can help us to control these processes. For example, those from turmeric, boswellia and devil’s claw, which are plants with anti-inflammatory properties. The substance called palmitoylethanolamide, which is found in peanuts, egg yolk and soybeans, also has several beneficial effects, as we will see below.


Palmitoylethanolamide or PEA is an endogenous fatty acid amide, which was identified in the 1950s as a natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory substance. It is useful in a wide spectrum of pathologies and does not produce side effects, nor has it been shown to interact with drugs. PEA activates some proteins that counteract the substances involved in muscle and joint inflammatory processes. In this way it reduces their intensity, whether acute or chronic (2). In cases of lung tissue injury, it has shown antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (3). On the other hand, it alleviates the following painful conditions:

  • Fibromyalgia (4).
  • Sciatica (5).
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (6).
  • Arthritis (7).

This substance also appears to have an effect on chronic pelvic pain associated with endometriosis, a condition that affects 5% of the female population (8).


Curcuma longa or turmeric is considered a medicinal plant in several Asian cultures. Its rhizome, which is bright yellow in colour, is also used as a condiment. Its pharmacological benefits, which have been studied with particular interest, include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immunomodulatory action (9) without adverse effects. The anti-inflammatory action encompasses the decrease in neutrophil and eosinophil levels. The response of joint pain and stiffness to turmeric dry extract in patients with osteoarthritis, for example, has been satisfactory (10). Neurogenic pain, which is often refractory to treatment, is caused by persistent neuronal irritation. In that sense, turmeric reduces the release of inflammatory factors and improves symptoms (11). The administration of curcuma longa also decreases the levels of cytokines and interleukins. In this way it modulates the function of the immune system (12).


This plant is native to India and the Middle East, where it is used medicinally. Its resin is used to manufacture what is known as Indian incense. The active principles of this plant, contained in standardized extracts, are the boswellic acids called AKBBA and BBA. Several clinical studies have shown efficacy in improving the symptoms of osteoarthritis, with reduction of pain and stiffness when compared to groups receiving placebo. It appears that the two compounds act synergistically with anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory activity. Improved functional capacity was also observed, with no significant adverse events (13). The mechanism of action is different from that of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and is related to the immune system. The most notorious action is the inhibition of 5-lipoxygenase and interleukins. Clinical studies suggest that thanks to this they could be effective in autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and bronchial asthma. Side effects are not important, compared to those produced by commonly used drugs (14).


Harpagophytum procumbens is a plant native to Africa that is popularly known as devil’s claw or devil’s claw, because of its fruits with thorns. Its active ingredient is harpagoside, which is mainly found in the roots and works as a natural remedy for pain. Harpagophytum has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic activity, so it is traditionally used to treat joint ailments and cervical pain. Clinical trials have been published showing its effectiveness in joint diseases, primary chronic polyarthritis, rheumatism and degenerative joint diseases. Patients reported reduced pain intensity and improved joint mobility, without significant adverse effects (15) (16). In another trial, the extract was administered for 4 weeks to patients with chronic relapsing low back pain. Among the benefits, there was evidence of decreased pain, less pain irradiation and less neurological deficit. No related side effects were reported, except for mild gastrointestinal discomfort (17). The director of the postgraduate course in Natural Medicine at the University of Barcelona stated that “harpagophytum prevents the action of cyclooxygenase”, the enzyme that transforms arachidonic acid into prostaglandins, which are mediators of inflammation and pain in rheumatic diseases. It is therefore similar to common anti-inflammatory drugs, but without their side effects. The management of pain and chronic inflammation is always a complex issue and a challenge for medicine. As in many cases, drugs often have adverse effects that limit their use. This is particularly relevant in the case of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. But today there are natural alternatives to alleviate these symptoms that allow us to avoid the harmful effects. If you want to know some of our products with these ingredients click here.


Bibliographic references:

  1. Ruslan Medzhitov. Origin and physiological roles of inflammation. Nature, 2008 Jul 24;454(7203):428-35.
  2. Daniela Impellizzeri, Rosanna Di Paola, Marika Cordaro, Enrico Gugliandolo, Giovanna Casili, Valeria Maria Morittu, Domenico Britti, Emanuela Esposito, Salvatore Cuzzocrea. Adelmidrol, a palmitoylethanolamide analogue, as a new pharmacological treatment for the management of acute and chronic inflammation. Biochemical Pharmacology. 2016 Nov 1;119:27-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2016.09.001. Epub 2016 Sep 4.
  3. Loredana Bergandi, Giulia Apprato, Francesca Silvagno. Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Combined Phycocyanin and Palmitoylethanolamide in Human Lung and Prostate Epithelial Cells. Antioxidants. 2022 Jan 21;11(2):201.
  4. Rosaria Del Giorno, Stephen Skaper, Antonella Paladini, Giustino Varrassi, Stefano Coaccioli. “Palmitoylethanolamide in Fibromyalgia: Results From Prospective and Retrospective Observational Studies”. Pain Ther. 2015 Dec;4(2):169-78.
  5. Enrico Gugliandolo, Ramona D’amico, Marika Cordaro, Roberta Fusco, Rosalba Siracusa, Rosalia Crupi, Daniela Impellizzeri, Salvatore Cuzzocrea, Rosanna Di Paola. Effect of PEA-OXA on neuropathic pain and functional recovery after sciatic nerve crush. Journal of Neuroinflammation. 2018 Sep 14;15(1):264.
  6. Jan M Keppel Hesselink, David J Kopsky. Palmitoylethanolamide, a neutraceutical, in nerve compression syndromes: efficacy and safety in sciatic pain and carpal tunnel síndrome. Journal of Pain Research. 2015 Oct 23;8:729-34.
  7. Mariella Fusco, Stephen D Skaper, Stefano Coaccioli, Giustino Varrassi, Antonella Paladini. Degenerative Joint Diseases and Neuroinflammation. Pain Practice. 2017 Apr;17(4):522-532.
  8. Vincenzo De Leo, Angelo Cagnacci, Valentina Cappelli, Anna Biasioli, Deborah Leonardi, Renato Seracchioli. Role of a natural integrator based on lipoic acid, palmitoiletanolamide and myrrh in the treatment of chronic pelvic pain and endometriosis. Minerva Ginecol. 2019 Jun;71(3):191-195.
  9. Arghavan Memarzia, Mohammad R. Khazdair ,Sepideh Behrouz,Zahra Gholamnezhad, Maryam Jafarnezhad, Saeideh Saadat, Mohammad H. Boskabady. Experimental and clinical reports on anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory effects of Curcuma longa and curcumin, an updated and comprehensive review. BioFactors. Volume 47, Issue 3. May/June 2021. Pages 311-350
  10. James W Daily, Mini Yang, Sunmin Park. Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2016 Aug;19(8):717-29.
  11. Hasriadi, Peththa Wadu Dasuni Wasana, Opa Vajragupta, Pornchai Rojsitthisak, Pasarapa Towiwat. Mechanistic Insight into the Effects of Curcumin on Neuroinflammation-Driven Chronic Pain. Pharmaceuticals. 2021 Aug 7;14(8):777. doi: 10.3390/ph14080777.
  12. Muhammed Majeed, Amirhossein Sahebkar. Hamid Mollazadeh, Arrigo F G Cicero, Christopher N Blesso, Matteo Pirro. Immune modulation by curcumin: The role of interleukin-10. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(1):89-101. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1358139. Epub 2017 Sep 6.
  13. Muhammed Majeed, Shaheen Majeed, Narayanan K. Narayanan, Kalyanam Nagabhushanam. A pilot, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to assess the safety and efficacy of a novel Boswellia serrata extract in the management of osteoarthritis of the knee. Phytotherapy Research, Volume33, Issue 5, May 2019, Pages 1457-1468.
  14. H.P. Ammon. Boswellic acids in chronic inflammatory diseases. Planta Medica. 2006 Oct;72(12):1100-16. doi: 10.1055/s-2006-947227.
  15. Chantre P, Cappelaere A, Leblan D et al. Efficacy and tolerance of Harpagophytum procumbens versus diacerhein in treatment of osteoarthritis. Phytomedicine 2000;7(3):177-83.
  16. Chrubasik S, Eisenberg E. Treatment of rheumatic pain with kampo medicine in Europe. Part I. Harpagophytum procumbens. Pain Clinic 1999;11(3):171-8.
  17. Chrubasik S, Junck H, Breitschwerdt H, Conradt C, Zappe H. Effectiveness of Harpagophytum extract WS 1531 in the treatment of exacerbation of low back pain: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Eur J Anaesthesiol 1999;16(2):118-29.

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