When you have a lot of ailments, popping pills for every ache and pain can leave you feeling like a walking drugstore, so it’s no wonder that some of us would rather brave through a headache than take a pill. But can you fight aches and pains naturally with foods—without medication? While over-the-counter and prescription medications definitely serve a purpose, we’ve found science that shows you can get some pain-fighting effects from food. Here’s a roundup of research that Rachel Johnson, Joyce Hendley, Karen Ansel and Holly Pevzner have previously covered for EatingWell Magazine.
—Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D., Former Associate Nutrition Editor for EatingWell
Good for: Sore muscles and aching joints
Ginger isn't just for relieving unsettled stomachs and the common cold. In fact, ginger is rich in inflammation-fighting compounds, such as gingerols, which may reduce the aches of osteoarthritis and soothe sore muscles. In a recent study, people who took ginger capsules daily for 11 days reported 25 percent less muscle pain when they performed exercises designed to strain their muscles (compared with a similar group taking placebo capsules). Another study found that ginger-extract injections helped relieve osteoarthritis pain of the knee.
Good for: Inflamed joints and troubled tummies
Preliminary studies suggest that omega-3s may help quell the aches and pains of rheumatoid arthritis. And that’s no surprise, since omega-3s are touted for their ability to reduce inflammation. In addition to soothing aching joints, omega-3s can also tame your troubled tummy (especially when caused by stress) according to a 2005 Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition study.
Good for: Headache
Studies show that 200 milligrams of caffeine—about the amount in 16 ounces of brewed coffee—provides relief from headaches, including migraines. But keep in mind that relying on caffeine long-term can backfire, since habitual coffee drinkers usually suffer withdrawal headaches when they cut back on the caffeine.
Good for: Sore throat
When your throat is scratchy and irritated, try sipping on a tea made from brewed sage leaves. It’s a remedy recommended by herbalists that has some support from clinical trials. A 2006 study found that spraying sore throats with a sage solution gave effective pain relief compared to a placebo.
Sore muscles after a workout don’t have to be a given. British researchers recently found that people who drank 1 ounce of concentrated cherry juice twice daily for 10 days bounced back faster from their workout (an intensive leg-resistance training session on day 8) than those who skipped the juice. Researchers think it’s because the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in tart cherries—and other dark red and purple fruit juices like grape, pomegranate, acai, blueberry and cranberry—act as natural NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin), reducing exercise-induced muscle damage.