You know those people who won't ever take a pill? They piss and moan, "Oh! I've got such a headache!' So you go, "Take an Advil,' and they're all, "Oh no! I never take that stuff.'
And I'm like, fine. That's up to you. But quit complaining.
I'll never be the type to ride out a headache, menstrual cramps or anything else this way. On the other hand, we have been hearing an awful lot about acetaminophen (Tylenol) potentially causing liver damage, especially when taken by those who happen to enjoy a tipple now and then. This side effect reportedly can lead to serious illness and even death. Those with stomach problems may want to avoid acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), which can wreak havoc in the area.
How serious are the purported dangers of these meds? And if you absolutely positively don't want to take them, what are your other options?
What the experts say
"Herbs for pain that are considered safe include wild yam root , black cohosh root , cramp bark and black haw . These are good antispasmodic muscle-relaxant herbs. White willow bark is a classic anti-inflammatory and natural anodyne that contains salicylic acid, which gave rise to modern aspirin. Meadowsweet is similar. St. John's wort is a good nervine relaxant and anti-inflammatory. Topically, extracts containing ginger and cayenne can be used to alleviate pain. Pure essential oils including lavender , ginger, marjoram and juniper can be used in very small amounts in a carrier oil such as olive oil in massages for muscular rheumatism."
CELINA AINSWORTH , registered herbalist, the Herbal Clinic and Dispensary, Toronto
"In the doses recommended, over-the-counter pain medications are safe. If somebody drinks a moderate amount once or twice a week, this can activate enzymes in the liver, and when the individual takes OTC meds there is a possibility that their toxicity will be higher. Maintaining a high level of antioxidants may significantly reduce and prevent damage. Turmeric contains high levels of antioxidants, as does grape seed extract and any type of fruit containing flavonoid pigments [ grapes, apples ].'
SIDHARTHA RAY , professor of toxicology, medical microbiology and immunology programs, Long Island University, Brooklyn campus
"It's thought that acetaminophen overdose, either planned or accidental, is the most common cause of acute liver failure. The total dose per day should be capped at 4 grams, though some people need to go lower, depending on age. If you take more than that on a chronic basis, there's a chance of developing liver problems, particularly if you drink alcohol. Other pain killers like ASA or ibuprofen don't usually produce liver problems, though they can cause stomach problems. Codeine does not usually affect the liver. Pain control does not necessarily have to be done through medication. Other approaches include exercise , stretching , relaxation therapy , hypnosis , cognitive behavioural techniques and mindfulness-based stress reduction . '
ALLAN GORDON , director, Wasser Pain Management Centre, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Toronto
Acupuncture is very effective for any kind of neurological problem, including pain. Inflammation is a huge component of pain. So drink lots of water , eat whole grains , fruits and vegetables and make sure you're not eating things that aggravate inflammation like processed and fatty foods. Exercise releases endorphins that help with pain. Get adequate rest . Those are the basics. Natural supplements can help, but they're not as effective as pharmaceuticals. Bromelaine and papain can help reduce inflammation. But to be honest, a lot of times these sorts of things aren't going to cut it.'
MAKOTO TROTTER , naturopath, Toronto
"One exercise for a headache works like this: focus on your hand and imagine it getting cold . Visualize a bowl of ice and your hand in the bowl. Then, when it starts to feel numb, imagine it getting really, really hot . You're taking the focus away from your headache and directing blood flow to your hand, which decreases the blood pressure in your head. Here, in the clinic, we work to diminish the sensation. So rather than being unbearable, the pain might change to a dull throb.'
TARIQ SATTAUR , hypnotherapist, Toronto