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Natural Health

11 Best Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter Medicine

It will save you a trip to the pharmacy!


When aches and pains crop up, you don’t have to turn to drugs for relief! Turns out, a natural alternative can work as well as their prescription counterparts. Try these techniques and products (many you may already own!) to relieve pain naturally.

The Problem: Acid Reflux

Natural Alternative: Honey

When hot dogs or salsa trigger uncomfortable acid reflux, try nature’s tasty Rx: honey! Australian scientists say savoring a spoonful of unpasteurized honey each day can cut heartburn flare-ups by 55 percent. Credit goes to honey’s polyphenols, or antioxidant compounds that heal irritated throat tissues and coat the esophagus to protect it from stomach acid.

The Problem: Joint Pain

Natural Alternative: Spicy Iced Tea

Gardening, reading and crafting are reliable stress-busters, but all that time spent hunched over can leave joints stiff and creaky. Before popping an OTC pain reliever, try brewing a cup of turmeric tea. Delicious over ice, the brew has a compound (curcumin) that shuts down COX-2, the enzyme that produces pain-triggering hormones. It’s so effective, in fact, that Cornell University researchers say turmeric can soothe joint pain even more effectively than ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen.

Or snack on pineapple. It brims with bromelain, an enzyme that eases the inflammation that triggers joint soreness. That’s something research in the journal Clinical Rheumatology found was twice as effective at reducing pain as anti-inflammatory medications.

The Problem: Headache

Natural Alternative: Ginger Massage

Between the stress of disrupted routines and adapting to summer’s warmer, brighter days, your risk of head pain rises up to 36 percent. Instead of popping an aspirin, try this soothing fix: Mix six drops of ginger essential oil into one ounce of unscented lotion and massage the mixture into the back of your neck. A study in Phytotherapy Research shows this simple trick can shut down a headache in 15 minutes. Why? Ginger oil calms sensitive pain nerves and relaxes spasming scalp muscles as effectively as over-the-counter painkillers.

Or enjoy a stroll. Meander through your garden or take a loop around the block to dodge headache flares. Swedish scientists say that getting 40 minutes of gentle exercise three times a week prevents head pain as well as prescription medications. That’s because even gentle movement encourages your brain to release painkilling endorphins.

The Problem: Muscle Aches

Natural Alternative: Deep Breathing

When sore muscles make it difficult to get through your day, pause for a moment of peace. Regularly carving out time to sit quietly, take deep breaths and let thoughts and emotions pass by without judgment (the technique known as mindfulness) can curb pain intensity even more effectively than opioids, according to research in The Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers say mindfulness reduces activity in the area of the brain linked to pain sensations.

Or gaze at a family photo. The sight of someone you care about lights up the reward centers of your brain, short-circuiting pain signals, research in the journal PLOS ONE reveals.

The Problem: Insomnia

Natural Alternative: A Playlist

When racing thoughts make sleep seem elusive, download a free white noise app like Noise Generator or White Noise Lite. Harvard scientists say listening to white noise, a combination of all frequencies of sound, helps you doze off 38 percent faster and spend more time in the deeper, restorative stages of sleep — the same results you’d get from the prescription sleep aid Lunesta.

Or find the silver lining. A study in Behavioral Medicine found that optimistic folks are 74 percent less likely to have insomnia and noticeably less likely to feel daytime drowsiness than those who see the glass as half empty.

The Problem: High Cholesterol

Natural Alternative: Bergamot

If you’re one of the many folks whose cholesterol is borderline high, consider supplementing with 500 to 1,000 mg. of bergamot extract. Antioxidants in this citrus fruit nourish the liver to help control its cholesterol output. It works so well that studies show it can lower cholesterol by 87 points in one month — a bigger drop than statins offer!

Or take a short snooze. A new Tulane University study found that staying well-rested reduces body-wide inflammation and lowers elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, warding off the need for an Rx.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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