As humans, we are averse to the feeling that pain induces and so ‘pop a Myprodol’ if we feel the discomfort of pain symptoms coming on. As an athlete, I am repetitively shocked at the number of discarded blister packs of pain meds that litter the road on races- especially at ultra-endurance events such as the Comrades Marathon. These athletes, clearly in discomfort, will nonchalantly take ibuprofen medication to lessen the pain.
Pain medication such as Myprodol and Cataflam contain Ibuprofen and are categorised as a Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug (known as NSAIDs). A host of recent studies explore the effects that NSAIDs have on kidney toxicity and muscle damage. These anti-inflammatory meds wreak havoc in our livers and kidneys and damage the stomach lining– negatively affecting the gut permeability integrity of our intestines (and that’s just ‘at rest’ let alone considering the compounding effect that these drugs may have on an athlete’s physiology when their system is under strain of performance).
A fascinating study was conducted at the Western States 100 Trail Running race– a grueling 100 mile race which takes annually place in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. Runners in this study were split into 3 groups:
- A group that did not take ibuprofen
- A group that took 600mg of ibuprofen one day before the race and once on race day
- And a group that took 1200mg of ibuprofen one day before the race and once on race day
What was fascinating was that the groups who took ibuprofen had higher inflammatory markers and significantly higher levels of markers for severe muscle damage. The results revealed (ironically!) that during-race discomfort, post event soreness and a rating of perceived exertion, were not affected by the consumption of ibuprofen which shows that:
- Ibuprofen did not, in fact help as intended
- Ibuprofen caused much greater muscle damage and inflammation comparative to not taking it
So this begs the question of how useful NSAIDs really are (in the immediate moment as well as long term) and if there isn’t another way to biohack one’s pain? And there is! Today we look at 7 natural alternatives for pain management.
Biohack your pain natural alternative 1: Catch a chill!
Cryotherapy is a treatment of exposure to cold temperatures to treat injuries and inflammation. Cryotherapy can take on many forms (some cold chambers can plummet to -128 degrees Celcius!) but simpler forms of immersion in a cold swimming pool, can also do the trick. Cold water exposure enhances immune system functioning, increases cell longevity and reduces inflammation. It also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system by inducing a hormetic stress response– that is the body’s ability to adapt to stimuli from repeated exposure. When in cold water, your blood vessels constrict which restricts blood flow as your body’s way to ensure the temperature of your organs doesn’t drop. As compensation, your heart rate increases to ensure the blood can be pumped to all areas of the body and your lungs start to work to aid deeper breathing. This kick starts your sympathetically controlled cardiovascular system which improves your recovery.
Alternating a hot-cold contrast maximises the effects of cryotherapy. If you don’t have a swimming pool you can obtain the same benefits by taking a 5 minute shower alternating between 20 seconds of cold water and 10 seconds of hot water. Or take a sauna at the gym for 5 to 10 minutes and then jump in a cold shower for 2 minutes and repeat this for 20 to 30 minutes.
An interesting DIY home cryotherapy option!
Biohack your pain natural alternative 2: Fasting
High carbohydrate post- work- out- recovery drinks have found their place in the nutrition category, purporting the quick and very important replenishment of energy and nutrients after exercise. There are however recent studies that evidence that fasting can increase recovery capability whilst lowering body fat and maintaining performance and lean muscle mass. An interesting take on this is provided by Martin Berkhan (author of LeanGains.com) who notes that providing your body with nutrients before or after exercise (as opposed to fasted-state exercise), means that the body experiences exercise as less of a stressor and therefore we’re making it easier for the body so that it doesn’t have to work in its own unique way, to recover. Fasting aids cell autophagy (probably best summarised as ‘old cells clean out’) which reduces the possibility for pain. It is important to consult a medical practitioner to ascertain if fasting is appropriate for you. Fasting may not be suitable for example in people with very low body fat composition, women with hormonal imbalances or adrenal fatigue and those prone to eating disorders.
Biohack your pain natural alternative 3: Collagen, collagen, collagen!
One of the best sources of collagen is found in good old fashioned bone broth made from grass fed, hormone free, animal bones. Bone broth contains superb doses of collagen, gelatin and glycine which studies have shown can significantly improve joint discomfort and deterioration. Glycine is a key component of collagen and is important for the synthesis of collagen. Make a large batch of bone broth by following my recipe here, decant it into smaller containers for freezing allowing you to have quick access to heating and enjoying a steaming cup of goodness every day.
Biohack your pain natural alternative 4: Magnesium
You may not be aware but the absorbability of magnesium via ingestion of powders and capsules, is actually quite poor. Our grandmother’s were right when they encouraged us to soak in a bath of Epsom Salts to ease aches and pains. The topical application of magnesium is far more beneficial as it permeates through the dermis layer directly into the cells where it relaxes the muscles and works to combat calcium build up from the micro tearing of muscles. Soaking in a bath of epsom salts ensures you’re getting magnesium sulphate but it is also important to supplement with magnesium glycinate, magnesium malate, magnesium citrate, magnesium threonate (good for brain function).
Remember it is important to have your bloods tested to know your red blood cell magnesium count as we discussed in our blog on Biohack Your Bloods. Personally, I need to take 8 Magnesium caps a day to keep my levels optimal so knowing and understanding what your body needs, is vital.
Biohack your pain natural alternative 5: Sulphur- Rich Foods
Just the word sulphur takes me back to my school days where class pranksters would activate those unbearably pungent egg-smelling stink bombs just before our maths teacher walked into the classroom! Sulphur is one of the most abundant mineral elements in the human body and is important to hundreds of physiological processes including:
- the formation of the disulfide bonds that give strength and resilience to hair and skin
- Taurine synthesis for good functioning of our muscle, cardiovascular system and central nervous system
- the synthesis of glutathione which is a key innate antioxidant critical for recovery
Foods rich in sulphur include meat (poultry, pork), eggs and cheese as well as non-leafy green vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and bok choy and other veg such as onions, leeks and garlic.
Biohack your pain natural alternative 6: Get grounded and keep movin’
If your muscles or joints are sore and painful, a low intensity walk will get the heart pumping, the blood flowing and the lymph fluid circulating allowing your body to flush toxins causing pain.
One of my greatest mentors, Dr Jo Mercola has also found that exposure to negative ions by walking barefoot on the ground can decrease pain and inflammation and improve sleep. As walking barefoot may not always be practical or socially acceptable, EarthRunners have developed a grounding footwear that conducts the negative ions from the earth’s surface straight back up into your feet. Made To Thrive clients receive discounts when ordering Earth Runners footwear. Please contact us know if you are interested in ordering so that we can advise Earth Runners for shipping requirements to South Africa.
Biohack your pain natural alternative 7: Deep Tissue work
Stretching , massage and other routines that mobilise the deep tissue are so important to keep the connective tissue and fascia supple and maintained. This aids recovery from work outs or when we are injured. Massage gets the blood flowing to the muscles and helps to drain the lymphatic system of toxins.
These natural alternatives to biohacking your pain are far safer than ibuprofen and NSAIDs. Yes, they may take longer to come into effect but the longevity benefits far outweigh the short term ‘masked’ benefits of pain relief from a painkiller. Biohack your pain using these natural alternatives and you will not only recover more quickly, but your longer term inflammation will reduce and your risk of injury (and resultant pain), will reduce exponentially.