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Exercise is a fundamental part of a healthy lifestyle. But often times with increased activity, the risk of injury also increases. Whether a weekend warrior, a trained athlete, or somewhere in between, everyone is susceptible to injury and inflammation. Before reaching for the bottle of ibuprofen, let’s take a look at the natural alternatives to pain and inflammation and how the regular use and abuse of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDS) and other over-the-counter analgesics can be detrimental to our health.

Inflammation is the body’s way of dealing with an injury, it is a natural defense mechanism. Without it, the body would never heal itself. Acute inflammation in the body sends out chemical messengers to the injured area. This causes redness, swelling, and heat. Some of these inflammatory compounds include: cytokines, substance P, lactic acid, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins. Acute inflammation is a good sign, it means the body is working to heal itself. Chronic inflammation however can become detrimental to our health and is a major contributor to many diseases. By taking over-the-counter products to relieve pain, we essentially shut down the body’s natural healing process. So while the pain may be relieved temporarily, long term healing will become difficult and side effects may contribute to more health problems.

NSAIDS such as ibuprofen and naproxen may cause stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and liver or kidney damage. Acetaminophen products have been shown to cause liver damage, especially in those who consume alcohol as well. And aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), may contribute to stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. ASA is particularly harmful for children with viral infections and should never be given to them. With all of these potential side effects, it is a wonder we still rely on pharmaceutical analgesics to treat acute inflammation due to injury. There are many natural remedies that encourage the body to heal itself and control inflammation in a more balanced, holistic way.

After the standard RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) there are several natural remedies you can use that have been studied and proven to decrease recovery time, reduce inflammation, and support the natural healing processes of the body.

Vitamin C is well known for it’s importance in the repair of damaged tissue. It is absolutely necessary for the proper formation of tendons and ligaments. Take atleast 500-1000mg 3X/day or up to bowel tolerance.

Other important vitamins and minerals for healing an injury include: vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, and selenium. You can take these individually or find them in a high quality multi-vitamin and mineral complex.

Flavonoids are plant pigments found in many foods that are very effective at reducing inflammation and stabilizing important collagen structures. They are also potent antioxidants and help prevent free radical damage to the cells. In a double blind placebo controlled study, citrus flavonoids were shown to half the time needed for recovery from injury. Take 500-1000mg 3X/day of citrus flavonoids or 50-100mg 3X/day of grape seed or pinebark extract.


Curcumin is the yellow pigment found in turmeric. It has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential and has been proven in animal studies to be more effective than cortisone. Curcumin is also  protective of the liver and may help to prevent any harmful effects of NSAIDs and other analgesics.

Curcumin varies in potency and bioavailabilty, depending on which form you use, dosages range from 30 to 500mg 2-3 times per day.

White Willow Bark contains naturally occurring salicin which is a potent pain reliever. This is where acetylsalicylic acid was derived from and how aspirin was produced. Of course, white willow bark does not come with the side effects of aspirin, but still offers effective and proven pain relief. Studies show that taking a standardized extract is most effective, at 120-240mg of salicin per day, in divided doses.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids from fish oil are excellent for reducing inflammation. Specifically, the long chain fatty acid EPA is the most important one. It can help reduce pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and regulate the immune system. Take atleast 1000mg of EPA per day.

Proteolytic Enzymes are wonderful for healing an injury. They eat away at the fibrin that forms around the injury site. Fibrin forms a matrix around the injury to protect it but it also blocks the blood vessels and creates poor circulation and tissue drainage. Proteolytic enzymes such as bromelain, serrapeptase, or other protease blends breakdown the fibrin, increasing circulation and speeding up the healing process. For Bromelain you need 250-750mg (atleast 1000gdu in strength) 3X per day. Serrapeptase ranges from 30,000 IU to 120,000 IU. Most people get better results with a higher dose. Protease blends should be high as well (atleast 100,000 HUT) 3X per day. All proteolytic enzymes need to be taken on an empty stomach.

Arnica is a homeopathic remedy that works well for all stages of an injury, acute and chronic. For acute trauma you need the 6c strength. It can be taken every 15 min for severe pain or shock until symptoms improve. Thereafter it can be taken every 4 hrs or so. Arnica is also wonderful for topical use and is very effective when put directly on the muscle, bruise, or strain. The only contraindication is that it is not to be used on an open wound.

It is very important when treating an injury to consult with a doctor as to the appropriate healing method that is right for you. The above herbs and supplements have been studied and used very safely throughout history. However, even natural products need to be used with caution. The main concern is for those on blood thinning medication, as many of the above supplements act as natural anticoagulants. If you have any concerns, please check with a qualified healthcare practitioner before deciding which supplements to take. All dosages given are for acute inflammation and should be decreased as the injury heals.

By: Krista Boulding, RHN.

September 16, 2012