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Paracetamol concerns and natural alternatives

Pain | July 30, 2017 | Author: Naturopath


Paracetamol concerns and natural alternatives

Since the 1950’s paracetamol is the most commonly used and readily available over the counter analgesic. Given it is so widely used and available it may come as a surprise to discover that it’s mechanism of action is poorly understood.

Some explanations of how paracetamol works involve chemical messengers of inflammation and pain. Others involve aspects of neurotransmission in the brain and spinal cord. None of the proposals have accumulated enough supporting evidence to satisfy everyone. One mechanism researchers have looked into is that paracetamol blocks cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes. These help to form prostaglandins, which are pain and inflammation-mediating signalling molecules. This would make paracetamol similar to aspirin, or ibuprofen. But in fact, paracetamol is still poorly understood and remains in a class of its own.

Uses For Paracetamol

People generally take paracetamol because they're in pain. There are different types of pain and while paracetamol can help with some types of pain it doesn’t help with all types of pain. Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. Pain is not just a physical sensation. It is influenced by attitudes, beliefs, personality and social factors, and can affect emotional and mental wellbeing.

Although two people may have the same pain condition, their experience of living with pain, treatment options and treatment effectiveness can be vastly different.

Paracetamol remains popular due to tolerability and safety when taken at recommended doses. You can take paracetamol for; mild to moderate pain, fever, osteoarthritis and other painful non inflammatory conditions. The dose of paracetamol for adults is; one or two 500mg tablets every four to six hours, up to a maximum of eight tablets in 24 hours. Paracetamol may be given to children from one month of age for pain and fever and given at a dose based on their weight and age.

The Risks

The ease of access we have to paracetamol, particularly the fact that it requires no prescription, can create the false impression that those little tablets are completely risk-free. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Paracetamol is broken down in the liver and excreted by the kidneys. As a result, overdoses commonly lead to liver failure and kidney damage. Other medications and alcohol can increase the liver toxicity effects of paracetamol and it has been suggested, that caffeine may also elevate the levels of paracetamol-induced liver toxins. 

Taking more than eight 500mg or six 665mg tablets in 24 hours may cause irreversible liver toxicity.

Alternative Therapies

There are lots of alternative therapies that can be used to manage pain instead of paracetamol. Most of the time natural alternatives treat the cause of the pain with less side effects. Alternative therapies include acupuncture, yoga, aromatherapy, massage, herbal and nutritional remedies as well as many others.

Acupuncture is also thought to decrease pain by increasing the release of chemicals that block pain. Many acupuncture points are near nerves. When stimulated, these nerves cause a dull ache stimulating the muscle, this then sends a message to the central nervous system this causes the release of endorphins. Endorphins, along with other neurotransmitters block the message of pain from being delivered up to the brain. Acupuncture is known to be beneficial in acute and chronic pain, whether caused from a physical, mental or emotional trauma.

Massage is being increasingly used by people suffering from pain, mostly to manage chronic back and neck problems. Massage reduces stress and relieves tension by improving blood flow. This treatment also can reduce the presence of substances that may generate and sustain pain. Current studies show that massage therapy, like chiropractic manipulations, holds considerable promise for managing acute and chronic pain.

Herbal Analgesics

There are many herbs that can be used as analgesics with varying degrees of research. While clinical trials are now being done on many herbs to scientifically prove the benefits most evidence is based on traditional use and is shown to be effective from thousands of years of use across many continents with little to no side effects. The following herbs are commonly used as analgesics and would be good alternatives to paracetamol.

Zingiber officinalis otherwise known as ginger has many benefits in the body but the latest research indicates that ginger may calm arthritis pain, by lowering prostaglandin levels.

A 2005 study even suggests that ginger could reduce pain and inflammation more effectively than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin). 

Harpagophytum procumbens is commonly known as Devils claw this South African herb is traditionally used to treat rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. The herb itself looks like an arthritic hand. In a 2007 study of 259 people with rheumatic conditions, researchers found that 60 percent either reduced or stopped their pain medication after eight weeks of taking devil's claw.

White Willow bark is the common name for Salix alba. This herb contains salicin, an aspirin-like compound, white willow bark has long been used as a natural remedy for inflammation and pain. It was found to be as effective as conventional medicine in lessening pain among people with mild to fairly severe knee and hip problems in a 2008 study. White willow bark may also alleviate acute back pain, joint pain, and osteoarthritis.

Boswellia serrata is commonly known as "Indian frankincense". The resinous gum is rich in boswellic acid it is this substance that has anti-inflammatory effects in the body. This herb is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine.

Curcuma longa is the botanical name for turmeric this herb is from India and Indonesia and is related to ginger. This herb is widely studied; it’s used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis by blocking inflammatory cytokines in more recent studies it is shown to modify the immune response making it beneficial in auto immune conditions as well as inflammatory conditions.


There is a lot of research suggesting that there's a strong link between diet and inflammation. Inflammation is your body's response to injury or infection. Inflammation causes heat, redness, swelling and pain. While this normal immune system response is important for healing, sometimes inflammation can become chronic. Long-term inflammation is linked to several diseases and conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease.

Instead of going down the pharmaceutical road and taking paracetamol, the inflammation can be managed / improved with diet. It is believed though that certain foods offer protection against inflammation, while other foods might actually encourage inflammation.

The nutrients in some foods have anti-inflammatory or analgesic properties that can help relieve pain. Anti-inflammatory foods include omega 3’s found in fish.

Omega-3 fats play a role in altering the inflammatory process and regulation of pain. Salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and herring are high in these fats. Soy-based foods, walnuts, pecans and ground flaxseed are also good sources of omega-3 fats.

Pro-inflammatory foods are foods that can contribute to inflammation. Most processed foods are pro-inflammatory, they tend to be high in unhealthy fats, added sugars, preservatives and refined carbohydrates. Deep-fried foods, pastries, processed cereals, white rice, white potatoes, sugar, breads and red meat are all pro-inflammatory foods.
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Antioxidant-rich foods, such as colourful fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, avocados, beets and berries, are all rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants can repair some types of cell and tissue damage. Antioxidants include certain vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, carotene, lycopene and flavonoids.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


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Drahl C; How Does Acetaminophen Work? Researchers Still Aren’t Sure, A clearer picture might pave the way for new painkillers; Volume 92 Issue 29 | pp. 31-32
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Braun L, Cohen M; 2015; Herbs & Natural Supplements; An Evidence Based Guide 4th ed: Elsevier

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