Common, but deadly: Popular over-the-counter pain meds do more harm than good

There are safer ways to get powerful relief

Everybody deals with pain at one point or another—whether it’s acute pain, like a pulled muscle, cut, or headache…or chronic pain, like lower back pain or arthritis. That’s what makes it such a relatable—and important—topic.

Unfortunately, mainstream pain relief happens to be one of the most dangerous double-edged swords in modern medicine’s arsenal. And I’m not just talking about the opioid crisis, either.

The fact is, common over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers are every bit as dangerous as prescription pain medication, especially when you pop them like candy—like millions of people do. And while no one may be calling that a crisis (yet), I can hardly think of a better word for it.

The good news is, there are plenty of natural ways to manage and even eliminate pain. These alternatives are backed by solid science—and are far safer than the pharmaceutical standbys. I’ll give you a full rundown of my favorite natural pain relievers in just a moment. But first, let’s take a minute to shine a spotlight on the dark underbelly of mainstream pain medications…

NSAIDs kill more than just pain  

Upwards of 30 million Americans use OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat pain. That’s a staggering number any way you slice it. But it’s also a tragic one. Why?

Because every year, this frequent NSAID use leads to as many as 100,000 hospitalizations and 17,000 deaths.

Which isn’t really surprising. Don’t forget, these medicines weren’t always sold as OTC drugs. Many were prescription drugs first. As such, they should always be handled with caution… and their potential side effects should never be taken lightly.

In fact, you know the situation is bad when even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decides to get more serious with their warnings. (And that’s just what they did back in 2015, requiring manufacturers to disclose heart attack and stroke risks on the packaging of these common painkillers—including Aleve® and Advil®.)

But these common NSAIDs aren’t the only pain relievers in the picture. You also have aspirin (which is also a NSAID) and other popular drugs, which aren’t NSAIDs at all—like acetaminophen (Tylenol®).

And guess what? They’re all problematic. Enough so that a group of researchers recently took the time to break down the risks and benefits of these common drugs.

The goal was to assist in doctors’ clinical decision-making when it comes to choosing which medications to recommend to their patients. And all I can say is that it certainly affirmed my decision to avoid recommending them entirely.

Every drug has a dark side

This team looked at the full range of common OTC pain drugs I mentioned above: acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and NSAIDs, including aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil® and Motrin®), and naproxen (Aleve®). They also looked at common prescription COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex®) often used for chronic arthritis pain.

And not a single one provides a truly safe solution for pain.

Aspirin cuts inflammation—and has a longstanding mainstream reputation for cardiovascular prevention at low doses. (Though really, it shouldn’t. As I recently reported in my Reality Health Check e-letter, and as I previously reported in the November 2019 issue, the latest research shows aspirin is actually useless for most patients as a form of primary disease prevention.) But it also increases risk of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and bleeding.

The non-aspirin NSAIDs help cut inflammation, too. But they’re also linked with heart attacks and stroke in the long term. Not to mention GI side effects, kidney damage, and electrolyte imbalances (which can ultimately lead to heart failure).

Meanwhile, COX-2 inhibitors were designed to be easier on your stomach and GI tract. But as the Vioxx® scandal showed, this class of drugs also poses a significant threat to your heart—in addition to your liver and your kidneys.

And if you thought all of that was terrible, just wait, because the worst is yet to come: Acetaminophen—yes, Tylenol®, the second highest selling OTC pain reliever in the United States—doesn’t even cut inflammation at all.

But it is responsible for more than half of all drug-related cases of liver failure… as well as 20 percent of all liver transplant cases.

Is this really what we call a reasonable risk?

These researchers call for “judicious, individual, clinical decision-making about the prescription of NSAIDs to relieve pain based on all these considerations.”1 But from where I’m sitting, the only sensible choice is to opt out entirely.

The ultimate question is: Do you need it?

While I’m happy to see conventional medicine finally grappling with the risks of common pain relievers, I struggle to understand why more doctors aren’t questioning whether it’s even necessary to prescribe them in the first place.

Granted, we all suffer some form of pain in our lives now and again. And the less fortunate among us will deal with chronic pain—so I understand why some people would reach for any one of the drugs I mentioned above, regardless of the risks.

But I’ll return to those special cases in just a moment. For now, let me take some time to talk about everyday alternatives to acute, minor pain.

Needless to say, minor pain should be tolerated to the best of your ability. Because most of the time, it will go away on its own—without any assistance at all.

The trouble is, we have become accustomed to reaching for a pill bottle every time we feel even the slightest woe. But clearly, that is a habit you should—and must—learn to break.

I personally advocate for a British “stiff upper lip” in these situations. If the pain is mild and merely an annoyance, you’re better off soldiering through until it resolves. (If it doesn’t go away by itself, that’s a different story… one that should include a visit to your doctor.)

It may sound impossible, but I can tell you this: I haven’t taken a pain medication in decades—and yes, I do suffer from post-gym soreness and the occasional headache. When it happens, though, I typically rely on other sources of relief.

For instance, if I injure myself exercising, I will seek out a sports medicine massage therapist. I’ll also ask them for home exercises to ease tension and get my muscles and joints working comfortably again.

Proper application of heat (to relax muscles), cold (to ease inflammation), and even meditation can help to calm the pain in the meantime. I’m also a big proponent of acupuncture, which has been proven to offer relief without the horrible side effects that come with popular drugs.

Most insurance plans cover these types of treatment methods. So, be sure to check with your insurance provider to determine the best option for you. You may also locate a provider near you by visiting The American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) at

A cure for the common headache

Outside of muscle injuries, headaches are easily the most common reason people reach for OTC pain relievers. But whether yours are occasional or chronic, you’ll be happy to hear there’s a better way.

When headaches strike, I recommend white willow bark. Start out by taking 800 mg. If the pain hasn’t subsided within an hour, take another 800 mg. But don’t exceed two doses.

If the headache is a migraine, I typically recommend adding magnesium orotate (500 mg, three times per day) and taurine (1,000 mg, three times per day) into the mix.

These have all been long-standing recommendations of mine for decades now. But there’s another safe alternative, too. In fact, according to one new study, inhaled cannabis can cut headache and migraine pain nearly in half.2

Researchers looked at data from nearly 2,000 patients who used a monitoring app close to 20,000 times to track headache and migraine symptoms before and after cannabis use. (That’s a lot of data points, folks.)

And they found that self-reported headache severity dropped by 47.3 percent with cannabis use. Self-reported migraine severity dropped by 49.6 percent. (It’s also worth noting that participants’ headache and migraine pain did not get worse from overuse—a common complication of conventional headache treatment.)

Concentrated products like cannabis oil delivered even greater benefits. But there wasn’t any notable difference between high-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and high-cannabidiol (CBD) strains. (Those are marijuana’s two main cannabinoids—the former is what gets you “high,” while the latter has no psychoactive effects.)

This finding suggests that perhaps there are other cannabinoids behind these particular benefits—or that other constituents of cannabis (like terpenes) might also be at work.

That’s why it’s so critical that we push for continued research into marijuana’s many potential uses. (Preferably before corporate entities buy up all the potent strains and restrict our access to them.)

This is the first analysis to evaluate cannabis’ headache-relieving benefits without relying solely on patient recall—which is reason enough to take its results seriously. But it’s not the first study to reveal the pain-relieving benefits of cannabis.

In fact, previous research has shown that cannabis works even better than ibuprofen in alleviating headaches.3 And considering the risks of regular NSAID use, as I discussed above, I think we can all agree that it would be nice to offer patients a safer, plant-based alternative for pain relief.

And not just for migraines, but for other types of chronic pain, too. Which brings me to the second half of this discussion…

A safer way to tackle chronic pain

Chronic pain comes with its own set of challenges. Not the least of which is that many people think OTC pain relievers are safe alternatives to addictive opioids.

But it should be clear by now: that simply is not true. So, where does that leave patients who face pain on a daily basis—whether it’s from arthritis, an old injury, or a medical condition like fibromyalgia?

Well, there are a variety of anti-inflammatory supplements currently on the market to help manage and relieve your symptoms—enough to fill a book, in fact. But I’ll narrow my focus to a handful of my favorites…

Curcumin. This is the potent active compound in the spice turmeric—the spice that gives curry its distinctive flavor and bright yellow color. One study found that 2 grams of curcumin extract provides pain relief similar to ibuprofen.

There are many bioavailable curcumin extracts available on the market today. (You can learn more in the December 2016 issue of Logical Health Alternatives).

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). This sulfur compound has been around in supplement form for a long time. Most of the evidence supporting its powerful pain-relieving effects is anecdotal. But in 2009, a Korean study showed that MSM does inhibit a number of inflammatory mediators. I generally recommend 2,000 mg, three times per day.

Green lipped mussel extract. The compounds in green-lipped mussel extract are able to lower the body’s inflammatory responses and boost cartilage synthesis while blocking its destruction.4 Not only that, but it’s comprised of roughly 12 percent glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which are complex amino sugars that increase uptake of water into the cartilage matrix.

This is key, because joint hydration decreases with age, causing them to lose critical cushion and shock absorption. Plus, GAG loss is part of what leads to chronic stiffness and injury. I generally recommend 1,000 to 1,500 mg of green lipped muscle extract per day.

Wobenzyme. This is a unique combination of natural enzymes that help your body deal with inflammation, over both the long- and short-term. In fact, it’s used by the Austrian ski team for its acute injuries. I recommend 4 pills, three times a day.

CBD. Again, this one goes without saying: You won’t find a safer, more natural treatment for chronic pain out there today. As I explained in the July issue, you have your choice of capsules, balms, and oils. But I tend to prefer CBD oil for versatility of use and individualized dosage flexibility. When using an oil, I recommend starting out with a small amount and working your way up until you reach the desired result. (This process is known as titration.)

Whatever form you choose, just make sure you’re using a product that comes from full-spectrum hemp extract (not “hemp oil” or “hemp seed oil”) to guarantee you’re getting all the powerful phytocannabinoids you’re paying for.

At the end of the day, I could write an entire book on curing pain with nutritional supplements alone. But instead, I put together a comprehensive online protocol that provides full details on the many safe, natural, side-effect-free ways to get relief. It’s called my Pain-Free Protocol and you can learn more about it—or enroll today—by clicking here or calling 1-866-747-9421 and asking for code EOV3W907.

I will always strongly encourage you to reach for these safe, natural alternatives first—over any OTC or prescription medication.

So if you haven’t already given your medicine cabinet an overhaul, now is the perfect time.


  1. Rane MA, et al. “Risks of Cardiovascular Disease and Beyond in Prescription of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.” J Cardiovasc Pharmacol Ther. 2020 Jan;25(1):3-6.
  2. Cuttler C, et al. “Short- and Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Headache and Migraine.” J Pain. 2019 Nov 9;S1526-5900(19)30848-X.
  3. Pini LA, et al. “Nabilone for the treatment of medication overuse headache: results of a preliminary double-blind, active-controlled, randomized trial.” J Headache Pain. 2012 Nov; 13(8): 677–684.
  4. “New research and a clinical report on the use of Perna canaliculus in the management of arthritis.” Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients (2000): 99-111. ( 250.pdf)