Natural Painkillers That Help You Race Harder

12 natural food compounds that keep discomfort at bay.


Words Joseph Lim

Many people think synthetic drugs are the only means of eliminating pain in the body – joint pain, back pain, migraines and headaches – but that’s not entirely true. Nature has many tricks up its sleeves and modern science has brought to light 12 everyday compounds in foods that act as effective pain relievers. They happen to possess anti-inflammatory properties yet remain a safe and effective way to eliminate or reduce inflammation and pain in the body. Including these foods in your regular diet can aid one in a pain-free life without resorting to other medicines.

Proteolytic Enzymes

These crucial enzymes happen to be the final line of defence against illnesses, pain, diseases and everything else that attacks the body. Research has revealed that these enzymes work within and throughout the entire body to combat inflammation, dissolve scar tissue, boost cardiovascular health, immunity and respiratory functions, while cleansing and thinning the blood. Unfortunately, with our nutrient-deficient diets we currently have, most of us do not ingest enough of these enzymes.

Tip: Papaya, mango, kiwi, grapes, avocado, raw honey, bee pollen, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and dairy products, are all rich sources of proteolytic enzymes.


Pineapples are deliciously sweet and tart but a special compound called “bromelain” contains several types of proteolytic enzymes that have been demonstrated in laboratory tests to “short circuit” multiple pain pathways in the body. Its discovery in 1957 have lead more scientists to conduct hundreds of studies, which revealed bromelain’s powerful properties to minimise inflammation, reduce swelling and remove toxins from the blood. One of these studies included 77 patients taking bromelain extracts, where significant reduction in pain and swelling was noticed.

Tip: Bromelain is found in Papaya and pineapple, which you can eat them fresh or enjoy as a smoothie.

Turmeric Extract

Not just limited to the kitchen, turmeric has medicinal properties known to treat a variety of illnesses and conditions. Its powerful antioxidant properties basically destroy free radicals in the body which contribute to pain and swelling. The renowned Sloan-Kettering Cancer Research Centre in New York conducted a study where it found that turmeric was more precise than regular aspirin in curbing inflammation, simply by shutting down the COX-2 enzyme responsible for pain. Best of all, turmeric has no gastrointestinal irritation that aspirin is recognised for!

Tip: Turmeric can be consumed in the fresh, grated version or the powdered form to reap the benefits. Turmeric powder can be stirred into your morning smoothie or included into Asian stir-fries and curry dishes.


Where can you find papain? This special enzyme is found in the common kiwi fruit and is scientifically known to attack tumour cells while boosting the immune system! Papain also contains several proteolytic enzymes that work by breaking down proteins. Its medical efficacy has been shown to treat diabetes, herpes and digestion problems like chronic indigestion and bloating. Now, if only more people knew about it, they would be able to reduce the onset of many health problems!

Tip: Naturally, it would be papaya or kiwi fruit enjoyed in its fresh form or blitzed as a smoothie.

Devil's Claw

This beautiful white flower may look like any flowering weed but the Devil’s Claw remains one of botany’s best-kept secrets in effectively reducing inflammation and pain. It is powerful enough to treat arthritis pain and is often used as a substitute for phenylbutazone – which is a potent drug used to treat pain in horses. Devil’s Claw is as effective as COX-2 inhibitors without any severe side effects. It is used in some countries to treat chronic low back pain, too.

Tip: Aside from consuming Devil’s Claw in pill form, some scientific studies revealed that Omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil and even resveratrol – a phytochemical derived from grape skin, are excellent compounds that inhibit the production of COX-2 in inflamed joints.

Boswellia Extract

One of the many thousands of herbs used in Indian medicine, Boswellia extract may not be a household name but for centuries, traditional Indian healers used it extensively to minimise pain and inflammation. In addition to being a safe, natural anti-inflammatory product, Boswellia has been demonstrated to support healthy blood circulation. One study of random, double-blind, placebo controlled test where 30 patients received 333mg of Boswellia three times a day, experienced significant reduction in pain and swelling. They also benefited from increased joint mobility and flexibility as compared to placebo individuals who took the same test.

Tip: Boswellia extract can be purchased at specialised nutrition stores or online establishments.

Vitamin E

The humble vitamin E is not just beneficial for immune system, balancing cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, it is also a powerful antioxidant. Many studies have pointed to vitamin E helping to improve skin healthy, memory power and circulatory conditions.

Tip: Vitamin E is found abundantly in foods such as tofu, broccoli, shrimp, avocado, almonds, olive oil, fish and squash.

Ginger Extract

Ginger’s pervasive usage has stretched across many cultures and countries in Asia for over 2500 years. Aside from treating nausea, it also helps to reduce pain and inflammation in the body. Ginger works its wonders by reducing the amount of prostaglandins which cause you to feel pain. Ginger is nature’s answer to NSAIDs (i.e. Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) but without the side effects.

Tip: Fresh ginger slices boiled in water on low temperature then stirred in with honey and taken as a beverage is a good way to reap the painkilling benefits.


Rutin is found in many plants and fruits such as buckwheat, unpeeled apples, figs, rooibos and elderflower tea, to name a few. This powerful flavonoid has strong anti-inflammatory properties that take effect in the body once consumed. It also provides increased circulation and gives one a boost of energy.

Tip: Yes, fresh apples, buckwheat, amaranth (i.e. a type of spinach with green and purple leaves eaten as a stir-fry dish) and unpeeled apples are excellent source of rutin.

Citrus Bioflavanoids

This unsung hero aids in the absorption of vitamins while acting as a crucial antioxidant in the body. Citrus Bioflavanoids helps to inhibit collagenase and elastase – the enzymes blamed for the breakdown of connective body tissue. It is the reason why our ligaments and joints stay healthy when we were young. Therefore, protecting these important tissues help protect against free radical damage.

Tip: Aside from consuming citrus fruits, bioflavonoids can be found in foods such as red bell peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, spinach and teas.


It is definitely not a household name when it comes to antioxidants we know. But L-glutathione has been documented in over 20,000 research studies where it is scientifically proven to fight free radicals and promote supple skin. Many doctors agree that L-glutathione is quite literally the most important antioxidant in your body. Its health benefits are endless, too, with its ability to eradicate all sorts of free radicals the body is subjected to on a daily basis.

Tip: Foods that provide a rich source of L-glutathione include raw milk and eggs, whey, most fresh fruits and vegetables, red meat and organ meats and turmeric.

Mojave Yucca

Research is still developing on the Mojave Yucca, but it as many proven health benefits and these include reducing blood pressure, minimising cholesterol and triglycerides, improving digestion, reducing muscle spasms, improving blood circulation, providing migraine relief, healing wounds, treating various skins conditions and promoting healthy, shiny hair.

Tip: Only recently, studies have revealed the benefits of consuming yucca supplements derived from Mojave Yucca root. Specialised online nutrition stores sell it in pill form with little side effects if consumed according to the label’s instructions. In the west, it is used to treat osteoarthritis, migraine, headaches, inflammation of the intestine (colitis), to name a few.


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