How opioids sabotage your ‘feel good’ receptors to make pain worse

Back pain, neck pain, headaches and fibromyalgia — no matter what the cause of your chronic pain, living with its day-to-day fallout can seem like an impossible task. After all, how can you live your life, much less enjoy it, when the aches, discomforts, and exhaustion they cause never seem to end?

So, do you head off to your doctor for a prescription? And if so, are opioids the answer to calming the pain?

Pain experts from the University of Washington School of Medicine say no.

Here’s why and what you can do instead to feel your best…

A bidirectional system that opioids make worse

In a column recently published in the Annals of Family Medicine, those experts — Mark Sullivan and Jane Ballantyne — delve into what they call a “bidirectional” relationship between emotional and chronic physical pain.

In other words, emotional pain can cause chronic pain and chronic pain can cause emotional pain. It’s a relationship that they say is only made worse by taking opioids.


Because according to their research, opioids throw a “wet blanket” over social and emotional functioning. They do this by damaging the body’s natural reward system — blocking its normal release of the endorphins that are meant to help make us feel better — causing a downward spiral into a pit of chronic pain.

This is especially true, they say, for the most common chronic pain syndromes — including back pain, headaches and fibromyalgia.

So, while taking these painkillers can make you feel better early on, over time, they only make your problems worse.

“Rather than helping the pain for which the opioid was originally sought, persistent opioid use may be chasing the pain in a circular manner, diminishing natural rewards from normal sources of pleasure, and increasing social isolation,” says the pain expert team.

This means that while it can be okay to take that prescription in the short-term following a surgery, long-term use won’t properly treat chronic pain, it can actually make the entire situation worse — leaving you depressed and still hurting.

Safer options to feel better

So if you can’t turn to prescription painkillers to help ease your chronic aches and discomforts to help you get back to enjoying your life, what can you do?

The answer is, turn back to nature and use ingredients that support the health of your immune system and inflammatory response, without dampening the body’s natural pain relief system.

During my years as a natural health researcher, these have come up over and over:

  • Black Cumin Seed Oil – Delivers both thymoquinone and thymohydroquinone to provide remarkable inflammatory support that targets your immune system right in your brain to act as an immuno-modulator and help calm your body’s natural pain signals. In fact, a 2012 study of 40 women with severe joint pain found that taking the active ingredient in black cumin seed oil led to “significant improvement” in their condition plus a reduction in joint swelling and stiffness — especially in the morning.
  • Turmeric Extract – A study from the Journal of Biological Chemistry shows the active ingredient in turmeric extract — curcumin — can block NF-kb activity which can help reduce swelling, stiffness and aches for faster recovery and relief.
  • Ginger Extract – is a long-used digestive aide to help soothe the lining of your digestive tract to help reduce the incidence of the leaky gut associated with brain fog, joint discomfort and muscle aches.
  • Vitamin D3 –A review of the scientific literature related to vitamin D and pain management conducted by researchers at The Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil found that vitamin D affects the body’s inflammation response in a way that lowers the sensation of pain. 
  • Omega-3s – Both DHA and EPA, found in fatty fish, fish oil and krill, are known for their heart and brain benefits. But EPA also blocks pain. Says research professor Takaaki Miyaji of Okayama University, “Compared with other drugs, EPA demonstrated a higher analgesic effect and fewer side effects.”

Together, these nutrients work to naturally support a healthy inflammatory response for relief from discomfort associated with joint problems, muscle aches and past injuries.

Additional ways to overcome aches and pains naturally include:

  • Creams or patches using capsaicin – Although researchers have yet to determine exactly why these work, it’s believed that capsaicin from chili peppers helps reduce sensitivity to pain by working on the nerves in the body that carry pain signals.
  •  Yoga – If low back or neck pain is part of your chronic pain issue, try yoga! Research shows it’s possible to relieve these conditions through a combination of breathing exercises, relaxation and stretching.
  • Mindfulness meditation – A systemic review of a whopping 38 studies found that meditation can help reduce depression, alleviate pain and enhance quality of life.


12 natural ways to relieve pain – MedicalNewsToday

Perspective: Why opioids cannot fix chronic pain – EurekAlert!

Virginia Tims-Lawson

By Virginia Tims-Lawson

Virginia Tims-Lawson has dedicated her life to researching and studying natural health after her mother had a stroke that left her blind in one eye at the age of 47, and her grandmother and two great uncles died from heart attacks. Spurred by her family history, Virginia’s passion to improve her and her family’s health through alternative practices, nutrients and supplements has become a mission she shares through her writing. She is founder of the nutritional supplement company Peak Pure & Natural®.