Life Extension Magazine®

Doctor pushing on patient’s elbow to determine amount of pain for plant extract combination

Safe Relief from Acute Pain

A 2020 human study shows a plant extract combination relieved musculoskeletal pain as quickly as acetaminophen.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD.

Scientists have identified three plant extracts that work together to relieve musculoskeletal pain:

  • Turmeric extract,
  • Boswellia serrata extract, and
  • Black sesame seed oil.

In a 2020 human study, a combination of these extracts relieved acute musculoskeletal pain as quickly and effectively as acetaminophen.1

This study showed this herbal blend to be 8.57 times better than acetaminophen at relieving the emotional strain and unpleasantness of pain.

Acute Musculoskeletal Pain

Acute musculoskeletal pain refers to stiffness or aching in the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, or tendons that develops suddenly and is caused by something specific.2

Causes may include falls, repetitive strain, incorrect posture, sudden exertion (like lifting something heavy), or simple wear and tear over time3

People have turned to herbal remedies for pain relief since ancient times.

Modern science has now verified three plant extracts that effectively relieve musculoskeletal inflammation and pain:

  • Black sesame seeds are rich in bioactive compounds, including sesamin, which has anti-inflammatory actions.1,4
  • Turmeric is a spice rich in curcumin, a compound known for its anti-inflammatory and free-radical-scavenging properties.5,6
  • Boswellia serrata is a tree resin long used as a traditional Ayurvedic pain remedy.7 Also known as Indian frankincense, it contains the anti-inflammatory compound AKBA (3-O-acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid).1

Pain-Relieving Plants

Researchers have conducted human studies to individually evaluate turmeric, Boswellia, and black sesame seed for their pain-relief benefits.1,5,8

In a meta-analysis of eight randomized controlled trials involving 606 patients, scientists found that curcuminoids from turmeric significantly reduced pain severity from a variety of causes, including arthritis and exercise-induced muscle soreness.6

A meta-analysis of seven trials involving 545 osteoarthritis patients showed that Boswellia serrata extract relieved pain and stiffness and improved joint function better than a placebo.8

In a controlled two-month trial of 50 patients (ages 50-70) with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis, black sesame seeds significantly improved the signs and symptoms of knee pain. Scores on a standard test of mobility also significantly improved.9

Encouraged by these and other studies, scientists began testing a combination of the three plant extracts for acute pain.

In preclinical research, the three ingredients relieved acute pain and inflammation better together than the individual components did at a similar dosage.1

Testing the Combination

People need pain relief fast. Scientists conducted the first randomized controlled human trial of a combination of turmeric, Boswellia serrata, and black sesame seed oil extracts.1

This study lasted seven days, and it was designed to determine if the herbal combination was as effective as the commonly used pain medication acetaminophen.

Researchers recruited 88 healthy men and women (ages 18-65) who had developed acute musculo-skeletal pain within the past 24 hours and hadn’t taken any treatment.1

What you need to know

Safe and Effective Pain Relief

  • Over-the-counter pain medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can harm vital organs.
  • Scientists have identified plant extracts that can quickly and effectively relieve acute pain without unwanted side effects.
  • Turmeric, Boswellia serrata, and black sesame seed oil contain anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving compounds that are especially potent when combined.
  • In healthy adults with acute musculo-skeletal pain, a proprietary blend of these three plants was as fast and effective as acetaminophen at relieving pain.
  • The herbal blend was 8.57 times better than acetaminophen at relieving the emotional suffering of acute pain.

People with arthritis or other chronic pain were excluded. In some cases, the pain was caused by musculoskeletal injuries, though in most of the cases it was simply described variously as muscle aches, neck pain, limb pain, low back pain, or joint pain.

At the start of the study, subjects rated their pain intensity on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (the worst pain imaginable).

All participants started with a "distressing" level of pain that was 5 or above. That reflects a level they couldn’t stop thinking about and that interfered with their daily activities.

The treatment group received 1,000 mg of the proprietary herbal blend daily for one week. The control group received 1,000 mg of acetaminophen daily.

The plant extract combination worked as fast and as effectively as acetaminophen in relieving acute pain, starting on day one!

Fast-Acting Relief

In the study, the herbal blend and the acetaminophen groups followed a similar time course for reducing pain.1

Using validated questionnaires, subjects rated their level of pain intensity and pain relief every 30 minutes for up to six hours after taking their first dose of the assigned treatment.

The group taking the proprietary plant extracts began to feel pain relief as soon as one hour after the initial treatment. This was similar to the onset of pain relief in the acetaminophen group.

Subjects started to report pain relief within about 2.5 hours in both groups. Meaningful pain relief (a 30% pain score reduction per hour from baseline) was achieved within about 4.5 hours in both groups, on average.

The pain reduction continued similarly in both groups over the course of the study, as assessed on the third and seventh day.

Reduced Pain Intensity

In this study, the proprietary herbal combination and acetaminophen groups also experienced a similar reduction in pain intensity.

Both acetaminophen and the plant extract combination achieved this result. Compared to baseline,66% of subjects in the herbal group achieved at least 50% pain relief within six hours on the first day of treatment, which was similar to the acetaminophen group.1

Based on the degree of pain relief in the study, about 73% of subjects in the proprietary herbal combination group were considered positive responders to the treatment, which was similar to that of the acetaminophen group.

What stands out about this human trial is that acetaminophen is a toxic drug that can acutely kill when combined with alcoholic beverages. Its destructive effects are too long to list but include kidney and liver failure in long-term users.10-13

Yet there are few warning labels on acetaminophen drugs and those who suffer acute or chronic pain often take large doses of acetaminophen not realizing it generates tissue-damaging free radicals.

Superior To Medication

Pain is more than just a physical experience. It also causes emotional strain.14

In this study, the short-form McGill Pain Questionnaire was used to evaluate the physical and emotional experience of pain on days one, three, and seven of the study.1

The questionnaire asks subjects to evaluate their pain experience on a scale of 0 (none) to 3 (severe) in terms of 15 descriptive words in two categories:15

  • Sensory (physical): throbbing, shooting, stabbing, sharp, cramping, gnawing, hot-burning, aching, heavy, tender, and splitting.
  • Affective (emotional): tiring-exhausting, sickening, fearful, and punishing-cruel.

Both groups in the study experienced equivalent physical pain relief, according to the McGill score.

But the plant extract combination was 8.57 times better than acetaminophen at relieving the emotional distress and unpleasantness of acute pain.1

How It Works

Researchers chose the turmeric, Boswellia, and sesame seed extracts based on their previous history of effective pain relief, as well as their mechanisms of action.

Curcumin in turmeric and AKBA in Boswellia both inhibit 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX).

5-LOX is the key enzyme that converts the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid into proinflammatory leukotrienes.1

Curcumin also indirectly inhibits cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an enzyme that promotes the production of inflammatory prostaglandins.

Black sesame seed oil works to inhibit delta-5-desaturase, an enzyme that produces arachidonic acid from omega-6 fats.1 That decreases the amount of arachidonic acid available to make inflammatory cytokines in the first place.

The herbal combination was better at reducing pain and inflammation compared with each individual component when tested in animals. The combination inhibits multiple pro-inflammatory pathways in the body that produce prostaglandins and leukotrienes. These are the two main inflammatory facilitators that can trigger pain symptoms.

The sesamin in sesame oil may also promote the body’s absorption of the other pain-relieving components in the blend.1

Free From Side Effects

The use of acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen has been associated with adverse effects.

For example, NSAIDs use can affect the gastric mucosa, the cardiovascular, hepatic, hematologic (blood), and renal systems.16

The best-known danger of acetaminophen is the potential for acute liver damage.17 It is also extremely easy to overuse because it comes in many over-the-counter and prescription medications, including some used for coughs and colds.18 Long-term use increases risk of kidney cancer and organ damage.19-21

In the study that used the proprietary plant extract blend, "There was no adverse event reported by any subject in the study."1

The combination of turmeric, Boswellia, and black sesame seed oil extracts provides a plant-based option for rapid pain relief.


People reach for acetaminophen or NSAIDs like ibuprofen to treat acute aches and pains.

These painkillers carry the risk of harmful side effects.

A controlled clinical study has shown that a combination of turmeric, Boswellia serrata, and black sesame seed oil extracts is as fast and effective as a standard dose of acetaminophen for reducing acute pain in healthy adults.

This proprietary herbal blend was superior to acetaminophen for relieving the emotional strain and unpleasantness aspects of pain.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.


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