We almost crashed our server this summer with our blog about why no doctor should ever recommend acetaminophen or prescribe a Tylenol-containing pain reliever again (colleagues, are you listening? FDA, how ’bout you?). Since then, I’ve fielded hundreds of inquiries from families—especially worried parents—asking WHAT to use instead of Tylenol?
Dr. Benton, what do I do for a fever?
Dr. Benton, what do I do for a headache?
What about for aches and pains?
What about for migraines?
Glad you asked. There are safe, effective, natural alternatives to Tylenol that will get your pain in check.
How to Treat a Fever Without Tylenol
Fever is actually a positive sign that your immune system is paying attention and fighting disease. Fever is one of our body’s natural defenses against infection. Having a fever forces us to stay in bed—which gives our bodies time to heal. Several studies have found that treating a fever can actually have a negative effect, prolonging the length of time you’re sick.
Don’t be afraid of a fever. That said, if you’re concerned that the fever is too high or if your fever is making you or your child miserable, a wet washcloth with a drop or two of lavender oil on it applied to the forehead will bring relief. As will a sponge bath, as the water evaporating from your skin will cool down the body. If you are really worried, get checked out. Peace of mind is worth it but soon enough you will know how your child responds to fever.
For the body aches that come with fever, try homeopathic arnica- 3 pellets as needed for pain.
Then there’s my favorite home remedy for fever, which I call the Wet Sock Trick.
The Wet Sock Trick
Run cotton socks under cold water and wring them out
Put them on your feet and cover with a larger pair of wool socks
In the morning the socks will be dry and the fever will be gone
Babies with fever will also benefit from skin-to-skin. Take off your shirt (and bra) and hold your baby to your chest in nothing but their birthday suit. Your body temperature will help them regulate theirs. A baby under three months old who has a high fever and is acting lethargic should be seen by a doctor or taken to the emergency room right away!
How to Treat a Headache Without Tylenol
The best natural alternative to Tylenol is turmeric, a root used in Indian and African cooking known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric: Usually a quarter of a teaspoon of ground turmeric in 8 ounces of water or juice will do the trick for children, a half teaspoon for teens, and a teaspoon for adults. But you have to experiment a bit to get the dose right for you.
Peppermint oil: Mix a drop or two of peppermint essential oil into a quarter of a cup of coconut oil. Massage this on your temples and neck, carefully avoiding your eyes.
Some migraine sufferers report washing their hair with peppermint shampoo can also help.
Epsom salt bath: An Epsom salt bath relieves aches and pains and can often cure headaches. Headaches are sometimes caused by a lack of magnesium. When you take an Epsom salt bath, magnesium sulfate is absorbed through your skin. Put 2 cups of Epsom salts and half a cup of apple cider vinegar in a bath as hot as you can stand it. Add a drop or two of lavender essential oil to the bath. Soak for 40 minutes or until the water gets cold.
Magnesium citrate: Use as directed on the label. I recommend you take this at night, before bed. Magnesium citrate is a natural muscle relaxant (it also helps you have more regular bowel movements. My mama swears headaches are caused by constipation. Who knows, she may have been right all these years.)
What if you’re pregnant? My colleague, Aviva Romm, M.D., also has good advice for any moms experiencing headaches during pregnancy.
How to Treat a Migraine
If you suffer from them, you know migraines can cause debilitating pain. You look like ten miles of bad road. Feel like it too.
When you sense a migraine starting, don’t ignore it. Use the headache techniques above:
Take turmeric (up to 2 Tablespoons every 3-4 hours until the pain goes away)
Soak in an Epsom salt bath
Try some magnesium citrate
Caffeine often helps. Brew yourself a strong cup of coffee.
If you are able, lie quietly in a darkened, cool room.
My other suggestions for treating migraines can be found here.
How to Help An Ear Ache Without Tylenol or Antibiotics
In Europe doctors usually take a wait and see approach to ear infections, and do not jump to prescribe antibiotics. Wait and see and call me tomorrow. Patience. Something we Type A Americans have in short supply!
Unfortunately, America doctors are quick to treat earaches with antibiotics, whether or not your child actually has an ear infection. Turns out ear infections are often misdiagnosed—inside the ear can look red for a number of reasons, including simply if your baby’s been crying.
Instead of antibiotics, try an onion earmuff. I know it seems weird. But it works. Plus it will make your little sick one laugh his head off and laughter is good for the soul.
I recommend Kula Mama’s recipe for onion earmuffs, which can clear up an infection in hours. I also recommend garlic-mullein drops, which you can buy at any food co-op or health food store, as long as the eardrum has not burst.
If you’re child is getting ear infections often, it’s time to look for root causes.
If you’ve got a sinus infection along with aching ears, you can find more advice here.
Integrative medicine looks at root causes
I know when you have pain you want immediate relief, not a long blah, blah, blah about why you’re in pain in the first place. Fair enough. But I’m an integrative physician and I believe it’s important not only to treat the symptoms but to find out what is causing them in the first place. I used to be a conventional gal, just like all y’all. And guess what? I was sick all the time. So were my kids. I opened my mind to a holistic, integrative approach in the first place because it helped me radically improve my own and my family’s health.
So if you’re suffering from chronic pain, I’m here to tell you that it’s time for a nutrition and lifestyle overhaul.
You may be eating foods that are pro-inflammatory and making you sick, you may be stressed out in ways that are putting your body into fight-or-flight mode, and you may not be getting enough exercise, a proven prescription to help fix your mood, jumpstart your libido, and lose weight.
If your pain is constant, get both oars into the water. Find an awesome integrative or functional doctor and figure out why!
What natural alternatives to Tylenol have you found helpful? What’s your best most effective home remedy to treat pain? We’d love for you to share your tips and tricks in the comment section below.