Healthy Living Magazine
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by and

Pain is the most common reason for physician consultation in North America. It is a major symptom in many medical conditions, and can significantly interfere with quality of life and general functioning. Shawn Nisbet offers sound advice on alleviating pain ‘the natural way’.

If you are experiencing physical pain at this moment, and the pain is persistent, perhaps it is time to look into alternative methods of pain management, especially if your pain has been going on for an extended period of time.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Is your pain acute or chronic?
2. If your pain is chronic, how many years have you been enduring it?
3. If your pain is chronic and/or you have done the same-old same-old with little relief, is it time to seek new alternatives?
4. If acute, are you using the safest and best pain relief method?
5. What do you do or take for your pain?
6. Does your method of pain management alleviate the pain to your satisfaction?
7. Have you ever noticed a particular food or food group aggravating your pain?
8. Have you ever tried an alternative method of pain management?
9. What did your grandmother use for pain management and have you ever tried it?

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain remedies have long been the go-to choices for killing pain and/or inflammation fast, but they can have many side effects. Aspirin has been linked to gastrointestinal problems and ulcers, as well hemorrhaging and strokes. Tylenol contains acetaminophen which is toxic to the liver.

Ibuprofen is an NSAID (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug). Advil and Motrin are common OTC ibuprofen drugs with possible side effects such as nausea, dizziness, hypertension, DNA damage, hearing loss, and even miscarriage.

The Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

Accidental overdoses from prescription drugs now exceed the combined total of deaths from heroin, crack and methamphetamines. A must-watch on CNN is Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary, Deadly Dose. Take the U.S., for example, where the leading cause of accidental death is prescribed pain medication. Accidental deaths from overdoses of legal prescription drugs now exceed deaths by car accidents.

The statistics are staggering:

  • A 600% increase in deaths from pain medications over the past 10 years – that’s 40 people every day!
  • In 2010, 1 in 20 Americans aged 12 and older reported using prescription painkillers non-medically.
  • The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers resulted in more than 475,000 emergency room visits in 2009 – double that of 2004. (Source: Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration)

Pain medication is now a cultural phenonomen. But who is most likely to abuse or overdose? When it comes to prescription drugs, more men than women die from overdoses, while middle-aged adults have the highest overdose rates.

The most common scenario involves a man in his 40s or 50s who visits a doctor with a backache and is prescribed pain killers. About three years later, typically, the man dies in his sleep from taking too many pills, or mixing them with alcohol.

How Do Pain Killers Work?

Pain killers work on the part of the brain that tells us when to breathe. Your breathing slows down. When you are awake, you may take a big sigh or deep breath. When you go to sleep, you may simply stop breathing. Alcohol, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications work the same way; therefore combinations can cause death.

Dr. Gupta says: “After just a few months of taking the pills, something starts to change in the body. The effectiveness wears off, and patients typically report getting only about 30% pain relief, compared with when they started. Even more concerning, a subgroup of these patients develop a condition known as hyperalgesia, an increased sensitivity to pain.”

What is Chronic Pain?

Pain that lasts for three months or longer is classed as chronic. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. It’s normal to have pain when injured or ill, but pain that lasts for weeks, months or years is not.

The cause of chronic pain is not always clear. It can result from an imbalance of brain chemicals, pain after an illness or injury, damaged nerves, inflammation of any kind, or emotional stress. Chronic pain can also occur without a known cause.

There are two important questions to ask yourself. First, is it easier for a doctor to write a prescription than to explore other effective options to combat pain? Secondly, is it easier for patients to take prescription pills than to search for alternatives themselves,  especially if the pain is long-lasting and severe?

Complementary Therapies for Chronic Pain

Complementary therapies may reduce pain, help you cope with stress, and improve your emotional and physical well-being. These include: acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic therapy, guided imagery, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, hypnosis, magnetic field therapy, massage, meditation, naturopathy and yoga.

If you begin a complementary method of pain management, make sure all of your health professionals know every type of treatment you are using to reduce chronic pain. The five most common types of pain are migraine/headache, back, joint/arthritis, overuse/strain injuries and arm/leg/musculoskeletal.

How Natural Pain Relievers Can Help

Increasing evidence suggests topical analgesics are as effective – and safer – than OTC pain medications for treating chronic musculoskeletal pain, fibromyalgia, headaches and peripheral neuropathy.

You have more power over your pain than you realize. Your brain and central nervous system constantly talk to each other, sending and receiving signals such as pain messages. Typically, these messages result from injury or illness, and stop once the body is healed.

This messaging system can break down, causing miscommunication between the mind and body. Studies have shown the usefulness of various mind-body interventions in the management of many types of pain, such as migraine, tension-type headaches, fibromyalgia and acute sciatica.

Chronic pain may influence how you perceive your pain. Feelings of anxiety, tension, anger or depression can cause a disconnection between your mind and body. When your brain is frequently forced to respond to such emotions, it rewires itself to keep up with the barrage of negative stimuli. As a result, your brain may send erroneous pain messages to your body.

Approach Pain Management with Caution!

Whether you are recovering from illness, injury or surgery, or are unsure what’s causing your pain, do some homework before you dive into pain therapy. Check with your healthcare provider to rule out the possibility of a more serious condition. Then get advice on reputable practitioners and mind body treatment, or alternative health centers.

Yoga is a great alternative for those who don’t get relief from prescription drugs. Studies show a two-hour yoga class reduced symptoms by 30% in half of those suffering from fibromyalgia. Listen to your body and breathe. When performed properly, yoga can change the way your central nervous system responds to pain.

A word of caution, though: seek an qualified yoga teacher to avoid injury or further aggravation of your present condition.

Food Power

No single food can completely stop chronic pain, but a healthy diet is a powerful part of your pain management strategy. The Mediterranean diet, for example, is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish and health-rich saturated and unsaturated fats. A wholesome diet can help prevent pain, boost your energy levels and mood so you cope better, build strong bones and muscles to help decrease pain, and help to manage weight which can aggravate pain.

Whole grains and healthy alternative grains such as quinoa and bulgur are rich in fiber, which curbs appetite and helps with weight management. Whole grains are also a good source of magnesium which has been shown to fight muscle pain.

High quality omega-3 fish oils, found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies, can have positive effects on managing chronic pain. Some fish are also sources of another potential pain fighter, vitamin D3.

Digested fish oil breaks down into hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins which reduce inflammation. About 40% of rheumatoid arthritis patients who took high quality cod-liver oil every day were able to cut their NSAID use by more than a third, Scottish scientists recently reported. People with neck and back pain fared even better: after about 10 weeks, nearly two-thirds could stop taking NSAIDs altogether, a University of Pittsburgh study showed.

Vitamin D deficiency may actually increase pain. A 2009 study looked at the vitamin D levels of people with chronic pain who were using opioid painkillers. Those who had a deficiency of vitamin D needed almost twice as high a dose of medication to control their pain. Perhaps you should have your vitamin D level checked by your doctor to determine if you need a supplement.

The Power of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant with powerful properties that relieve pain. Studies suggest vitamin C may help people experience less pain after breaking a bone or having orthopedic surgery. Similar research indicates vitamin C may hinder arthritis-inducing cartilage loss and the formation of bone lesions in joints.

However, a Vitamin C supplement does not have the same health benefits as consuming a food rich in vitamin C because the vitamin C works synergistically with many other properties found in that fruit. Foods high in vitamin C include papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, oranges and kiwi fruit.

The Healing Properties of Greens

Toss a spinach or arugula salad for a jolt of vitamin K, a nutrient with potential pain-soothing properties. Vitamin K also helps maintain strong bones and healthy joints. In one study, older adults with ample blood levels of K were less likely to develop osteoarthritis.

A word of caution: Vitamin K also helps with blood clotting, so if you’re taking blood thinners, check with your doctor before boosting your K intake.

Balance Your pH Levels

When your body becomes too acidic, it attempts to maintain proper pH balance by eliminating the excess acids through the kidneys, lungs and skin, or by trying to neutralize them. The body tries to protect vital organs by diverting these harmful acids to be stored in tissues, joints and bones which can cause pain. Increasing your intake of alkalizing foods, such as vegetables and most fruits, and decreasing your intake of white foods which are acidifying, can help with pain management.

Vegetables and fruit also contain rutin, a flavanoid with a strong anti-inflammatory effect due to its powerful antioxidant activity. Reducing your inflammation leads to changes throughout your entire body – changes such as pain reduction, increased circulation and dozens of other health benefits which ramp up your energy.

Decrease the acidity in your body by eliminating the ‘white stuff’ to help decrease inflammation. White stuff includes white flour, white sugar, white pasta, white rice and white potatoes. Increased acidity can lead to: joint and skeletal problems such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions such as dermatitis and eczema, and tissue problems such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

Bromelain in Pineapples

This special natural compound, which is extracted from pineapples, contains several proteolytic enzymes shown to short-circuit multiple pain pathways in the body. Bromelain can reduce inflammation, reduce and prevent swelling, and remove waste and toxins from the blood. Remember, though: fruit is high in fructose sugar and should therefore be eaten in moderation.

Magnesium

Magnesium can help with pain from conditions such as migraines, muscle spasms and fibromyalgia. Some experts think magnesium deficiency could be a widespread problem, so make sure your diet contains magnesium-rich green leafy vegetables such as spinach and collard greens, as well as nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds. Also, drink more water because alcohol can deplete magnesium levels.

Spice Up Your Life

Many spices can decrease the inflammation which increases pain. Turmeric, used in Indian and Thai curry dishes, contains curcumin. Studies show that turmeric extract composed of curcuminoids blocked inflammatory pathways, effectively preventing the launch of a protein that triggers swelling and pain. Turmeric emerged safer and more precise than aspirin in stopping inflammation by shutting down the COX2 enzyme responsible for pain.

Fresh ginger has been used for over 2,500 years to treat nausea and reduce pain and inflammation. This herb has potent anti-inflammatory activity and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Studies show ginger may do what NSAIDs and prescription pain medications are said to do. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into salads, soups and salad dressings.

Homeopathic Medicine

Arnica is wonderful for acute injury or post-surgery swelling. This herb comes from a European flower, and although its healing mechanism is still unknown, it does have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Taking oral homeopathic arnica after a tonsillectomy decreases pain, say British researchers, while German doctors have found it also reduces surgery-related knee swelling.

How to use it? Use homeopathic arnica as an adjunct to ice, herbs or conventional pain medications. Rub arnica ointment on bruises or strained muscles, or take it in the form of three lactose pellets under the tongue as directed.

Negative Effects of Food Additives

Aspartame is one of the most common artificial sweeteners in use today. If you ingest aspartame from your food products, eliminating this one toxin from your diet could have a powerful effect on your pain management and overall health.

Products containing aspartame include diet sodas, yogurts, chewing gum, cooking sauces, crisps, tabletop sweeteners, drink powders, flavoured water, sugar-free products and cereal.

Whether your pain is chronic or acute, it is important to seek out as many avenues as possible for pain relief and discuss the options with your health care advisor. Try to manage your pain as naturally as you can to decrease the possibility of a long list of adverse effects. By choosing healthier alternatives, you may reap a long list of health benefits which will in turn have a positive effect on all aspects of your health.   

Shawn M. Nisbet, RHN, is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Yoga Teacher, Certified Fitness Consultant and Nordic Pole Walking Master Instructor. Contacts: 416.804.0938; info@shawnnisbet.com; www.shawnnisbet.com;
www.shawnsharesjuiceplus.com.

 

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