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Nutrition and Pain, a Primer

February 2003 - Print | Index

Reprinted from The New Fillmore, San Francisco, February 2003

Stepping into a room filled with labeled bottles from floor to ceiling is not the most welcoming sight. It wasn't intended that way. There were only twelve shelves and a handful of supplements in the beginning. All varieties of people came into the store back then, as now, and they seemed to belong to a small, unnamed secret sect of believers. Stories floated around the store like vapors of incense, raising eyebrows, with heads nodding, and looks of recognition. What did it all mean? Why didn't everyone else know this? There were mentions of conspiracies, frightening stories of physicians losing their licenses, and personal anecdotes. It was all about health and nutrition.

Being there at that time was one of the joys of living, and knowing something was good for you regardless of what others said, built character. It meant you had to read, you had to listen, and you had to pay attention to your internal self. Suddenly, the insight struck - you became aware that you had control of your health, you made the difference- all you needed was information.

That was over twenty years ago. Today, health topics about nutrition are found in everyday conversations. Here is such an article, my perspective, from one who sells supplements, who takes supplements, who loves and respects the world of nutrition.

One of the basic reasons why a person first seeks information about supplements is to learn how to relieve pain. Pain may be in the form of a cramp, a twinge, a spasm, a sting, an ache or a paroxysm. Pain can take the form of neuralgia, rheumatism, arthritis, heartburn, a toothache or a stomachache. It can be sciatica, gout, a cramp, earache, or labor pains. Pain has so many faces and so many causes and as a merchant for over twenty years in nutrition one gains a growing perspective of the role that nutrition plays in managing pain.

Pain signals to us that something is wrong. It makes us pay attention. Pain has several common centers: the lower back, frontal part of the head, the base of the head, and the abdominal area. It can also be in the joints or an injury. Pain is an individual experience that requires us to consciously explore its cause. Is it emotional or physical, is it chronic or intermittent, is it dull or acute? It causes much apprehension resulting in our searching for a solution as easily and quickly as possible.

Most of us generally know one simple solution, that miracle, aspirin, or one of its non-acidic competitors. Aspirin is quite remarkable in its abilities - it inhibits prostaglandin synthesis and inhibits interleukin 6, which is a factor in heart disease and breast and liver cancer. It also protects the brain, is a powerful antioxidant, helps to prevent cataracts and protects against glycation in diabetes. Aspirin is one of those wonderful remedies that came from the natural world of herbs, specifically white willow bark. Unlike aspirin, white willow bark is not a product developed with industrial chemical solvents and manipulations. White willow bark also has buffering agents due to its great complexity and performs the same feats as aspirin, but in a more deep, subtle and gentle way.

The herbal world is filled with plants that are miraculous in their application for pain, such as Jamaican Dogwood, a potent anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, cat's claw, cayenne, and feverfew. Feverfew is best known for its relief of migraines, muscle tension, and rheumatoid arthritis. It is also a powerful inhibitor of COX-2 and phospholipase A2 enzymes that are associated with pain and inflammation. So it is useful for pain associated with headaches, menstruation, spasms and pain of the muscular/skeletal system, and intestinal spasms. It is a powerful herb that has some precautions for pregnancy. Other potent COX-2 inhibitors are hops, chamomile, holy basil, scutellaria, and ginger.

Interestingly, rheumatoid arthritis was thought to be the result of an overactive immune system. The Mayo Clinic now has studies that show patients with rheumatoid arthritis have prematurely aged immune systems. Good nutrition and building the immune system is one of the major keys to good health and will be covered in a future article.

There are many other natural pain relievers which all have a multitude of other benefits. For example, calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and has many other applications besides strengthening our bones. It is a natural pain reliever - and one of the very best. At the same time calcium is necessary for a regular heartbeat, the transmission of nerve impulses, and the contraction of muscles. It should usually be balanced with other minerals, such as magnesium (another natural pain reliever), zinc, and phosphorous.

Other nutrients that reduce pain are glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin. Glucosamine sulfate is an amino sugar used to create cushioning fluids and tissues around joints. It is used for sciatica, inflamed discs, and arthritis. It is also necessary for the formation of skin, eyes, bones, tendons, nails, ligaments and parts of the heart. Chondroitin is a powerful anti-inflammatory and a biological response modifier that activates the immune system when conditions require it.

An excellent anti-inflammatory is pycnogenol from pine bark. Similar to it is grape seed extract and both are high in OPC's (proanthocyanidins), a bioflavonoid and very strong antioxidant. OPC's help to relieve arthritis, sports injuries and varicose veins. They also repair damaged collagen, increase circulation, and strengthen capillaries. Other natural pain killers are Vitamin K for chronic pain, CoQ10 (an enzyme that is a potent antioxidant and cellular energizer), and manganese that shrinks tissue thereby aiding circulation.

Pain is linked closely to swelling or stagnation, which is caused by bad circulation and increased inflammation. One of the major keys to good health is reducing inflammation and increasing circulation. Enzymes are one of nature's most healing catalytic elements. Proteolytic enzymes are a major element in reducing inflammation. Proteolytic enzymes enter the stagnant area and digest waste material improving circulation and eliminating bruising and swelling. The tissue is further enhanced and protected by antioxidant enzymes, such as catalase, SOD (superoxide dismutase), glutathione peroxidase, and methionine reductase. These enzymes stop further damage by free radicals, clean the synovial fluids and improve circulation within the joints.

Other proteolytic enzymes are bromelain from pineapple and papain from papaya. These are often combined with quercetin, rutin and hesperidin, which are potent bioflavonoids.

Vitamin C contributes greatly to pain reduction. Whole books are entirely devoted to it. It is probably the most tested and studied nutrient in the world and has an incredible history of benefits. It is essential to production of collagen and elastin, the substances that hold our bodies together. It detoxifies heavy metals, promotes wound healing, and increases white blood cell activity. It protects against cancer, heart disease, arthritis and allergies. It is an important factor in treating male infertility, diabetes, constipation, iron insufficiency, drug withdrawal, and suppressing HIV virus. Vitamin C is required for healthy gums, growth and adrenal gland function. Along this line, Pantothenic Acid, is another aid for pain by the production of natural cortisone courtesy of the adrenal glands.

Other nutrients in the arsenal to reduce inflammation are essential fatty acids (EFA's). Evening primrose oil, black currant oil and borage oil are excellent sources of d-gamma linoleic acid (GLA). These support the PGE1 (prostaglandins series one) function that affects hormonal balance. GLA is used beneficially for PMS, arthritis, eczema, brain injuries, inflammation, menopausal hot flashes, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease and many others conditions.

Two other important nutrients are MSM and turmeric. Turmeric (curcumin) is the bight yellow herb found in East Indian food. It helps to reduce cholesterol, arthritic pain, and blood clots. As a potent anti-inflammatory it also aids in cleaning the intestines of unwanted iron deposits which otherwise aid the growth of fungus, such as candida and is extremely beneficial for the skin and eyes.

MSM is a natural form of sulfur found in all living organisms and assists in a variety of areas such as reducing arthritic pain, relieving snoring, and improving growth of hair and nails. MSM protects against lupus, arthritis, and cancer. It helps form the bonds that link connective tissue together and is often found in combination with glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin. It is also helpful for allergies and constipation.

Pain from burns can be relieved through raw, unfiltered, unheated, untreated honey. I am always amazed at the immediate relief honey gives when applied topically and how miraculously healing it is when applied for a long period of time to the skin. Burn clinics in particular should investigate these dramatic results.

Other numerous products that help relieve pain are DLPA, Noni, black cherries, and homeopathic remedies such as Traumeel, arnica and calendula. There are also topical gels and ointments, such as Tiger Balm, White Flower, Ice Factors, and Arni-Flora.

Pain often provides us an opportunity to identify underlying causes. Sometimes it is as simple as needing to drink more water daily, or getting a new mattress, or changing a position of a computer screen or getting different lighting or having a window open. Other times it requires a change in one's life style to create more balance, moderation and attention. Sometimes it is caused by a complex situation such as a stressful job, a bad relationship, or an old injury. When the cause is identified one can look towards solutions and use imagination and critical thought to gain a solution. It is then that pain has become a guiding light to a doorway of knowledge, freedom and health.

The BEST of health to you!
Michael LeVesque, President

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products listed in this newsletter are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with your physician before taking any of these products.