Nobody escapes this life without experiencing some degree of pain. Pharmaceutical companies are well aware of this. For example, Vicodin is marketed for symptomatic pain relief. It is a highly addictive synthetic opioid narcotic, with a multitude of unpleasant side-effects. For the past six years, Vicodin has been the drug most frequently prescribed by medical doctors.
This month’s newsletter looks beyond symptomatic relief in an attempt to address the cause of pain.
Underlying our perception of pain is inflammation. There is a direct pattern between degree of inflammation and dietary oil intake, the western diet being particularly pro-inflammatory with an excess of omega-6 oils contributing to pain and chronic disease.
Eicosanoids are molecular messengers derived from omega oils. Just as there are healthy proteins (organic egg) and unhealthy proteins (Jimmy Dean sausage), there are healthy omega oils (fish oil: anti-inflammatory omega 3 eicosanoids) and unhealthy omega oils (Mac-burger, Mac-fry, Mac-shake: pro-inflammatory omega-6 eicosanoids).
Injury, infection and allergic reactions result in the release of fatty acids from injured cells which are converted by enzymes such as cyclooxygenase (Cox) into eicosanoids. With an acute injury this process of pro-inflammatory eicosanoid release is an essential part of healing. When the process is prolonged, as with chronic inflammation, we find the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry pumping out non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and Cox 2 inhibitors to provide symptomatic relief.
The unhealthy omega 6 fatty acids found in commercial (herbicide, insecticides, synthetic hormones, antibiotic) meats and oils have a lot of the pro-inflammatory eicosanoids that increase our sensitivity to nerve pain. If we have a broken bone the increased pain due to the pro-inflammatory eicosanoids is a good thing reminding us not to move about too much. These same compounds involved in the suffering of chronic uncontrolled inflammation are not so helpful when we’re sitting at a desk trying to meet a deadline.
It is important to remember that we need a balance of omega 6 to omega 3 in our diet for our health and well being. Before 1900 our diets had a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of 3:1. Today’s standard American diet with a high intake of vegetable oils (corn, soy, safflower, sunflower) along with the adulterated commercial meats results in a dietary ratio of 20:1 omega-6 to omega-3 oils. Our bodies are not designed to handle this pro-inflammatory imbalance which promulgates a high degree of inflammatory mediated pain.
If you are eating a relatively healthy diet you don’t need to worry about decreasing omega 6 oil consumption because you’ve already done so by engaging in a healthy diet. What you want to do is increase omega 3, especially EPA and DHA as found in fish oil (if you’re not vegetarian) which is more effective then the omega 3 found in foods such as flax seed/oil. Many studies show that fish oil is a safe and effective method to reduce pro-inflammatory and pain-sensitizing molecules while simultaneously raising the levels of anti-inflammatory self-healing molecules for pain control including arthritis and degenerative disc disease.
To get the benefit of true pain relief you need about 3 grams of EPA and DHA daily. If you are taking capsules don’t look at the total content of oil, look at the EPA and DHA amount per capsule to get the 3 grams per day dose. Often this may mean up to 10 capsules a day. Don’t take them all at once. Spread it out, and take the oil in the middle of the meal to avoid burping fish oil. Build up to this dose over 5 – 10 days. If you are really having a problem with burping try Nordic Natural fish oil, or an enteric coated capsule which doesn’t open until it is past the stomach.
I suggest doing a blood test called Fatty Acid Analysis to assure proper metabolic balance when using fish oil to fight pain beyond 6 months. However, up to 6 months you can safely follow this therapeutic guide without concern unless you are taking prescription drugs such as coumadin that may conflict.
Additional Micronutrient Pain Management Considerations
•Eat a variety of food in as close to its natural state as possible and avoid the high acid pro-inflammatory Standard American Diet (sugar, soda, white flour, tap water, nicotine, alcohol, unhealthy fast food oils, processed food, chemicals) •MSM (methylsulfonylmethane): analgesic, relaxes muscles, improves blood flow and nutrient delivery to cells. Dose: 1,000 mg one to two times daily •Magnesium: activates more then 350 enzymes in the body (this is crucial for healthy cellular function), improves cellular energy which decreases inflammatory cellular waste build-up (especially important with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome), muscle relaxer, mood stabilizer. Dose: 250 mg twice daily. •White willow: as directed. Not to be used if you suffer from gastric reflux or gastric ulcer. •Zyflamend: herbal anti-inflammatory. Dose: as instructed on label. •SAM-e: as directed. •B-complex: decreases nerve pain. Dose: 50mg twice daily B-complex •Vitamin D: deficiency leads to muscle pain. Dose: 3,000 IU daily •Folic acid: deficiency shows with increased nerve pain. Dose: 800- 1,000 mcg daily •NAC: to increase glutathione levels and remove inflammatory toxins from the body. Dose: 500mg one to two times daily •Healthy natural Cox-2 inhibitor foods: grapes, turmeric, rosemary, onion, apple
If more assistance is needed I have several treatments to offer patients. I also offer appropriate testing to fine tune the therapy by evaluating for inflammatory markers, comprehensive essential fatty acids, oxidative stress, liver function and serum vitamin/mineral status.
I hope you have enjoyed this month’s newsletter and find it useful. Comments are always welcome.
Jon Dunn, ND