The Innocent Addiction: Pain


Jamie Richards, BSc, Nutritional Therapist specializing in female health, wegiht control, and sports nutrition

Year of publication: 

 Almost 10 million Britons suffer daily pain that significantly impacts on their quality of life. Over the counter pain medication is cheap, easily accessible and effective for rapid pain relief, but read the small print and you’ll find a whole list of side effects that might make you want to consider natural alternatives. Foods high in saturated fats such as red meat, cheese and cream contain a fatty acid called ‘arachidonic acid’ which gets converted into messenger molecules that trigger inflammation called prostaglandin E2. So the more of these foods you eat, the more inflamed and ‘in pain’ you are likely to be. Studies have also shown too much of the good omega-6 fatty acids to bump up your pro-inflammatory status. Our ancestors ate a good balance of omega-6 and 3 fatty acids, but over the last 30 years there has been a vast increase in omega-6 fatty acid rich vegetable oils like sunflower oils. It is now estimated that we eat approximately 20 to 30 times the amount of omega-6 fatty acid to omega-3 fatty acid. There are three dietary changes which can help turn down pain. Firstly, you can start to reduce foods high in saturated fat and sugar as well as cutting down on alcohol, all of which help reduce your body’s ability to make pro-inflammatory messenger molecules.

Fat chance

Secondly, you can get your good omega-3 fatty acids back into balance. The omega- 3 fatty acids found in foods like oily fish, walnuts and hemp seeds are capable of reducing pro-inflammatory prostaglandin E2 whilst booosting levels of the anti- inflammatory prostaglandin E3, so eating more fish can help to reduce pain. Historically we ate a diet that provided roughly equal omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. In this way we were able to raise an appropriate inflammatory response and an equally appropriate antiinflammatory response.

Ace antioxidants

 Lastly, antioxidants help to reduce inflammation by calming down cytokines and deactivating free radicals produced during the inflammatory process. Since fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants eating your 5-a-day is vitally important. Natural antioxidant vitamins A, C and E along with the vast array of phytonutrients in herbs and spices, which are only just being discovered by science also help reduce inflammation and pain.

Natural pain killers

 Nature has generously provided us with the ingredients we need to fight disease. There are plenty of natural pain killers and many of these are well researched.

Alleviating joint pain

 The most common cause of chronic joint pain is osteoarthritis affecting some 8.5 million people in the UK. This condition causes joints to become stiff, swollen and painful. Boswellia, an Indian herb, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and vascularsupporting herb which studies have shown to be effective for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate have been found to protect cartilage making them useful supplements for arthritic conditions and joint injuries. One study even found these to be as effective as non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin, the compound that’s responsible for its yellow colour and pungent flavour. Turmeric has been widely studied for its anti-inflammatory properties particularly for conditions like osteoarthritis.

 Reducing migraines

Almost everyone gets a headache every once in a while but around 15% of us are commonly struck down with migraines. The herb Feverfew has been used for centuries in European folk medicine as a remedy for headaches, arthritis, and fevers. One study provides data showing that ‘preventive use of feverfew can profoundly reduce migraine pain and other symptoms, including vomiting, nausea, and sensitivity to noise and light’. Most studies supplement 50- 100mg a day of standard extract. One study has revealed 60% of people taking riboflavin (vitamin B2) cut the frequency of their migraines by 50% with a high dose of 400mg a day.

Mending muscles

Muscle pain varies from strains to the poorly understood condition, fibromyalgia. Creams containing capsaicin can be used topically for localised muscle and soft tissue pain. Arnica is currently used in various forms for treatment of strains, sprains and bruises. Recently an arnica gel was found to be as effective as Ibuprofen gel in the treatment of hand osteoarthritis.

Helping period pain

It is estimated that between 50-70% of women endure period pain and cramping. Dong Quai is traditionally referred to as ‘woman’s tonic’. Studies have shown this herb to help regulate the production of prostaglandin and to increase the flow of blood to the womb, increasing oxygen status and reducing pain. Magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant and it has been shown to have a beneficial effect on painful periods and lower back pain making this a worthwhile supplement. Researchers have also shown that taking vitamin E (200 IU twice daily or 500 IU daily) starting two days before menstruation and continuing through the first three days of bleeding helps to reduce menstrual pain severity and duration.

Break your pain cycle

So, whilst OTC pain relief may be fast acting the long-term solution to your pain might just be found by improving your diet and using natural remedies. Natural pain relief is safe, effective and provides a more healing approach. 

HEALTH CONDITIONS, pain relief, omega-3, antioxidants, joint pain, migraines, period pain
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