Healthy Alternatives: Help for Pain and Inflammation

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Pain is a familiar experience for everyone. Most pain is caused by inflammation, and most inflammation comes from tissue damage.

Tissue damage may occur from different types of exposures. We have all felt the pain from sunburn, or putting our hand on a hot burner, or holding ice cubes. Additionally, there are inflammatory “triggers” that increase our propensity for experiencing pain. We’re also very familiar with the pain caused by infection or abrasions. Pain can come from chemical irritations, or even radiation injury. So with that as background, what causes our pain sensations? Of what use are these sensations? And, from the standpoint of using healthy alternatives, how do we deal with pain? First, a little physiology is in order. Pain comes about when tissue damage from any source triggers the release of specific chemical substances that cause blood vessel dilation, which permits leakage of blood vessel components into the surrounding tissue. These “specific chemical substances” include histamines, kinins, prostoglandins, complement, and leukotrienes. The leakage of the blood contents into the tissue causes local swelling, pain, and sometimes redness, all of which make up the inflammatory reaction.

Anti-inflammatory medications are frequently prescribed for pain. Some common ones include Bextra, Celebrex, Motrin, Naprocin, and Vioxx. While these address the inflammation, they do not address the root cause of the problem. Other common pain medications that are NOT anti-inflammatories are Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycodone. These will address the pain, but will not rid the body of the inflammation.

Unfortunately, all medications have side effects. Vioxx may have contributed to up to 139,000 heart attacks and strokes, forcing the FDA to withdraw it from the market in September 2004. Researchers testing the long term use of Celebrex indicate that it may increase the risk of cardiovascular events (strokes and heart attacks) by 2.5 fold. Naproxen (Aleve, Naprocyn) was linked to a 50% increase in cardiovascular events (compared to placebo), necessitating the suspension of a $26 million Alzheimer’s trial by the National Institute of Health. The uncertain outcome of using these drugs leads me to suggest that we look at the root cause of the inflammation and address it from that perspective.

Controlling Inflammation

Because inflammation is at the core of much of the pain we all experience, let’s review some other ways to control inflammation, or at least reduce it.

1. Diet. Avoid inflammatory triggers, including caffeine, sugar, trans fatty acids and hydrogenated oils, and aspartame. Eat “real” food–wholesome, fresh foods that are organic–and avoid processed foods. Processed foods increase the amount of free radical production, leading to increased inflammation. Also, decreasing your red meat and dairy consumption may reduce inflammatory triggers.
2. Supplements. The most critical supplements are the antioxidants C, E, and beta-carotene, which modify free radical damage in the body. If you increase intake of Omega-3 fatty oils, these oils encourage the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.
3. IV Colchizine blocks the leukotreine-induced inflammation in the tissue. Great care must be used in its administration, for if it is injected into tissue and not the bloodstream, it will cause significant tissue breakdown at the injection site. This treatment should be done only under the supervision of a trained physician.
4. DMSO, which is a precursor to MSM, acts as an anti-inflammatory and reduces damage to the tissue after a toxic exposure. DMSO is usually found in a cream or gel, and its aroma can be slightly offensive. MSM has no odor. Neither MSM nor DMSO has any gastrointestinal side effects, which tend to be a concern with all anti-inflammatory medications.
5. Frequency Specific Microcurrent (FSM) machines are extremely effective in reducing inflammation and pain. The amperage in these microcurrent machines falls in the millionths of amps range, so the current is very small. TENS units are typically in the thousandths of amps. Both the TENS units and the Microcurrent machines have been cleared by the FDA for use in pain. Studies done with FSM machines show reductions in four inflammatory markers: IL-1, IL-6, TNF-alpha, and substance P, to a greater extent than any anti-inflammatory medication available. [i] A corresponding reduction in pain, based on the VAS pain score, was also noted. ATP production (which is the energy currency of the body) was increased four times in the tissue receiving the current.
6. Last–but this probably should be listed first–is exploring what emotional conditions may have triggered the pain reaction In the first place. Pain is an expression of discomfort, which usually begins in the emotional arena. Look carefully at your emotional state at the time the pain surfaced, or just before it manifested. Sometimes you can identify the stresses, heartaches, and emotional trauma and begin the healing process through recognizing and addressing these personal issues.

Because pain and inflammation are caused by many different sources, this is merely a starting point for recognizing and treating other specific pain patterns.

About the Author

Stan M. Gardner, M.D. is certified nutrition specialist (CNS). He writes and lectures extensively on the subject of preventive medicine and natural means of healing. With over 15 years experience in the integrative field of medicine, he is a popular speaker and provides interesting perspectives on healthy alternatives to drugs and surgery. For more information visit stangardnermd.com.

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