Everyone experiences physical pain at some point in their lives – it’s inevitable. However, the long-term ramifications can be crippling to pain sufferers. We miss days, months or even years of work – losing out on time in our most productive years of employment. We also miss out on time we could be spending exercising, enjoying the hobbies that we love or family activities. Where exactly does pain come from and why do we have to suffer in the first place?
What is Pain?
Pain is a warning sign by your body that there is something wrong in the body. It’s like the little yellow light that comes on in your car when you need fuel or when it’s time for an oil change. Your body is trying to tell you something – it’s a matter of whether you pay attention to the signals it’s giving you. Would you continue to drive around in your car when your fuel light is flashing at you? Of course not! You’d get yourself to the nearest gas station and refuel before you are broken down on the side of the highway. Unfortunately, we too can end up broken down, incapacitated by our failure to pay attention to the warning signs.
Immune System in the Development of Disease
Inflammation is the precursor to the development of pain, or almost all diseases. Inflammation is a process where your immune system is activated to help protect your body from damage caused by viruses, bacteria, yeast, chemicals and even food. Inflammation is designed to be helpful to your body. However, with repeated exposure to these noxious agents, more inflammation can build in your body. Eventually, your immune system becomes overrun and disease, including painful syndromes, ensues.
The Gastrointestinal Tract is Important in the Progression of Pain
So where does inflammation start? Believe it or not, the majority of inflammation and disease starts in the gastrointestinal tract and approximately 70% of your immune system is housed there. The cells that line the small intestine, where the majority of the gastrointestinal immune system is located, are very important for both absorption of nutrients and keeping harmful substances from reaching your bloodstream. In between these cells are found tight junctions that act as a selective barrier to allow certain things to cross into the bloodstream (like vitamins and minerals) and prevent others (like large food proteins). Every ounce of food that passes through your gastrointestinal tract has the potential to reach the bloodstream. It is estimated that the average person consumes 60 tons of food in their lifetime!
A number of factors can cause damage to tight junctions and cause food particles to leach into the bloodstream. These include age, medications (like antibiotics and NSAID’s), stress, trauma, alcohol and inflammatory food proteins. By minimizing your exposure to these substances, you can keep the health of your gastrointestinal immune system intact and prevent the inflammatory response from occurring. However, when food proteins enter the bloodstream this alerts your immune system that there is a foreign substance there and causes the beginning of the inflammatory response.
Natural Strategies for Reducing Pain
One great way to help reverse inflammation and decrease your pain is to identify specific food proteins that may be the cause of your problems. This is often done using a food sensitivity test. During this type of test, one vial of blood is taken and sent off to a specialized lab. These labs test your blood against different food particles and are able to tell which foods your immune system has seen the most in your bloodstream. The stronger the reaction, the more likely a particular food is the culprit leading to your pain. By avoiding these foods, you can begin to decrease the inflammation in your body and start to get out of pain faster.
Another great way to decrease pain is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet. In my clinical practice, I have my patients avoid the “six big guns.” These include sugar, dairy, wheat gluten, corn, soy and eggs. I know, I know, these are all the good things! However, these are the foods that most often cause inflammation in the body. I have had amazing success in helping people get out of pain by having them follow anti-inflammatory diets and also by having them adhere to specific food sensitivity avoidance. Usually within just 2 weeks, people following elimination diets report that they feel less inflamed and have reduced pain. By eliminating reactive or inflammatory foods, people also can experience increased energy, better sleep, more mental clarity and better bowel movements.
If you are in pain, first you must identify what is causing your inflammation to begin with. In about 70-80% of cases, poor nutrition and immune dysfunction are at the core of the problem. The good news is that painful syndromes are reversible by making permanent long-lasting dietary modifications. Remember, however, that your pain did not begin overnight, instead accumulating over years and years, and may take some time to resolve com