Without a doubt, pain is at the top of the list when it comes to distressing health conditions. And the trouble is, it is exceptionally common – pain is one of the main reasons people seek medical care, with 1 in 5 GP appointments involving chronic pain. Often the only options to manage pain are either harsh medications (that unfortunately come with a whole host of side effects), or surgery that may not completely resolve the pain. And poorly managed pain can greatly affect one’s quality of life.
What Is Your Pain Telling You?
Pain is always a signal that our body is trying to send us that things aren’t right. And listening to the clues can help guide us to the best way to naturally support the underlying cause of the pain. I’ve known my share of pain – for years I suffered from debilitating pain from endometriosis. And for me, my pain did not diminish until I addressed the underlying reasons why my pain was occurring.
Types of Pain
It is important to keep in mind that pain performs an important physiological process – when we suffer pain as a result of an injury or infection, the pain that we notice is usually a result of inflammation – an irritation in the body which actually forms an important step in the healing process. This type of pain tends to be the hallmark of conditions such as arthritis, period pain, endometriosis, autoimmune conditions (such as lupus) and the oh-so-common back pain.
The other type of pain that can occur is pain that involves the nerves – such as sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia (although there are other factors at work in this condition), and nerve pain suffered by diabetics (neuropathy). Sometimes, our nerves are the part of our body that becomes inflamed, and this can trigger a cascade of pain signals to your brain – even though there really isn’t anything ‘wrong’ with the area where you feel the pain. This type of pain can be particularly difficult to find effective relief from.
The Trouble With Painkillers
Whilst painkillers are usually the first-line medical option for managing pain, there are a few things to keep in mind….
- First, they are not without side effects. Most painkillers are harsh on the gut, which we know can have a flow-on effect to other areas of your health. In fact, the gut plays a role in managing inflammation within the body, so it makes sense to keep it as happy as possible. In the case of strong prescription painkillers, the risk of side effects increase markedly.
- Second, as I mentioned earlier, the inflammatory process is a vital part of healing. It is important to recognize that our body can perform this process in a healthy way (where the inflammation leads to healing and resolution of the issue), or in an unhealthy way (the body gets stuck in a permanently inflamed, painful state). Many painkillers interrupt the healthy type of inflammation – effectively keeping the body from fully healing, and thereby perpetuating the pain. This unhealthy inflammatory pattern also occur more often as we age, and if we suffer from conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity or high cholesterol.1
Natural Options for Pain Relief
Thankfully, there are some gentle and safe options for relieving pain – and most importantly, that in many cases are capable of addressing the underlying causes of pain.
- Magnesium can be a simple supplement to use for effective pain relief. Magnesium is an anti-inflammatory nutrient, plus it also supports the nervous system, so you get the best of both worlds. Clinically, I have noticed that many cases of pain (such as headaches or unexplained muscle pain) significantly diminish or even disappear entirely once we start supplementing with the right form and dosage of magnesium.
- Fish oils contain 2 active constituents (the omega-3 fatty acids EPA & DHA) that are effective at reducing inflammation – and most of us don’t get enough of them. When we have enough of these in our body, they help to keep the pro-inflammatory fatty acids (such as those that we find in processed foods) under control so that they are not wreaking havoc. Thankfully, we now have a simple test to check on your levels of healthy Omega 3's, and we can also determine your ideal number of fish meals you need to eat per week, or the right number of fish oil capsules you should take to meet your unique needs.
- Pay attention to what you are eating. Too many processed, packaged foods can contribute to inflammation in the body, which can drive pain. Aim for plenty of fresh whole foods, and limit foods that are high in sugar, refined oils (such as vegetable or soybean oil) and alcohol.
- Look after your gut health. We now know that so much comes back to the gut – and to a certain degree that includes pain! Poor gut health can be a driver of low-grade inflammation within the body. Fibromyalgia, an enigmatic condition that has proved difficult for western medicine to treat, has recently been discovered to be linked to an unhealthy microbiome (collection of gut bacteria).2
- Some herbal medicines possess anti-inflammatory properties. The best-known of these of course is turmeric, however there are many other herbs that may be helpful. One of the things I love about herbs is that they have the potential to work together synergistically – meaning that they complement each other for an overall greater therapeutic effect.
Some Amazing New Developments
When it comes to natural medicine, there is always some new discoveries that have been made, or different ways our current herbs or nutrients can be used. Here are just a couple of the new developments that I have recently come across…
- SPMs (Specialised Pro-Resolving Mediators). These are a type of fatty acid that is derived from fish oils, but they possess unique benefits to helping shift the body out of a ‘stuck’ state and into a healthy, healing state. These can be particularly useful for people who have chronic, unresolved pain and inflammation.
- PEA (Palmitoylethanolamide) is a compound known as a ‘cannabimimetic’ meaning that it possesses properties similar to cannabis. No, this doesn’t mean it will get you high, it just means that it acts on similar pathways in the brain in regards to how your body perceives pain. With all the legal hullaballoo over medical marijuana and CBD oil, PEA can potentially be a safe and viable option. PEA is particularly beneficial for cases of neuropathic pain – pain that originates from inflammation of the nerves. It has been clinically studied and shown benefit for conditions such as osteoarthritis, shingles, peripheral neuropathy, lower back pain, fibromyalgia, depression, autism as well as cold and flu.