Friday, December 19, 2014

From Pain To Equilibrium: The Matter of Inflammation

My discourse about chronic pain is focused on the myofascial kind - one wherein, essentially, the brain/body equilibrium erodes (for any number of reasons). The net result is a scenario in which the brain sends messages, interpreted as pain, by the nerves in connective tissue (or the muscles which that connective tissue surrounds and lives within). I've got lots more to say about this, but let's leave it for the post about body work...

Point is, there are different philosophies about why pain exists and from whence it originates. Interestingly, the one which focuses on neuromuscular disequilibrium can be applied to many disorders and conditions - from specific muscular spasm to rheumatoid arthritis and beyond. As this is the philosophy that resonates for me, having done a broad amount of research, it's the framework on which I will harp from here on in.

One of the premises of this sort of disequilibrium is that the body suffering with chronic pain is also suffering from chronic inflammation. Such inflammation may exist within specific organs (including the skin) or within the matrix of connective tissue which lines every part of your body and connects it to every other part. Inflamed connective tissue is often damaged structurally, which predisposes it to scar (the connective tissue fibres having been directionally reconfigured).

Inflammation may be a specific source of the pain or a symptom of it. Either way, it isn't good. Y'all know it's associated with the development of free radicals... And since we are what we eat, there's really no ignoring it.

I'm not going to lie to you. I do not believe in restrictive eating-habits. I strongly assert that eating and drinking are two of the most pleasurable and sustaining experiences in life, something we must do multiple times a day our whole lives long, and the idea of trashing entire categories of pleasure just seems wrong to me. Having said this, I'm not known for self-restraint - and I can only speak for myself. There are some people who can give up everything but quinoa and organic chicken breast and they feel great - so good for them.

I've opted to explore this potential minefield with uncharacteristic moderation. Here are the dietary steps I've taken to reduce inflammation*:

  • Drink Less Alcohol: I've drastically cut down on the wine. You'd think this would be depressing but, in truth, I can't bring myself to drink happily knowing that it could be directly contributing to pain. Sure, life seems a little bit less beautiful without a glass of wine at mealtimes, but I'm trying to pick up the slack with really delicious tea. (Note to reader: It doesn't entirely work.) I don't drink alcohol from Sunday to Thursday and I limit my drinking on Friday and Saturday. No half-bottles of wine for me, these days. Sigh.
  • Drink More Water: Damaged connective tissue is usually dehydrated connective tissue. (This is one of the ways in which adhesions - or muscular scar tissue - become entrenched). Thing is, this damaged, dehydrated connective tissue doesn't just plump up the minute you start drinking water because it's messed up. Its fibres don't run in the pattern of smooth alignment seen in healthy tissues so adhesions resist hydration. To ameliorate this, there's a theory that one must work the damaged tissue manually (subject of another post) in order to break up scarring and to restore the tissue fibre alignment. Additionally, one should drink small amounts of water frequently (not large amounts irregularly), which can be uptaken by the tissue as adhesions heal and mobility is restored. The good news: There are about a zillion really excellent herbal teas and caffeinated you can drink to accomplish this goal, many of which taste lovely and are even known for reducing inflammation. Get this gizmo and you're set. Double score, I say.
  • Take Anti-inflammatory Supplements: OK, this is a tailored process, but there are some supplements that are known for decreasing inflammation across the board. One of those is fish oil capsules. Another, and this is specifically good for muscular pain, is magnesium. I prefer magnesium glycinate because it's amongst the most absorbable forms of this mineral. It's also one of the more expensive, alas. If your stomach doesn't like magnesium to begin with, you'll have to work up to an optimal dose. I take zillions of supplements a day, many of which are good for inflammation, but these are probably the most universally helpful (along with vitamin C and vitamin D, of course, but everyone takes these, right?).
  • Eat Anti-inflammatory Foods: There are a zillion places to go for this info, but I'll plug 2 things that are pretty easy to incorporate into one's diet: blueberries and turmeric. Just buy frozen wild blueberries from the supermarket, put them into a bowl with a bit of heavy cream (it'll kind of freeze on top of them), throw in a splash of vanilla extract and you've basically got healthy ice cream. Make sure the berries are wild. Cultivated berries are less healthy and they taste like perfume. Turmeric can be sprinkled on anything, with very little effort, and its anti-inflammation properties are widely lauded. 
  • Eat Gluten Sparingly: Nothing drives me more nuts than going out for dinner with the gluten-free peeps. (Well, the vegetarians are pretty sad-sack, but at least they eat pasta.) But gluten - even in my vastly omnivorous experience - can lead to inflammation rather directly, especially if one is already struggling with inflammation in other areas. Sure, I eat it, but I eat it sparingly - and I do so in the least processed fashion I can manage. This isn't because I cannot tolerate it, but because it contributes to observable inflammation in fairly short order.
  • Stop Eating Sugar (And Processed Foods, while you're at it...): I'm totally unapologetic in this addiction. I will not give up sugar. What I will do - and have done - is cut way back. Don't fear, I still eat more sugar than your average health nut, but over the past few years I've been much more conscious about how, why and when I eat the sweet. (Y'all know alcohol is just sugar in delicious drinkable form.) Processed food is truly hideous. What's worse is that it actually tastes bad on top of everything else. I don't care if you've never felt a twinge of pain, stop eating crap. It's too easy to find unprocessed, decadent yummies to waste your time on the stuff that'll corrode your insides.

So there you go. This info isn't ground-breaking but it's widely-accepted nutritional advice and these habits are all pretty easy to cultivate - with the exception of not eating a lot of sugar. None of these things is overly expensive, though the supplements do add up over time and you really can spend a small fortune on tea. I like to think of all the money I'm saving on booze...

Today's questions: Thoughts or feelings on any of these suggestions? Do you have any additional tips to add? I wanna know!

*Note that I have undertaken these steps on the advice of a medical professional and after having researched a variety of options. Anyone looking to control chronic pain via any means - but especially with diet and supplements - should most definitely get an expert opinion.

1 comment:

  1. Turmeric! Sprinkle 1/2 t on something you are eating or take a supplement. Has been life-changing for me dealing with inflammation.