The Origins of Pain
Pain can be a warning sign by your 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.
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 pain syndromes, ensues.
Inflammation Starts in the Gut
So where does inflammation start? Believe it or not, the majority of inflammation and disease start in the gastrointestinal tract where approximately 70% of your immune system is housed. The cells that line the small intestine are very important for both absorption of nutrients and keeping harmful substances from reaching your bloodstream. In between these cells tight junctions are found 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.
Reducing Inflammation Through Diet
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 inflammation and/or pain. By avoiding these foods, on an elimination diet, 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. At Conscious Human Medicine, we often have patients avoid the “five big guns.” These include sugar, dairy, wheat gluten, corn and soy. We know, these are all the good things! However, these are the foods that most often cause inflammation in your body. We have had amazing success in helping people get out of pain by following an anti-inflammatory diet and eliminating the foods that they are sensitive to. 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 pain syndromes can be reversed by making permanent long-lasting dietary modifications. Remember, however, that your pain did not begin overnight, instead accumulating over time, thus it may take some time to resolve it as well.