A diet high in sugar has never been advocated by any nutritionist or physician. Diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and as a result of these nerve damage, heart disease, and more can ensue. But what clinicians never knew before is that too much sugar can also lead to a low level of chronic inflammation, which can make chronic pain worse. Those who have joint pain such as osteoarthritis will find that a high level of glucose increases the pain associated with their condition according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. One-third of adults over 65 suffer from osteoarthritis. Those with this or another form of arthritis should do anything they can to avoid inflammation within the body, including limiting their sugar consumption. Obesity is another aspect. It puts extra weight on the joints, which in turn causes more pain. In fact, just losing a few pounds can make a significant difference in how much pain you feel.
Excessive sugar intake was also linked to other maladies. In a study published in the journal Neuroscience too much sugar was linked with decreased brain function by lowering the presence of a substance called, “brain-derived neurotrophic factor.” Another study published in JAMA found too much sugar decreased the function of the heart muscle. This can cause heart failure in extreme cases. Other health problems linked with a diet high in sugar include fatty liver disease, kidney disease, prematurely aged skin, and even erectile dysfunction. Experts say to gradually lower the amount of sugar you consume. Cut down on the number of sweets you eat each week. Try putting one less teaspoon or even a half less teaspoon in your morning coffee. Over time, you will get used to the taste, and won’t even miss the extra sugar. Replace sugary drinks with sugar free alternatives. Instead of buying soda for instance, try iced tea without sugar and add just a little of your own. Replace unhealthy snacks with fruit, raw veggies, or humus and baked pita chips. If you suffer from chronic pain talk to a doctor or specialist to see what other changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle, and what additional therapies may provide you with relief.
Acute pain is the short-term variety usually acquired after an accident, infection, or surgery. But chronic pain is generally the kind that accompanies a certain condition such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, the kind that pop up periodically such as migraines, or the kind that languishes even after an injury or wounds from surgery have healed. Usually there are different therapies your doctor will put you through some pharmacological such as painkillers, others non-pharmacological such as physical therapy, TENS, lifestyle changes, and more. But there are things you can do personally to help manage chronic pain. First, find out what your triggers are. Is it a certain kind of weather? Do you feel worse when you eat certain foods? Once you know them, learn how to avoid them. Our emotional state either dampen or increase pain. Many chronic pain sufferers struggle with anxiety or depression. Manage these conditions and it will help relieve your pain. Try talk therapy, journaling, anger management, meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and more.
Keep a pain journal. This is not only a great outlet for negative emotions, it can help reveal patterns about your pain that perhaps were not evident before. Rate your pain three times per day. Use a zero to 10 scale. Also, jot down how you are feeling at that time. Patterns may emerge that can help you manage your pain. Focus on the parts of your body that are not in pain. Find helpful ways to distract yourself. An engrossing activity or a long chat with a friend can help. Don’t let the pain overwhelm you. Take an active approach to soothe yourself. If you suffer from chronic pain and you haven’t seen a doctor, reach out to a physician or specialist in your area. The longer you ignore it, the more entrenched it will become. If your pain is not being properly managed, get a second opinion or find a specialist to get it under control, so you can start living the life you want.
Chronic pain is not just a signal sent from an area to the brain. It actually changes the brain chemistry itself, along with other biological changes. But mind-body practices such as meditation and yoga can halt or even reverse these changes. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made this discovery. M. Catherine Bushnell, PhD is the scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the NIH. She said yoga and other such practices decreased the depression and anxiety associated with chronic pain, and halted or reversed the cognitive deficits such pain often causes. Mouse and human brain scanning tests have shown negative changes associated with gray matter and white matter due to persistent pain. Depression is common in chronic pain cases. The two share the same brain pathway. Depression reduces the volume of gray matter, which in turn further causes the person’s decline.
The loss of volume occurs in two areas of the brain, the cerebral cortex and subcortical regions. Though it depends on where in the brain it takes place, such volume loss can lead to memory loss, cognitive issues, and emotional problems–such as mood disorders anxiety or depression. But Bushnell says their research proves that mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga can counteract these effects. Yoga practitioners were shown to have more gray matter in the aforementioned regions of the brain than those who did not. This suggests that with the ongoing practice of yoga, gray matter increases. Some evidence suggests that the longer yoga is practiced, the more gray matter one builds up in the brain. Another development, ongoing yoga practice may increase the size of the gray matter in the insula, a part of the cerebral cortex. By doing so, it could boost a person’s pain tolerance. If you have chronic pain seek out a doctor or specialist. Or get a second opinion or a referral if your doctor cannot properly treat your condition. Also ask about alternative practices too such as yoga, and see if it may help you.
There are lots of conditions that lead to nerve damage such as diabetes, trauma due to an injury, HIV, cancer, and more. Phantom limb syndrome is one type of neuropathy. But once one has nerve pain, it is difficult to ignore. Burning, tingling, numbness, or shooting pains may result. Neuropathic pain is increased due to inflammation. Though most sufferers do not feel like exercising, one study published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, found that exercise decreased inflammation causing factors in the system, and so helped relieve nerve pain. Researchers at the China Medical University in Taiwan, led by Yu-Wen Chen, PhD conducted the study. Researchers used rats with a sciatic nerve injury as test subjects. After sustaining this injury, the rats were given a progressive exercise regime, either swimming or treadmill running. At specific intervals throughout the course of the study, researchers measured pain by observing measurable behaviors associated with it.
Cytokines are inflammation promoting substances within the body. Previous studies have shown that cytokines play a role in inflammation and neuropathic pain. But researchers found a significant drop in pain-related behaviors in rats with nerve damage due to the exercise program. Exercise led to the promotion of heat shock protein-27 which in turn reduced cytokine expression. Common treatments for neuropathic pain are antiepileptic medication and antidepressants. Though helpful, these can cause undesirable side effects. Exercise is often prescribed as part of a pain management plan. But past research has conflicted as to whether it is helpful or harmful for neuropathic pain. Though it did not eliminate pain completely, the exercise regimen reduced pain-related responses by an impressive 30-50%. The study also quantified what role inflammation plays in the development of nerve pain. These results may have doctors recommending exercise and even lower medication doses in order to reduce side effects, while still offering substantial relief. If you suffer from neuropathic pain, be sure to talk to a doctor or specialist and see what exercise regimen and other treatments are available to you.
Osteoporosis is a serious, debilitating, and common condition. Currently, 44 million Americans are at risk. Though we often consider the impact it has on the female population, it’s common among men too. Most people don’t even think about it, unless it runs in their family. But anyone at any age should consider their bone health and work to keep the skeletal system in good shape. Those who have a family or personal history of the condition or have osteopenia—low calcium in the bones, should take extra care, as they are at high-risk. Osteopenia is considered a preliminary stage of osteoporosis. Here, the risk of fractures runs high. This is a really good time to concentrate on prevention. There are several complex processes which play a vital role in bone health or deterioration. For women, estrogen deficiency often contributes to the weakening of the skeletal system.
To help improve bone health, bone strengthening exercises and practices should be incorporated into one’s weekly routine. Eating a diet rich in vitamin D and calcium, and with supplements if your doctor thinks it’s a good idea, are some important steps. Strength training and weight bearing exercises are also important. This helps build up bone mass and maintain it. Swimming and bicycling, while good for the heart, won’t do anything for the bones. Weight lifting, walking, or jogging especially in places with hills, and other such strenuous exercises, will do the trick. Believe it or not, the best preventative exercise starts before age 25. At this point, the skeleton is still developing. But healthy choices can become a part of your lifestyle at any age. From age 50 and beyond, concerning one’s self with bone health becomes more critical. Those at risk should be sure not to smoke or drink excessively. In women, smoking lowers the level of estrogen in the bloodstream, making it less available to the bones. If osteoporosis runs in your family, you’ve recently had a fracture, or if you are merely concerned over bone health, talk to a doctor. You can have your bone density checked, and see where you are at, and what needs to be done to safeguard your bone health.
Antidepressants are seeing a boon, and not for the reason you think. These medications are being prescribed to help with a whole host of illnesses. A Canadian study recently uncovered that such drugs are only prescribed for depression 50% of the time. Other conditions they are prescribed for include chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, fibromyalgia, and migraines. These are considered “off-label” uses. Though these drugs are approved in the U.S. and Canada, they are not approved for such uses. Senior author Robyn Tamblyn says this trend is worrisome, as we have no idea how the drugs interact with a condition like say, fibromyalgia. Tamblyn is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at McGill University in Montreal. She says that these doctors may be prescribing blind. In the U.S. between the years of 1988-1994 and 2005-2008, prescriptions for antidepressants increased 400%. Today 11% of adults and teens are on these medications, according to the CDC.
To conduct this study, Tamblyn and colleagues gathered medical records from primary care doctors in Quebec between 2006 and 2015. 102,000 prescriptions for antidepressants were written in that timeframe, to almost 120,000 patients, by 158 physicians. Only 55% of these prescriptions were for depression. 18.5% were for anxiety, 10% for insomnia, six percent for chronic pain, and four percent for panic disorders. In many instances, antidepressants were prescribed even if they hadn’t been approved for treatment for that particular disorder. Some experts believe this class of drugs has wider therapeutic uses. But study authors say it may have more to do with the culture surrounding doctors, who often prescribe a medication if they see a colleague doing so, than hard data that these medicines actually work for such conditions. More studies will have to be conducted to determine whether or not antidepressants can treat a wider range of illnesses, or if in fact off-label prescriptions are ineffective. Are you using an off-label medication? Is it helping? If you have a condition your doctor doesn’t seem to know how to treat, get a second opinion. Contact a different doctor and see if you can get better results.
Osteoarthritis is typified by inflammation of the joint, tenderness, stiffness, and pain. This is the leading cause of long-term disability among U.S. adults. It also causes a lot of emotional and psychological distress. For lots of arthritis sufferers, drugs and physical therapy prove minimally effective. That’s why a lot of patients are looking at alternative therapies for both physical and emotional relief. Some are reportedly finding it in Tai chi. According to the CDC, this ancient Chinese practice of balance, strength, and centering one’s self and one’s mind is a great alternative to physical therapy. Researchers say the practice may be particularly beneficial for overweight or obese adults. Those who carry extra weight are at higher risk of osteoarthritis which technically is a wearing away of the cartilage cap in the knee. This protects the bone from friction. The obese suffer from osteoarthritis more often, but sometimes find limited options for therapies. The study also showed less depression among tai chi practitioners. 200 osteoarthritis sufferers with a median age of 60 took part in this study. The majority were overweight or obese, and the average had osteoarthritis for at least eight years.
The study lasted for twelve weeks. Half of the participants took part in standard physical therapy for that time, and the other half took tai chi classes. Throughout the study, patients were allowed to take any of their regular medications including anti-inflammatory drugs and over-the-counter pain relievers. Participants were evaluated at the onset, after 12 weeks and a year on. Both groups saw improvements in pain reduction and prevention, and a boost in physical capability lasting up to 12 months. But there were added bonuses for tai chi practitioners. They had less depression, anxiety, and stress. They also had better sleep. Though physical therapy addresses the issues of the body, tai chi has a meditative component which helps to alleviate or lessen the emotional impact of the condition. Lowering stress, anxiety, and depression, and getting better sleep also leads to less pain. If you are experiencing osteoarthritis, be sure to see a pain management specialist, and find out what options you have in getting it under control. Tai chi might just be one part of your pain management plan.
Obesity increases one’s risk of diabetes, some forms of cancer, and heart disease. It can also wear out the joints. In fact, joint replacement surgery is common in those who are significantly overweight or obese. Losing just one pound cantake four pounds of pressure off of the knees for instance—the most common joint replaced in these cases, as well as preventing other serious illnesses from occurring. But sometimes it is very difficult for these patients to lose weight. According to two new studies conducted by the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), bariatric surgery was cost-effective and helped prevent complications in hip and knee replacement cases. Orthopedic surgeon and lead author on this study Emily Dodwell, MD, said that up to 50% of hip replacements in some hospitals are performed on the obese. Besides the frequency of this condition leading to the prevalence of such surgery, obesity can lead to higher costs, higher failure rates, a higher chance of revision surgery, and longer stays in the hospital.
Previously, the impact of bariatric surgery on joint replacement for the morbidly obese was unknown. Researchers wanted to know if it lowered the risk of complications as well as financial costs. To conduct the study, researcher employed a specific software program to compare the costs of those who were morbidly obese and had a knee or hip replacement for osteoarthritis, versus those who underwent bariatric surgery first and had a hip or knee replacement two years later. All participants had a BMI of 40 or greater, or a MBI of 35 and at least one significant health problem. The normal range for BMI is 18.5 to 24.9. One third of patients had bariatric surgery and lost weight prior to joint surgery. Researchers concluded that significant costs in terms of the patient’s health and financial costs were saved due to bariatric surgery. Unfortunately, for some patients weight loss surgery is not covered. In other instances, those patients who have significant hip or knee pain cannot wait to have bariatric surgery and recover. But for those patients where it is plausible and cost-effective, bariatric surgery is a good option previous to joint replacement. If you have significant pain in your joints or anywhere else, be sure to see a doctor or specialist and find out what treatments and therapies are right for you.
Dopamine is the feel good neurotransmitter in the brain. It gives us a sense of happiness, euphoria, and accomplishment. A great meal, an orgasm, a prestigious award, and drugs and alcohol all release dopamine. It is associated with cognition as well as motivation and reward. But now neurologists have discovered that it plays a central role in the development of chronic pain as well. Researchers at The University of Texas, Dallas made this discovery. Their results were published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Investigators began by observing the pain impulses traveling from the site of pain through the spinal cord to the brain. Next they found that chronic pain was diminished when these scientists removed A11 neurons from the brain, those which contain dopamine. By coming to realize dopamine’s role, researchers believe they may be able to fashion medicines that could target these neurons or suppress dopamine production, and thus relieve chronic pain.
One of the reasons the phenomenon of chronic pain has been so hard to isolate is because no specific pain center exists in the brain to register it. Instead pain signals travel from the area it comes from up the spinal cord, and when they reach the brain they are distributed evenly throughout. For those with chronic pain, the signal is stuck in the on position, even without a specific injury to treat. Since there is no single brain center involved, innovative strategies to combat chronic pain have been slow in coming. Now this discovery involving A11 neurons may hold potential secrets which will lead to the next generation of chronic pain therapies. Though A11 neurons aren’t involved with acute pain, they have a profound influence on chronic pain. By targeting these neurons in the experiment, scientists were able to reverse chronic pain for good. Future studies will focus on how stress interacts with these neurons, and what mechanisms cause the release of dopamine in terms of chronic pain.
If you have chronic back pain and are a smoker, researchers at Northwestern University have a message for you, quit. Not only does tobacco use increase back pain, it also increases the chances of it developing into a debilitating condition, neurologists found. They also discovered that smokers are three times more likely to experience chronic back pain. Investigators at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, led by technical scientist Bogdan Petre completed the study, which was published in the journal Human Brain Mapping. Petre said that smoking affects the brain, making it more sensitive to back pain. He and his team also found that chemicals from cigarette smoke interact with the reward center of the brain. This is the first time science has ever made the connection. This was a long-term study with 160 participants. Each was given an MRI at five different instances over the course of one year. This was to gauge their back pain over time. They were also given a questionnaire to fill out asking them about their smoking habits and other lifestyle choices.
The group of participants included 35 healthy controls and 32 people who experienced back pain. Two areas of the brain were examined in each subject the nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex. These regions are involved with motivation, learning, and addictive behavior. The scientists discovered that these same regions are activated when chronic pain is present. Both of these areas send signals back and forth when this occurs, communicating with each other. The strength of the signal determines who will develop chronic pain and who won’t. Researchers say that the part of the brain responsible for learning and motivation allows tobacco chemicals to interact with the pain center, causing a greater link between one’s addiction and one’s pain. The connection is strong in smokers. But the good news is that those who quit decrease their sensitivity to chronic pain dramatically. Anti-inflammatory drugs did help manage pain but it did not stop the signal exchange between these two brain regions. Researchers believe that if doctors in addition to treating chronic back pain, provide lifestyle interventions such as quitting smoking, patients would find more relief. If you suffer from back pain talk to a doctor or specialist and see what therapies, medications, lifestyle changes, and treatments can help you manage it.