When it comes to pain, I consider myself an expert. But I have a unique perspective. For more than three decades I have raced more than 300 endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 103 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. Truth be told, I have experienced more pain than most.
Everyone experiences occasional aches and pains. In fact, sudden pain is an important reaction of the nervous system that helps alert you to possible injury. When an injury occurs, pain signals travel from the injured area up your spinal cord and to your brain.
Pain will obviously subside as the injury heals. However, chronic pain is different from typical pain. With chronic pain, your body continues to send pain signals to your brain, even after an injury heals. This can last several weeks to years. Chronic pain can limit your mobility and reduce your flexibility, strength and endurance. This may make it challenging to get through daily tasks and activities.
Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts at least 12 weeks. The pain may feel sharp or dull, causing a burning or aching sensation in the affected areas. It may be steady or intermittent, coming and going without any apparent reason. Chronic pain can occur in nearly any part of your body. The pain can feel different in the various affected areas.
Some of the most common types of chronic pain include:
• post-surgical pain
• post-trauma pain
• lower back pain
• cancer pain
• arthritis pain
• neurogenic pain (pain caused by nerve damage).
According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 1.5 billion people around the world have chronic pain. It’s the most common cause of long-term disability in the United States, affecting about 100 million Americans.
Further, according to a 2012 analysis by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, more than 25 million American adults—about 11.2 percent—reported having pain every day for the previous three months. Researchers said the same data suggests that more than 23 million Americans felt "a lot" of pain in the preceding months, and more than 126 million—or more than half of all U.S. adults—reported experiencing some sort of pain during the same period.
The analysis, published in the Journal of Pain, is based on data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, an annual survey that asks thousands of Americans about their health- and illness-related experiences. The survey asked people about the frequency and intensity of pain they had experienced during the prior three months.
The prevalence of chronic pain in America also lies at the root of an ongoing epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. Since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled.
The CDC estimates that roughly 44 people die each day in the United States as a result of prescription opioid overdose. In 2013, drug overdoses caused more deaths than motor vehicle crashes, according to the agency.
Pain and Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s immune response to toxins as it works to “purify” itself. The resulting inflammation not only causes pain in the body. Over time, it also can trigger chronic diseases, such as heart disease and strokes, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even depression.
There are many ways to treat and manage chronic pain. One of the best approaches, because it is all natural, is adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. An anti-inflammatory diet often eliminates the unpleasant side effects of some medications that cause fogginess, memory loss and sleepiness.
An anti-inflammatory diet is considered an integrative approach to pain management, along with exercise, stress management, and other factors.
Research also suggests that an anti-inflammatory diet can ease fibromyalgia and chronic pain symptoms. And one area that is often overlooked is the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
The Omega-6 and Omega-3 Balance
Many of us were raised to believe that vegetable oils (where most omega-6 fats come from), are supposed to be healthy. However, upon closer examination, “heart-healthy” oils, such as soybean, safflower, sunflower and corn have high omega-6 and low omega-3 fat profiles—as much as 200:1!
Furthermore, even people that make every effort to avoid processed foods, fast foods or are even a vegetarian can still have a staggering level of omega-6 fat intake. Did you know that many foods found in health food stores are coated with a layer of cheap vegetable oil that enhances taste and texture? Healthy foods, such as nuts, are often coated with this vegetable oil.
If neglected, the imbalance between these two omega fats can promote chronic inflammation, which can lead to inflammatory diseases.
In fact, studies indicate that a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids disrupts the balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory agents in the body, which promotes chronic inflammation. Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids utilize the same enzymes and transport systems to produce biochemicals in the body. When there is an excess of omega-6 fats, increased inflammatory compounds are created. When this happens, there are not enough enzymes available for omega-3 fats to create chemicals that are anti-inflammatory. Moreover, high levels of omega-6 fatty acids can actually replace and reduce omega-3 fats and their benefits.
Simply put, omega-6 and omega-3 fats compete with one another in the body. The presence of one greatly impacts the other. That said, omega-6 fatty acids do play a role in good health. The key takeaway is that when there is an imbalance, the excess omega-6s will diminish the omega-3 benefits. Suppliers and marketers have to understand this and educate their customers.
Antioxidant-rich Foods and Dietary Supplements Fight Free Radicals
Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that can damage the cells of your body and create and contribute to chronic inflammation. Antioxidants are able to neutralize these free radicals to reduce inflammation. Antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E as well as the colorful pigments that are found in fruits and vegetables.
The importance of cellular renewal and minimizing the damage done to cells over time cannot be understated. This is the key to minimizing inflammation and pain, which is essential for a quality life and a long and vital existence. We all struggle with inflammation and pain. Why? Studies have linked oxidative stress to chronic inflammation. Simply stated, oxidation occurs when the body produces by-products more commonly known as free radicals. The result is something akin to a machine rusting. And when this rusting is applied to humans (and not iron), it results in inflammation, pain, aging and disease.
Our bodies normally make free radicals as part of our daily metabolism. And they occur as a result of food and environmental pollutions from everyday things like air, water and sun. As we age, we become more susceptible to the long-term effects of oxidative stress (or too many free radicals) and inflammation on the cellular level.
The process of oxidation is abundant and can actually help the body work properly. But this very same process can also cause harm. The oxidizing process creates free radicals, which are electrically charged molecules. These free radicals interact with cells to create both good and bad results. For example, the immune system uses free radicals to help fight infection. However, when oxidized, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) can be produced, resulting in inflammation and pain.
Oxidative stress is when the free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defense system causing cell damage and inflammation. As previously mentioned, free radicals have useful functions in the body, but are extremely unstable molecules. If left uncontrolled, they will destroy cells, enzymes and DNA, and ultimately cause inflammation. Moreover, free radicals can also contribute to the development of many chronic inflammatory diseases including arthritis, heart disease and even cancer.
Inflammation is caused by free radical damage. And the negative effects of free radicals are due to oxidation. How can this be addressed in a nutritional regimen? Antioxidant-rich foods play a major role in combatting oxidative stress and can minimize the damage and pain free radicals cause in the body. Functional food consumption continues to escalate. Natural products retailers also stock powerful antioxidant products that address oxidation and associated inflammation and pain. Three of my favorites are:
CoQ10 (Ubiquinol): CoQ10 is one of those encompassing dietary supplements with both general health benefits (e.g., anti-aging) as well as specific health applications (e.g., cardiovascular health, health blood sugar, etc). It is a fundamental component in energy production, immune response and protection against damage by free radicals.
CoQ10 is part of the mitochondrial electron transport system and is synthesized in all cells. It is essential to the body’s production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This holds special importance for the heart, which is loaded with mitochondria and has the body’s highest concentration of CoQ10 because of the significant demands made upon it.
However, aging reduces access to CoQ10. Although it can be obtained from the diet (mainly from fatty fish, organ meats, and whole grains) as well as synthesized in small amounts, both of these routes decline with age. The body’s declining capacity to extract and assimilate CoQ10 in later years plays a role in the development of various cardiovascular conditions.
“Ubiquinol” is the reduced form of CoQ10 and the most highly absorbed. It is directly used in human metabolism as a lipid-soluble antioxidant. While standard CoQ10 (ubiquinone) supplements can be converted into ubiquinol in the body, this conversion can be less efficient in some individuals, based on age, genetics, blood sugar status or level of oxidative stress.
Fish Oil: Studies have shown that the omega-3s found in fish oil promotes cardiovascular health, cognitive health, joint health, optimal blood sugar levels, etc. Omega-3s can be found in flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods. However, the most beneficial form of omega-3s, containing two fatty acids—EPA and DHA—can be found only in fish. EPA and DHA have a multitude of metabolic health benefits, including increased fat burning and improved glucose metabolism.1 In addition, EPA and DHA decrease the expression of genes involved in fat storage,2 down-regulate genes involved in inflammation,3 and lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. Be aware to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.
Flavonoid Root: A breakthrough extract that significantly improves cardiovascular health and the flow of oxygen-rich blood through the arteries. This extract is supported by new science that provides unmatched antioxidant properties and powerful cardiovascular health benefits, including increased flow of oxygen-rich blood.
Recently, the results from a 94-person double-blind, placebo controlled study were published in the scientific journal Food and Nutrition Research (April 2016).4 The study examined the effect of a unique flavonoid root extract on the thickness of the artery wall using CIMT (carotid intima-media thickness). CIMT is considered a strong indicator of overall cardiovascular and arterial health.
Following one year of flavonoid root extract consumption, mean CIMT, total cholesterol, LDL levels and blood pressure decreased. This suggests that this ingredient may attenuate the development of oxidation and of related cerebral vascular issues.
Our country (and the world) is immersed in an epidemic of chronic pain. The United States has the best doctors and facilities in the world. Nevertheless, people continue to suffer from chronic pain. Suppliers and marketers understand the “pain landscape” and many have manufactured products that have helped millions address pain. Retailers also need to make every effort to educate consumers. These efforts will not only help their bottom lines, but will make their customers aware of key drivers for pain in an effort to forge a path to long-term health and wellness. VR
1 Ferre P. The biology of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors: relationship with lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Diabetes. 2004 Feb;53 Suppl 1S43-S50.
2 Delarue J, LeFoll C, Corporeau C, Lucas D. N-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: a nutritional tool to prevent insulin resistance associated to type 2 diabetes and obesity? Reprod Nutr Dev. 2004 May;44(3):289-99.
3 Li H, Ruan XZ, Powis SH, et al. EPA and DHA reduce LPS-induced inflammation responses in HK-2 cells: evidence for a PPAR-gamma-dependent mechanism. Kidney Int. 2005 Mar;67(3):867-74.
4 Fogelman Y, Gaitini D, Carmeli E. Antiatherosclerotic effects of licorice extract supplementation on hypercholesterolemic patients: decreased CIMT, reduced plasma lipid levels, and decreased blood pressure. Food Nutr Res. 2016;60:30830-5.
Mark Becker is an account manager for Vivion, a raw materials distributor, based in Vernon, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 20 years. Becker has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor's in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his Master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For more than 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 103 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Becker on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marklbecker/posts/387591877933686#!/energyatlast. Follow Becker on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/becker_mark. For more information, access www.vivioninc.com, www.alliedbionutrition.com or www.energyatlast.com.
• post-surgical pain
• post-trauma pain
• lower back pain
• cancer pain
• arthritis pain
• neurogenic pain (pain caused by nerve damage).