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July 21, 2015
By Joseph Strongoli,  Featured Columnist







Pain is one of the most fundamental and ubiquitous facts of
being. Indeed, the yin and yang of pain and pleasure is
perhaps the quintessential consequence of having a
conscious brain encased in a physical body, and its
prevalent presence in our lives is an undeniable,
inescapable, and essential fact of life.  

What Is Pain, and Why Do We Feel It?

The International Association for the Study of Pain offers
this general description: “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and
emotional experience associated with actual or potential
tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”

Pain is typically classified by duration (acute vs. chronic),
and into one of these categories: nociceptive pain,  
inflammatory pain, or pathological pain.

Nociceptive pain is caused by stimulation of nerve endings
that respond only to stimuli approaching or exceeding
harmful intensity, such as heat or cold, mechanical
pressures or forces, or chemical stimuli, such as soap in the
eyes.

Inflammatory pain occurs in conjunction with tissue
damage and the subsequent immune system response of
swelling.

Pathological pain is associated with a disease state caused
by damage to the nervous system, such as in the case of
neuropathic pain, or in its abnormal function (dysfunctional
pain, such as in fibromyalgia, tension headaches, or
irritable bowel syndrome).

Just how prevalent is pain to our everyday experience?
Think about the last time you stubbed your toe, or knew to
avoid a red-hot stovetop. Pain shapes our experiences and
behaviors, teaching us what to avoid and when we are in
danger. Although pain hurts, it is a necessary and life-
saving alarm bell – without it, we wouldn’t know when we
are injured or in danger of being injured.

I have my own illustrative personal anecdote regarding
pain. My Grandfather fought for the Allies in World War II
as a combat medic.

In the frozen Ardennes forest in Belgium, as my Grandpa
took cover from whizzing bullets and flying shrapnel, he
felt a warm trickle down the back of his leg. When he
turned around to check it out, he noticed that he was
bleeding profusely down his backside. He’d been hit by
shrapnel from a bomb!

He was so numb from the cold that his tactile sense was
completely blunted, and with it, his ability to sense pain. If
the blood hadn’t warmed his skin so that he could detect
some sensation, he might not have known he was
wounded, and could have bled to death before he even
knew anything was wrong!

So while pain causes us to suffer, when it functions
properly it is a necessary and useful evolutionary trait for
us to have adapted. But when our pain systems go
haywire, or we suffer from a chronic condition, pain can
become a terrible, debilitating, and life-altering burden.

How Much Pain Are We In?


A 2004 study at the University of Washington found that
nearly 50% of Americans who sought treatment with a
physician cited pain as their primary symptom, making pain
the single most frequent reason for physician consultation
in the United States.

The study also estimated that there are more than 30
million people in the US with chronic or recurrent painful
conditions, costing between $150 to $215 billion in health
care costs each year.

A 2006 survey by the CDC reported that one in four U.S.
adults claimed to have suffered a day-long bout of pain in
the past month, and 1 in 10 said the pain lasted a year or
more.

Lead study author Amy Bernstein says, “We chose to focus
on pain in this report because it is rarely discussed as a
condition in and of itself – it is mostly viewed as a
byproduct of another condition. We also chose this topic
because the associated costs of pain are posing a great
burden on the health care system.”

The report found that the United States spent an average
of $6,280 per person on health care in 2004, and that at
the time of the study 7 percent of adults under 65 passed
up on getting needed care in the past 12 months due to
costs.

Foods That Help Pain





























Advances in research into the neurobiology of pain have
resulted in a boom of new pain treatments, differing in
approach, side-effects, and efficacy.

Nevertheless, the most common method for pain
management has been and remains drugs.

The CDC study from above found that 4.2 percent of the
adult population takes narcotic drugs to alleviate pain.

That’s not even including the NSAIDs (non-steroidal
inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and
naproxen (Aleve), and other painkillers like acetaminophen
(Tylenol).  And new research suggests that continued use
of seemingly harmless drugs like Advil or Tylenol can have
unintended consequences.

In fact, the FDA just announced last week that it will be
raising and broadening the warnings about the side effects
of NSAIDs, particularly the elevated risk for
heart attack or
stroke.

Fortunately, for those who are suffer from chronic pain,
there are safer, healthier alternatives to popping pills that
are just as effective.

Some foods, like turmeric, have been found to contain as
much pain-numbing power as ibuprofen.  Beth Reardon, M.
S., R.D., a nutritionist at Duke University states that “What
we eat has a dramatic impact on the levels of pain in the
body.”

Try these 7 foods for fighting pain as a safer, healthier
alternative to the over-the-counter pill buffet.

1.        
Green-Lipped Mussels

A 2013 study at the University of Montreal in Canada
studied the effects of green-lipped mussels (GLM) on pain
and functional outcomes in osteoarthritic canines. The
authors noted that after 60 days of a GLM enriched diet,
the arthritic dogs improved in peak vertical force in their
steps, which improved gait function and motor activity.

Also, there was a significant reduction in pain response.
The authors noticed that a GLM heavy diet led to an
increase in concentrations of plasma omega-3 fatty acids,
which leads us to our next item on the menu.

Of course, dogs are not people and we need to see more
human studies on green-lipped mussels. Nonetheless, at
this point, since the mussels have no known toxicity to
people who are not allergic to them, you shoula consider
adding them to your diet.

2.        
Krill and Fish Oil

Omega-3 Fatty Acids have long been known to reduce
inflammation. But a 2010 study led by Dr. GD Ko et al., at
the University of Toronto found that omega-3s were also
effective in treating different types of neuropathic pain,
including pain reduction and improved function in patients
with cervical radiculopathy, thoracic outlet syndrome,
fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, and burn injury.  

Try omega-3 packed fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel,
sardines, trout, halibut, tuna, snapper, or striped bass.

Try not to exceed more than 2-4 meals a week though, as
fish can contain unsafe levels of mercury. If you don’t like
fish, trying taking a daily supplement of EPA and DHA, both
vital omega-3 fats.

3.        
Red Hot Chili Peppers

Chili peppers’ spicy heat derives from capsaicin, a powerful
bioactive compound produced to protect the peppers from
fungi.

Ironically, it is the intense heat that causes pain-relief: a
2011 study by Dr. P Anand at the Imperial College London
finds that the burning sensation brought on by capsaicin in
effect depletes the pain nerve endings’ ability to send pain
signals, rendering the patient numb and unable to perceive
any more pain.

A 2013 study by Dr. S. Derry et al., at the University of
Oxford in England found that applying topical capsaicin
cream in patients with two types of neuropathic pain,
postherpetic neuralgia and HIV-neuropathy, resulted in up
to 50% reductions in pain levels.

In addition to reduced pain, patients reported other
benefits such as improvements in sleep, fatigue,
depression, and an improved quality of life.

4.        
Dark Chocolate and Peanuts --Resveratrol

Find yourself craving chocolate or peanuts? There may be a
physiological reason for that. A 2012 study at the
University of Arizona found that resveratrol, a compound
found in dark chocolate, wine, and peanuts, blocked the
neural pathways of pain receptors, essentially masking the
perception of pain.

The researchers studied how pain from surgical procedures
often transitions into chronic pain, even after the surgical
wounds heal.

They found that resveratrol administered at the time of
surgery incision completely blocked the development of
pain sensitization, preventing the transition to a chronic
pain state.

5.        
Ginger

Ginger has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, relieving
pain by blocking a key component in the inflammatory
process, in addition to stomach-soothing properties.  

A 2001 study by Dr. D. Altman at the University of Miami
found that ginger extract led to a reduction in knee pain in
63% of patients with osteoarthritis, both in standing and
after walking 50 feet. Steep fresh ginger in your tea or
grate it into vegetable juice.

6.        
Soy

A 2004 study by Dr. B. Arjmandi at Oklahoma State
University found that daily consumption of 40 grams of soy
protein for three months cut osteoarthritis patients’ use of
pain medication in half, decreasing pain and improving joint
mobility over time. The key is a compound found in soy
called isoflavones, plant hormones with anti-inflammatory
properties. Add edamame, tofu, soy milk or soy burgers to
your diet, but be patient: “It takes two or three weeks for
it to take effect,” Dr. Arjmandi says.

7.        
Turmeric

Inflammation is a killer. The process of inflammation plays a
major role in many chronic illnesses, including
neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic,
autoimmune, and neoplastic diseases, in addition to its
central role in pain.

Turmeric, a yellow spice commonly used in Indian and
Pakistani cuisine, contains a potent anti-flammatory active
ingredient called curcumin. A 2010 study by Dr. B.
Aggarwal et al., at the University of Texas found that
curcumin-laden turmeric inhibits a protein called NF-kB,
which when excited, activates the body’s inflammatory
response, leading to aching joints, swollen tissue, and a
whole host of problems.

Turmeric was found to be as effective as ibuprofen at
reducing swelling, and much more delicious to boot. 



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Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon
can help ease  pain.