By Michael Hall,
With health statistics on so many fronts screaming crisis, it is no wonder why so many people throw up their hands and say that it is all too hard. Key findings from the First Results 2011-12 Australian Health Survey reveal that of the national health priority areas, the top long term health conditions experienced in Australia were:
- Arthritis – 3.3 million people (14.8%)
- Mental and behavioural conditions – 3.0 million people (13.6%)
- Asthma – 2.3 million people (10.2%)
- Heart Disease – 1.0 million people (4.7%)1
The prevalence of overweight and obese people over 18 has risen from 56.3% in 1995 to 61.2% in 2007-08 to 63.4% in 2011-12. This is of grave concern as obesity is linked with inflammation as fat cells (adipocytes) release inflammatory signalling molecules (adipokines)2. The result, obese adults are five times more likely to have high triglycerides (a predisposition to cardiovascular disease), seven times more likely to have diabetes and four times more likely to display signs of liver disease than normal weight adults.
Since the mapping of the human genome, there has been increasing hope that advances in genetic treatments may offer the greatest potential to our overcoming many of these chronic illnesses and pain syndromes. And with so much publicity being focused on genetic research as being the solution to our health problems, there may be tendency to think that we are just a product of our genes and that there is nothing that we can do to avoid the illnesses or injuries that afflicted our ancestors.
Yet, studies of identical twins have revealed that though people may have identical genes, the injuries and illnesses they experience may not necessarily be the same. How can this be if people have the same genetic profile? There must be other factors and control levers at play that influence the expression of genes. Research is beginning to uncover that the expression of genetic traits is due to complex, multitude of factors one of which is not only a person’s environment but the way that they perceive and interpret their environment. This means that people can and do have the possibility of influencing their health for better or for worse.
Intimately associated with our perception of our environment is our brain and body’s relaxation or healing response or our “fight or flight” response. In an environment of safety, love, nurturing and appropriate challenge, freedom and confidence predominate, which leads to better relaxation, sleep, digestion, growth, repair and expansion of our physical, mental and spiritual capacities. It is an anabolic or building up process of our minds, bodies and life.
With the “fight or flight” response, fear is the predominant emotion, as blood is shunted away from our gut to the muscles so that we can fight or flee. In addition, our immune system is mobilised to prepare us for injury. This process is called inflammation. The purpose of the immune system is to defend the body against attack by foreign bodies (e.g. viruses or bacteria) or act like a demolition company to clear a site of damaged tissue and debris so that new tissue can be laid down. In other words, it is a catabolic or breaking down response. Whilst this response is important in the short term for survival and healing, over the long term, a hyperactive, dysfunctional immune system will wreak havoc on our ability to stay healthy as normal tissue is “attacked” and our bodies become at war with themselves.
The characteristics of inflammation are constant often throbbing pain as well as heat, redness, swelling and night pain with the classic example of an inflammatory reaction being a mosquito bite. This in effect is the basis for most pain.
The stimuli which can lead to an inflammatory reaction can be grouped into three categories, those of:
- Mechanical stimuli
- Nutritional stimuli and;
- Psychological stimuli.
However, all of these categories have one thing in common; the applied stimuli which leads to inflammation is either excessive or abnormal and therefore beyond the body’s physiological ability to adapt.
There are four factors which dictate whether a stimulus might be excessive. These are:
- The intensity of the stimulus;
- The number of times the stimulus is applied (or volume);
- The duration of the stimulus;
- The recovery time between stimuli.
If any one of these variables by themselves or combined present a force that is over a tipping point, then an inflammatory reaction and pain will occur. The purpose of pain is to alert us to the need to change or stop the behaviour so that we can avoid further risk of injury. Taking away the pain with a pain killer may be doing us more harm than good as it is taking away the very mechanism that protects us from further danger.
The reason most people don’t get better is not because their body can’t heal, but because they keep aggravating their “injury”. Stop them from aggravating their “injury” and generally their problem will heal and their pain will reduce. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done particularly in a society where we are progressively becoming less in tune with our body’s needs and “masking” or band-aiding issues is promoted ahead of dealing and working through problems.
Still, whether they be physical, nutritional or psychological stressors, if you can identify what the excessive or abnormal forces are and you are able to reduce these to within normal physiological limits, then you may be able to achieve a permanent reduction in your pain. The three areas of life in which you can do this include:
Biomechanical / Physical Pain
What differentiates mechanical pain from biochemical pain, is that it is related to certain body postures, positions or movements. Change your posture, position and / or movement and you will change your pain response. This is in contrast to biochemical pain which is often constant, throbbing and unrelated to any movement or position.
Fixing mechanical pain is often relatively easy if the postural and movement patterns which cause and alleviate pain are consistent. Once the aggravating activities are identified, then eliminating inflammation and pain is simply a matter of changing the way person moves so that they don’t irritate the damaged tissue or structures.
Mechanical pain that is inconsistent raises the prospect that biochemical irritation and perceptual issues may be playing a role. And whilst this type of mechanical pain is harder and often takes longer to alleviate, it is still possible to achieve a substantial reduction in pain by reducing inflammation and tenderness with cold therapy, using “hands on” techniques to reduce soft tissue and joint tension and then unloading the irritated tissue / structure so that it can heal.
As long as the lesion is then protected from re-injury, there is no mechanical reason why it can’t repair. There are however nutritional and psycho-social reasons why a person may not get better which brings us to….
Biochemical / Nutritional Pain
It stands to reason, that if your body is to heal and be healthy, it needs the building blocks to make the necessary tissue for healing and repair. Without the essential nutritional elements, no repair is possible. What is shocking in this day and age, is that not only are many people not getting adequate nutrients for repair, but that their diet is actually sabotaging their health and healing response.
Let me explain.
What you eat can cause inflammation and lead to inflammatory diseases that include everything from pre-mature ageing, allergies, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia to Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, heart disease and more2. A diet of highly processed and refined carbohydrates, that is too low in omega 3 fatty acids (optimal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is 2:1 to 4:1) and anti-oxidants and contains allergens and reactive foods or toxins will lead to inflammation and eventually pain. And a diet that is deficient in nutrients can cause specific health problems such as vitamin B12 deficiency which can lead to burning neuropathic pain.
So how do you know if you have a food allergy, reactive food or poor diet that may be causing inflammation? By listening to your body and taking note of any clues that it might be giving you. How do you feel after a meal and is your body displaying any signs of nutritional deficiencies? For example, do you feel lethargic, irritated, “foggy”, tired or sleepy after a meal? Do your nails have white markings (possible zinc or B6 deficiency), horizontal ridges and grooves (possible vitamin B or protein deficiency) or yellow vertical lines (possible deficiencies of keratin, calcium, magnesium, zinc, or sulphur). And what about your tongue, hair, teeth, eyes, skin, lips, mouth, muscles and stools? All these areas of your body can display specific, easily detectable signs that indicate your diet is lacking nutrients that may be leading to poor health, inflammation and pain.
The best place to start is with an assessment, especially if you are at all worried that your diet may have deficiencies that may be affecting your health adversely either now or in the future. Remember, many diseases show up only after years of neglect and could so easily have been prevented with strategies such as having more:
- High quality protein (at least 0.8gms for every kilogram of a person’s body weight);
- Oily fish (at least 3-4 meals per week);
- Complex carbohydrates by substituting wholemeal bread for bread for wholegrain sourdough or white rice for brown rice;
- Fruit and vegetables to supply antioxidants and alkalize your body;
- Filtered water (at least 2 litres daily, not with a meal if you are over 40) and less coffee, alcohol or soft drinks;
- Taking a probiotic daily as well as other supplements as indicated to correct any nutritional deficiencies and to enable your body to begin the journey back to full health.
These are just some of the many other quick and easy diet changes that can make a massive difference to your health. For more information or for an assessment, call us here at Bodywise Health on 1300 BODYWISE (263 994) and will be deighted to assist you and provide you with any additional informationthat you may want.
Emotional / Psychological Pain
Yes, how you think and what you feel can cause inflammation and pain. As Dr Craig Hassard says in the film The Connection, “If your brain is happy, then your body is happy”.3
Whilst the link between mind-body health has been recognised for more than 50 years, the past 10 years has seen an explosion in learning and evidence that indicates just how strong this link is.
What is fascinating is that it is NOT your reality, but how you perceive and interpret your reality that determines your health.
Research by Dr Lorimer Mosely at Oxford University using mirror therapy has shown that displaying a person’s healthy, normal hand has led to a reduction in inflammatory signs and symptoms of their affected hands by chronic regional pain syndrome. And projecting normal walking legs of amputees has eliminated their phantom pain.4,5
Emotions such as fear, anger, despair and sadness have so many far reaching consequences for your health. In life, they are absolutely appropriate when matched to the appropriate situation or circumstance. They can be absolutely critical for self-preservation in enabling you to adapt and survive when challenged by real threats to your safety and health. They often operate at an instinctual and reflex level as they are under the control of a more primitive area of our brains, the amygdala.
However, these emotions are meant to be turned on and then turned off. Problems arise when they become switched on so often by situations such those involving relationship difficulties, financial pressures and time constraints, that they become prolonged and "normal". This then leads to a heightened state of tension, a hypersensitive nervous system, a less effective digestive system and a dysfunctional immune system and eventually to inflammation and pain. An example of this is depression which has a major inflammatory component.
The good news is that these emotions and thought processes can be overridden with hard work. Research has shown that the anteromedial portion of the prefrontal cortex (at the front part of the brain that deals with episodic memory, reasoning, attention, multitasking, task sets, decision making, cognition and processing of self-referenced information) can override the more reflexive, innate thought and behavioural processes.
There are many specific psychological therapies that can help people overcome inappropriate, instinctual mental and physical responses to everyday situations. A common denominator of successful approaches in achieving long term, sustained, independent improvement, is the active involvement of a person in their treatment along with the support and empowerment of an appropriately qualified health professional (psychologist etc. registered with The Australian Association for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), with additional support as needed (e.g. family, friends etc.). Some of these approaches include:
1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy;
2. Stress inoculation;
3. Stress desensitisation;
4. Meditation (Mindfulness, Emptying, Transcendental);
5. Relaxation training;
7. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
It is beyond the scope of this blog to go into detail with each of these therapies. Suffice to say that if you are feeling stressed, out of control, not coping and or things are affecting adversely your everyday life then seek help from your GP or a qualified psychotherapist.
Whilst these different therapies, may use different techniques, their common purpose is to:
1. Empower you to reinterpret previously perceived stressful events in a more appropriate way and;
2. Impart knowledge and skills so that you can more effectively deal with and respond to these “stressful” situations in a healthier way.
These approaches also have in common the practice of techniques that interrupt your everyday thoughts followed by the active repetition (and learning) of better and more beneficial responses. Research has indicated that it takes about 300 to 500 repetitions to learn a new habit.6 However, to unlearn, correct and then re-learn a habit has been estimated to take about 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions.7 However long it may take you to learn how to initiate your own relaxation or healing response, it has been found that the more involved, engaged and emotionally connected you are with your responses, the faster and more complete your recovery.
Please understand that everything that you think, say and do, is a habit and a result of neural and immunological programming that has occurred both innately and via experience. Recovery lies with the fact that you can learn, grow, adapt and change in response to your changing world and circumstances.
Yes, it will take hard active work to change your “unhealthy” physical, nutritional and psychological habits and replace them with healthier ones, because in effect in so doing you are changing the neural programming that goes with each habit. To change a habit takes at least a month of reinforcing a new habit to such a degree, that it becomes the default, instinctive, reflex neural pathway and habit. It requires active involvement and commitment of a person as well as outside support, education, instruction, coaching, home-work and accountability. You are much more than just the product of your genes, your parent’s history or even your perceived “story” about yourself. Each and every day is your opportunity to forge a new path for your health and your life. Good luck in your journey.
If you are concerned about your physical and nutritional health, and would like to know if you have any deficiencies which may need correction, please call Bodywise Health on 1 300 263 994 (BODYWISE) to book your FREE physical health check or nutritional assessment.
For more information on how Bodywise Health can help you to overcome your pain, please call Bodywise Health on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994).
- Rebates are available through your private insurance extras cover;
- For complex or chronic conditions, you may qualify for the EPC (Enhanced Primary Care Program) allowing you to receive 5 allied health services each calendar year with a referral from your GP. For more information, please call Bodywise Health now on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994).
1. Australian Health Survey, First Results, Australia, 2011-12
2. Chadwick V. Mcphee R. Ford A. a Practical Guide to Clinical Nutrition for Allied Health Professionals. May 2014
3. Harvey S. The Connection Mind Your Body 2014
4. Moseley G. Distorted body image in complex regional pain syndrome. Neurology 65 September 2005
5. Moseley G. Effect of sensor discrimination training on cortical reorganisation and phantom limb pain. The Lancet Vol 357 June 2001
6. Schmidt, R. Motor Learning and Performance 2nd edition. Champaign, IL:Human Kinetics, 2000.
7. Chek, P. Primal Pattern Movements. A Neurodevelopmental Approach to Conditioning, 2003