Food and Pain

Food and Pain.

Three years ago I did not believe that food could cause pain nor did I believe food could alleviate pain.  As a pharmacist I was taught to treat pain with pills or topical agents.  Anti-inflammatory medication for swelling and trauma and pain medication for the pain.  End of story.  Makes sense in theory, but I now know first hand that the food we eat is either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory and either good or bad for us as individuals.

For 10 years I lived in chronic pain. I have osteoarthritis and both my hands are badly affected, so much so that up until a few years ago I had weekly appointments with an occupational therapist and wore purpose-made hand splints. I had got to the point where I could no longer hold a pen to write, I could not do up zips or buttons, I could not hold my toothbrush and brush my teeth (thank heavens for electric/battery operated toothbrushes), I could not hold a sharp knife to cut things like pumpkin or even carrots, I could not open screw top lids or cans with ring pulls or even use a can opener. Other than my hands, I had one shoulder, one hip and one ankle that were permanently sore as well. I slept badly, my mobility was not good and I was still young.

Life was not easy and I needed NSAID’s and paracetamol and codeine on a daily basis, just to function. Of course I knew the risks of what I was taking, but I was not left with many other options. I supplemented with fish oil or krill oil as well as glucosamine and vitamin D during my dark years of pain too, as the research suggested these to be beneficial.

So today when I read this Medscape article entitled Food and Pain: The “Essentials” –  my heart sang!

Last week at the American Academy of Pain Management (AAPM) 2016 Annual Meeting, Robert Bonakdar, MD, director of pain management, Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, La Jolla, California, and assistant clinical professor, University of California, San Diego addressed delegates at the meeting and spoke of how “Diet can influence inflammation, shift the microbiome, modulate the immune system, improve joint function, eliminate pain triggers, and reduce deficiencies.”

This is music to my ears.

People think I’m “off with the fairies” when I say I “cured” my pain by changing my diet … and if they don’t actually say it, I can see they are thinking it!  Pharmacists I work with say they would not have believed it, but they witnessed my progress with their own eyes!  My family and friends know how much I suffered and how well I am now.  I myself still struggle to believe how changing my diet changed my life!

Three years ago my occupational therapist informed me the last thing available as a means of pain relief was thumb surgery.  This would involve a lengthy recovery and there were no guarantees.  I decided to explore every other option available before resorting to this.  Why was my body was giving up on me and attacking itself?  Besides the osteoarthritis, I had already had a  parathyroidectomy for hyperparathyroidism, so in my eyes, my body appeared to be hell bent on destroying itself.  I was not going to give in lightly, and as fate would have it, my husband’s blood sugar became raised at about the same time. With a family history of diabetes, we embarked on Dr Mark Hyman’s 10 day sugar detox diet to get his blood glucose under control.  I turned my focus to helping my husband and by chance helped myself!  You can read about our initial detox here.

Within 7 days my pain had reduced significantly enough for me to see the benefit of continuing with this lifestyle.  After 2 months I no longer required pain medication and the hand splints were permanently packed away!  I have never looked back.  (Nor has my husband, his blood glucose levels are in the normal range.)  This is not a diet, this is a lifestyle we follow to keep us inflammation free.   For me, there is no better motivator than being pain free.

So if you live with chronic pain or inflammation, take a look at what you are eating.  If we eat highly processed, inflammatory foods, our cells become toxic which results in inflammation and chronic disease.

When I started on this journey I was obese.  Obesity is also an inflammatory condition.  Removing my inflammation helped me shift 42kg.  It’s not about how much we eat, it’s about what we eat.  So choose your food carefully.  You alone control what you put in your mouth, nobody else.

 

 

 

Inflammation Obesity Pain

obesity gone pain gone

Obesity.

Inflammation.

Pain.

Gone.

What a difference 2 years can make to one’s life.   April 28th 2014, my body was broken.  I suffered from chronic arthritis and lived in pain.  I was inflamed.   I was obese.  Every day was a struggle, but of course the rest of the world never knew this.  I became a master at masking how I actually felt.  I couldn’t hold a pen, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t do up buttons, I couldn’t pull up zips, I couldn’t open taps, I couldn’t open bottles or screw top lids, I couldn’t shake anybody’s hand, I couldn’t cut with a knife, I couldn’t hold a cup by its handle, I could only use a battery operated toothbrush, I couldn’t do so many things and life sucked!  I was also wracked with guilt – I was obese and it was all my own fault.  Did I really eat that much?    No, I actually didn’t.  But what I did do, was eat the wrong foods for my body!  Facing surgery on both hands, with no guarantee for success, I put on my scientific hat and researched and researched to find out WHY my 50 + year old body was letting me down.

Quite by chance my husband’s body was broken too, but not in the same way mine was.  He suffered from obesity too and he was pre-diabetic. Being a male, he wanted to fix himself straight away!  Actually, he expected me to “fix” him overnight!   Based on my research at the time and the books I had been reading, I chose to do a 10 day food detox with him (based on Mark Hyman’s book of a similar name), to restore his factory settings (and no, he isn’t an Apple).  Guess what?  I started detoxing and losing weight within the first few days of our food detox, but another miracle was unfolding.  My pain started to disappear and within the first 2 weeks I no longer needed to wear my splints on my hands all the time!   These results blew my mind – diminishing pain, weight falling off and I was eating so much…three times what I normally ate…and the only exercise I could manage at the time due to my pain level, was walking, so this was not a case of  less calories in and more calories out!

You can read about our original Food Detox here.

So the 10 day detox became a 60 day detox and at the 120 day mark, this is what I had discovered.

For 15 months my weight remained stable after losing 31kg,  the bulk of it within the first 6 months.  I had regained the use of my hands, lost all my pain and my body was no longer broken!  My obesity was gone! I then decided my weight needed to go down again and so 6 weeks ago I embarked on my final push to drop the last 10kg that would get me back to the weight I was in my 20’s….

And I’ve done it!

ps My husband’s pre-diabetes is fixed too!

Obesity Determinants

There are many different factors that contribute to the world-wide problem of obesity today.  If solving this problem was as easy as eating less fatty foods and exercising more, we would not have a problem.  Unfortunately it is not as simple as that.  While the “calories in, calories out” theory looks good on paper, it doesn’t take into account the complex metabolic pathways that different foods go through when we eat them or the effects that different foods have on our hormones and brain.  Calories in vs calories out in general therefore fails to work at a grassroots level.

We are all different and thank heavens for that!  We all have different genes, come from different cultures, are of different social classes and live in different environments.  Obesity is complex.  Weight loss is more complex.  It is an individual thing, there is no “one size fits all” and all calories are not created equal.

Living in cities we are surrounded by fast food chains and supermarkets that are open from early morning to late at night.  Food is freely available, most of it is processed and the more processed it is, the cheaper it is.  So if we can’t afford to be a food snob and only buy the healthiest organic food our bodies need,  then we will buy the cheaper, more addictive foods that the food industry likes to advertise.  And we can and do become addicted to the processed food.  We eat more and exercise less, so yes in this case calories in vs calories out does come into play.  However, if we ate more healthy foods, e.g. vegetables, healthy fats and good quality protein, but of the same caloric value as the cheaper, addictive carbohydrate-laden processed foods that the food industry love, then weight loss would actually happen.  All calories are certainly not equal.  The food we eat control the hormones that regulate how much we eat and when we eat as well.  Different foods go through different metabolic pathways in the body, some cause hormone changes that encourage weight gain, while others increase satiety and boost the metabolic rate.

We live hectic lives, we are often stressed and sleep badly.  This too impacts on our hormones and prevents weight loss no matter how minimal our calorie intake is or how excessive our calorie output is.

Toxins surround us.  We inhale them, we consume them, we apply them to our skin and they are disrupting our endocrine systems and poisoning us slowly, day by day. This too has an impact on obesity.

Throughout the world, cultures are threatened as well. Younger people are not taught basic home cooking and even older baby boomers have become accustomed to making use of quick and easy meals prepared with packaged ingredients.  Kitchen skills are not being passed down from generation to generation.  Urbanisation, modernisation of lifestyles and globalisation of food are robbing cultures of their heritage and this is having an impact on obesity and health.  We can’t solve this problem by eating less fat and exercising more.  We have to change our mindset and go back to the basics.  We need to live and eat like our grandparents and great grandparents used to.  And this also involves eating healthy fats!  Like our grandmothers we should render our own lard and tallow and use it for cooking. It may be higher in calories, but less is consumed as it satiates us quicker.

Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, being part of a caring community, being aware of the nutrient value of food, partaking in regular physical activity (a daily 30 minute walk will do, it doesn’t have to be 60 minutes of cardio!), sleeping well, stressing less, having “me” time and holding ourselves accountable, all affect energy in, energy out and can prevent or treat obesity and ultimately keep us healthy.

So don’t cut out the fatty food, just make sure it is healthy fatty food. You may just be surprised by the result.

Better health can be achieved by changing your spots

Change your spots for better health
Can you change your spots?

I’m sorry if your bubble is about to burst, but better health depends on so much more than the number “spot” on your scale.  Whatever the number, it is only part of what makes you healthy.  Your gene “spots”, your sleeping habit “spots”, your stress “spots”, your exercise “spots”, your hormonal status “spots”, the health of your gut microbiome “spots”, the food you eat “spots”, the level of low grade inflammation in your body “spots”, your exposure to environmental toxin “spots”, the risks you take “spots” and many more “spots” all work together to determine how healthy you are.   They all need to be in sync to ensure homeostasis and better health.

The only thing about me that people who have known me for a long time notice, is I’m thinner than I used to be.  They all want to know how I did it.  They all want the magic formula.  They all want to lose x amount of weight.  A quick fix.  They don’t ask if I’m in better health.  If they listen long enough for me to explain how I was searching for better health and the weight loss was a side effect, that’s good, but most of them lose interest when they realise it isn’t just about what I eat.  And it has taken a lot of effort.  You can’t buy a magic potion and expect miracles to happen.  You can’t buy a bottle of new “spots” either.

“I don’t have time for breakfast”

“I can’t give up cheese”

“But I love pasta”

“You don’t eat tomatoes?”

“What do you eat?”

“You obviously never eat out anymore”

“Just tell me I don’t have to give up my coffee”

“Can I still have my wine?”

I’ve heard it all and more.

I am still a work in progress, but I have tried to fix as many “spots” as I can in my life to reduce the toxic/inflammatory load from my food, my environment and my personal space.  I feed my microbiome on a daily basis with fermented coconut kefir and/or probiotics.  I aim for good quality sleep every night and I regularly use technology to check that I’m getting it.  (There’s an app for that).  I refuse to allow myself to get stressed, those days are over.   (There’s no app for that, but there are “mindfulness” apps you can use to help you relax).  I “move” my body daily, I certainly don’t over do it.  I keep track of how many steps I walk per day.  (There’s and app for that too).  I don’t count calories, or keep track of fats, proteins or carbs.  I eat when I’m hungry, but I only eat what I know will be of nutritional benefit to me and steer clear of my known inflammatory causing foods.

So, all in all, I’ve managed to change my “spots” and have found better health.  Change, like happiness is an “inside” job.  Nobody or nothing can change you, you have to do it yourself.  Don’t try and change all your “spots” at once.  Start with one and when you’ve changed it, move onto the next and so on.  You will be surprised how many “spots” you can change in your quest for better health.

Quality of Life

the wonder of nature

Almost 18 months ago I embarked on a health crusade to help my husband reverse his pre-diabetes.  Along the way, as a side effect to the new way of eating, I inadvertently dampened down my chronic low grade inflammation, lost the pain in my hands, hips and feet, started sleeping like a baby and shed 31kg! You can read about this here.

This started me on a crusade.  A crusade to be as healthy as I could. A crusade to help others to achieve the same improvement in quality of life that I have experienced.  My zest for life is greater than it was in my 30’s.

My personal quality of life has improved beyond my wildest dreams.  No magic potions, no magic pills, no intense cardiovascular exercise, just good, wholesome, nutrient dense food, avoiding inflammatory foods and foods to which I am sensitive to and buckets of persistence!  And boy has it all paid off.  I am pain free and motivated to keep going for the rest of my life.  I never want to suffer like I did before.  Nothing is more debilitating than chronic pain and lack of sleep.

We all know that with the tremendous advances made in medicine regarding the treatment of trauma and disease, that our lifespan has been significantly increased.  We will all be living longer and can be kept alive for longer, but my big question is what about our health during this time?  Factors that influence our lifespan include our genes, environment and behaviours. I don’t want to be living longer if I have no quality of life.   I want to live longer and still have the same if not better quality of life.  I still want to do the things I love doing.  I want to get out there and walk on the beach, swim in the sea, take photographs, play with my grandchildren and travel even more than I travel now.  I have lots of things still in my bucket that I want to do and believe me I am doing them as fast as I can, because we never know what the future holds for us.  I don’t want to slow down as I age.  Life is for living and I intend to live it to the full!

….and so to get back to where I started this entry from, by me dampening down my low grade inflammation, I worked out what had caused or contributed to it.  I healed my gut and changed my diet drastically.  Yes, hindsight is an exact science and I’m so glad the way things worked out and I was fortunate enough to work it all out!  Diet, exercise, sleep, stress and hormones.  All of these need to be optimal in order for us to function optimally and have a healthy lifespan or “health span”!

Why oh why do we think we are untouchable?  Why do we think we are invincible?  Why or why, do we wait until the last minute before we make changes?  Sometimes this is too late.  Why do we wait until tragedy strikes in the form of an incurable illness before we make the changes?  Why, why, why???  As I write this I’ve just been told that someone I studied with has end stage lung cancer.  Yes I know that the dietary and lifestyle changes I have made is no guarantee that some illness won’t strike me, but hey, I’m giving it my best shot.  And in case something does strike out of the blue, well I want my body to be in the best possible position it can be, to beat whatever it is.

Just today I listened to the most incredible podcast…I stumbled onto it by mistake.  Ironically it was a podcast with a longevity doctor that I have consulted.  The podcast reminded me of how much I have changed in my everyday life, how far I’ve come at biohacking my health and how I should be ready to have a healthy lifespan (all things withstanding) or “health span”, a term that I feel sums up everything so well.  A frightening static that was shared on the podcast:  at the age of 40 we have the potential to have 10 undiagnosed medical conditions, waiting in the wings, so to speak.  At age 70 this escalates to around 23.  This is frightening.  On a positive note, we are capable of living up to the age of 120, provided of course we make the necessary changes to promote our longevity.   We are also on the cusp of people living healthily for much longer, up to 150 years.   It is of the belief that the child has been born already who will reach that age.  You have to listen to the podcast.  Make the time, it’s about an hour long.  Here is the link.

So God willing, I think I’m good to go for many more years…don’t know how happy my family will be to hear this as I know I’m a pain…but no pain, no gain, the squeaky wheel get the grease, etc, etc!  I’m always looking out for them and of course my nearest and dearest friends.  I almost feel as if I was “lucky” enough to have been given a second chance and that my job now is to help as many as I can to achieve their own “health span”. I have this insatiable, impatient desire to learn and understand everything…

So please, don’t wait until it’s too late.  I wish I’d started 20 years ago.  If I can do it, anybody can.  For without “health span”, what good is a long lifespan?