Easy Ways to Reduce Your Reliance on Over-the-Counter Pain Medications
By David Seaman, DC, MS, DABCN
Americans take an inordinate amount of medication to reduce pain and inflammation, most notably acetaminophen, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. In fact, it is estimated that each year, Americans purchase literally billions
of over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs. How do these medications work? By inhibiting the enzymes
that normally convert dietary fatty acids into inflammation-producing chemicals that can cause pain.
So, our dietary choices directly contribute to inflammation, pain and suffering, and then we take medications as a short-term "fix," rather than getting to the source of the problem - poor diet - and making changes. By the way, the side effects from these medications range from intestinal ulcers to reduced bone health, stroke and heart attack. Clearly, it is a good idea to use these medications sparingly.
Painful Diet Choices
The modern diet consists largely of nutrient-free calories: approximately 20 percent from refined sugar, 20 percent from refined flour and 20 percent from refined oils derived from corn, safflower seeds, sunflower seeds, cottonseeds, peanuts and soy. Oh, and don't forget another 10 percent to 20 percent from overweight or obese animals. That means for too many people, 80 percent of the calories they consume promote inflammation and thus pain, and lack any appreciable nutrient quality at all.
It is highly unlikely that taking NSAIDs or supplements will reduce pain and suffering for those individuals who subsist largely on these types of foods. That means the first order of business is to reduce the consumption of foods that cause inflammation and pain. Refined oils and fatty meat are known to contain an excessive amount of omega-6 fatty acids, which are generally inflammatory compared to omega-3 fatty acids. Oily potato and corn chips are excellent examples of foods whose calories are derived largely from the oils mentioned above (which contain only omega-6 fatty acids). In contrast, omega-3s are found in green vegetables, certain seeds (flax, chia and hemp), fish, and wild game or grass-fed animals, from which less than 10 percent of the average Americans calories are derived.
Alternatives to Pain-Relieving Drugs
Most of our calories should come from vegetables, fruit, fish, lean meats and nuts. These foods are the best sources of calories to reduce heart disease because of their anti-inflammatory nature. In 1991, this type of diet was used in a study with patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating, painful disease, resulting in a substantial reduction in pain.
When considering supplements to help reduce pain, it is important to realize that pain expression is based on physical, psychological,and biochemical factors. From a biochemical perspective, it is important to remember that the chemicals which cause inflammation are the same ones that cause pain. Therefore, our goal with supplementation should be to help reduce inflammation.
Fish oil is one of the more popular supplements on the market today and can be taken by almost anyone who is not taking blood-thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin). Studies have shown that supplemental fish oil is helpful for patients with neck pain and back pain, as well as joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis. The common supplemental recommendation is 1-3 grams of EPA/DHA, which are the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. This typically means 2-5 capsules daily if a concentrated fish oil is used for supplementation.