As chiropractors, we often see patients who suffer from chronic pain and other conditions that are caused by inflammation. One thing that I try to explain to my patients is that for most of their lives they have eaten meals that produce chronic pain for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most of the meals we eat contain linoleic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid that is found in various oils, grains and packaged foods. Linoleic acid is converted by our bodies to arachidonic acid, a precursor of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), the primary eicosanoid associated with pain. We also ingest arachidonic acid directly in animal products, particularly in fatty meat, chicken skin and farm-raised fish such as tilapia and catfish. The more of these types of food that we eat, the more likely we will develop a chronic inflammatory disease including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
The only the only real alternative to chronic inflammation is adopting a lifestyle change. One such change may be to restore the proper balance of essential fatty acids in the diet. Too many people have chronic inflammation in their bodies and brains because they are eating too many omega-6 and too few omega-3 fatty acids. Experts believe that for optimum health we need a 1:1 to 4:1 range of ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, but we are eating a ratio of 20:1 to 30:1. Excess omega-6 in the diet is pro-inflammatory.
Consumption of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids may decrease chronic pain and inflammation and reduce the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Research performed by Joseph Maroon, MD, a board-certified neurosurgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, showed that 2 g of EPA/DHA daily reduced joint pain and the need for NSAIDs in 59% of patients with neck and low back pain. According to Dr. Maroon, the omega-3 fatty acids counter to some extent the poisons we put into the body in the form of trans-fatty acids, nitrates, and various chemicals and pesticides from non-organic foods.
While omega-3 acids are contained in green leafy vegetables, flax seed, flax seed oil and canola oil, many patients, especially older adults, need direct marine sources of EPA and DHA, namely fish, seafood, seaweed and fish oils. DHA seems particularly important for cognitive health and the health of the retina of the eye, while EPA may be more important for heart health and for emotional health. One caution when taking omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, in particular, can have blood-thinning properties, so if you are taking a blood thinner, you need to communicate with your doctors before you increase your consumption of fish oils.
In addition to increasing intake of anti-inflammatory compounds, returning to a healthy diet and nutritional support can help reduce inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases. From a dietary perspective, we need to eat more low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, such as lean meat, fish, skinless chicken, vegetables and fruit. A modest amount of nut intake is also appropriate. From the perspective of supplementation, the available evidence favors a multivitamin, magnesium, fish oil, vitamin D and probiotics.
A small study showed that a lifestyle modification protocol may be effective in reducing the pain associated with fibromyalgia. Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, found in his placebo-controlled study that 91 percent of fibromyalgia patients improve, with the majority becoming pain-free, using his SHINE Protocol: Sleep, Hormones, Infections, Nutrition and Exercise. As part of his protocol, Dr. Teitelbaum advocates eight hours of daily sleep for tissue repair; thyroid and adrenal hormonal support; elimination of infections, including yeast overgrowth; nutritional support through proper diet and supplementation; and exercise. For those whose pain may prevent them from exercising, he recommends starting a walking program in a warm-water pool.
So if you suffer from a chronic inflammatory condition, you may want to consider making some lifestyle modifications and change what you are eating to see if it helps alleviate some of your pain and inflammation.