Pain, Stress and Its Impacts

Path to health and longevityUnderstanding Pain

Pain sensation or severity can be influenced by the pH of the injured body tissue. Identifying whether you have an alkaline or acid pain pattern can help to determine better pain support by altering this with nutrition.

In addition men and women have different pain thresholds due to differences in hormones and brain pain perception, with men responding to NSAID’s like ibuprofen better while women have a better response to opioids. Oestrogen increases sensitivity to pain so whether you are a man or woman, if your pain threshold changes, this may indicate problems with your testosterone to oestrogen ratio.

Understanding pain is important as chronic disease and cancer can produce pain. Long term use of pharmaceutical pain medication causes all sorts of problems so where pain can be reduced using nutrition then this is most certainly a better path of treatment.

Pharmaceutical pain medication has its place but if overuse is destroying your quality of life then other choices need to be made as part of managing your quality of life.

What is Stress?

Stress is anything that creates an impact on your body’s cells. As such it can be created by lots of different stressors such as:

  • Environmental impact – sunburn, cold or heat, bad lighting, dehydration, smells & noise.
  • Chemical impact – petroleum products, heavy metal exposure, pollution, chemicals in personal hygiene products, clothing, water & air such as anti-perspirants, shampoos & conditioners, liquid soaps, hair dye, moisturisers, laundry detergents, household & industrial cleaning fluids, fabric dyes & conditioners, insect repellents & room deodorants. Also asbestos, polyvinyl chloride, chlorine used to sterilise water, chemicals in the paint on your walls & those used on your flooring & those in your workplace as well. They are everywhere & in everything.
  • Psychological impact – studying, relationships, excessive workload, excessive exercise, abuse – both giving & receiving, grief, low self-esteem, disconnection from community & isolation.
  • Nutritional impact – diets low in nutrients, excessive supplementation of one or two nutrients thereby creating deficiency in other nutrients, diets too low in calories, diets too high in calories, diets with very low variety, diets high in unseasonal fruit & vegetables, diets with lots of bad fats & high in sugars, high consumption of poisons within food & drink such as alcohol, synthetic sweeteners, preservatives, colourings, pesticides, & salt, where the body needs a lot of nutrients to recover from their ingestion – just to name a few
  • Physical impact – injury, pain, aging, pregnancy, puberty, simply being alive

Where your stress is high &/or constant enough to create the need for your body’s cells to produce an adaptive response, you will feel physical & mental change which may be for the better or for the worse. If you are living a busy life you may not have even noticed changes until the changes stop you from doing what you want to do.

How can stress be for the better?

The purpose of stress is to produce a physiological response to deal with the situations (perceived threats) that we come across in our lives. Evolution is not specific. Being chased by a lion has the same response as meeting a new person. The response to a perceived threat (e.g. chased by an animal) triggers changes such as:

Response Immediate Purpose Long term Stress = Possible Imbalance
Elevation of blood pressure & heart rate Heart pumps blood faster through the lungs to get more oxygen to produce more energy Constant High Blood Pressure damaging Brain, Kidney & Vascular tissue.

Heart Attack.

Diversion of blood-flow to muscle & away from gut

Digestive juices are inhibited

Delivers oxygen & nutrients via blood to muscle for fight or flight

Digesting food is not a priority

No digestive capacity → Malabsorption Syndromes, Cramping in the Gut, IBS
Platelet adhesiveness resulting in thicker blood that can clot more easily In case the animal chasing you gets you, resulting in injury. This stops you bleeding to death. Thrombosis → Embolism, Stroke, Vascular Damage & Heart Attack
Activation of inflammatory chemicals such as cytokines & interleukins, & cortisol to mediate inflammation level These stimulate the immune system response to deal with any injury & infection, if that animal gets you Immune System becomes exhausted & may leave you vulnerable to infections, cancer OR it up regulates resulting in hyper-immune vigilance right through to auto-immune states and allergies
Mobilisation of glucose into blood for energy Glucose is needed as fuel for the muscle to help you fight or flight from that animal Constant high blood sugar mobilised by the liver results in inflammation (damage) to blood vessels triggering thrombosis, & up-regulates the pancreas to pump out more insulin to balance blood sugar levels
Perspiration To cool the body as it burns more sugars & increases inflammatory response which all produce heat Vitamins, Minerals and Water are lost – can impact body pH
Increase in respiration To increase oxygen intake used to convert glucose into energy May result in Nervousness, muscle spasm, anxiety & panic attacks
Increased Metabolic Rate by the liver & peripheral tissues converting thyroid hormone T4 to T3 Increases the use of blood glucose/ oxygen used as fuel by the body to respond to the stressor Weight loss – both muscle & fat stores, nutrient deficiency states due to increased need, thyroid stress

The above is called a ‘Sympathetic Nervous System Response’ and it allows you to escape or fight the threat. However if the stress trigger occurs constantly over time then a hyper-stress response develops resulting in disease states. Over a long period of time it can also trigger your body to move into a ‘Parasympathetic Nervous System Response’ stage as your cells overload and you can no longer adapt resulting in exhaustion.

Switches to Parasympathetic Nervous System = Possible Long Term Imbalance

  • Low Blood Pressure & Heart Rate → Not enough oxygen in the blood so being tired all the time
  • Weight Gain – even if calorie intake is not excessive & exercise is high
  • You tend towards Constipation or Diarrhoea
  • Arteries and veins dilate so your blood moves more slowly. You may constantly feel hot, flushed and lethargic. This may lead to varicose veins.
  • Immune System becomes hyper-responsive, may lead to allergies, high inflammatory states, auto-immune disease & cancer
  • High Cortisol/Cortisone (and high blood sugar levels) can damage the Beta cells of the Pancreas and may result in Diabetes Type 2. Cortisol breaks down proteins. This includes muscle wastage, weakness, aches and pains, and it may trigger osteoporosis.
  • Deficiency states affecting hormonal balance → cortisol depletion once adrenals exhausted = pain; reduced sex hormones = fertility cycle problems, period pain, menopause; thyroid dysfunction
  • Anxiety, Not enough energy for anger, Weeping, Depression
  • Aches and pains from inflammation, headaches, exhaustion, bloating

All disease states increase your body’s nutritional needs. If these are not being met then the disease state becomes more entrenched and may even get worse.

Do any of these states sound like you? This is bad stress.

How do I know if my stress response is a ‘bad stress’?

When states of imbalance stop you from living with ‘ease’ then you have ‘bad stress’. If you do not do something about the imbalance it will get worse.

Imagine if you then get an infection, like a bad head cold? How well do you bounce back from that stress on top of everything else? Is this the “last straw” that triggers further decline?

How can I manage my stress?

Stress PotThe best way to describe your response to stress is to use the ‘Stress Pot’.

Imagine your ‘pot’ being your coping mechanisms. Every day you add stressors (the impacts listed above) to your pot. Every day you do things to lower your stress (e.g. play golf, have a massage, have fun with friends) and this helps to empty the pot.

If you continue to add to your stress pot but fail to remove stressors from your pot then the pot fills to the brim and you reach your stress threshold. Physical and mental imbalance is great. Acute symptoms develop. Your body and mind is telling you that it is out of balance. You feel you can no longer cope. You are no longer fun to be around. You over-react or are unable to react to stressful situations. You may start self medicating with alcohol, soft drink or coffee.

If you ignore the signs (e.g. “I’m too busy”) and keep filling that pot, then when it is filled to the brim, or worse overflows, you will be so out-of-balance that you could develop a deep illness that is labelled as a ‘chronic disease’. Whatever disease state you have, will reflect the type of stressor(s) you have, your current nutritional reserves and your genetic heritage.

So to manage your stress you need to reduce all the stressors and help your body back into balance. Finding your way back to physical and mental ease is the path to wellness

As a Naturopath in Coffs Harbour, that is where I come in.