April 14, 2009 [Volume 3, Issue 10]
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In this issue of To Your Health:
Drugless Pain Solutions
Joint and Muscle First Aid
Tea Time

Drugless Pain Solutions

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. Here are a few important supplements to help accomplish just that:

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.

Vitamin D has emerged in recent years as a vitamin that has anti-inflammatory and anti-pain benefits. Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are inflammatory in nature and known to be associated with vitamin D deficiency. Low back pain and widespread pain that can be confused with fibromyalgia are also known to be associated with vitamin D deficiency. We get vitamin D from the sun, but its production is reduced 95 percent when a sunscreen with a sun-protective factor (SPF) of 8 or greater is applied to the skin. There are no foods that contain adequate amounts of vitamin D, so we must either get vitamin D from the sun or from supplements.

Magnesium: More than 300 enzymes require magnesium, so it is involved in an inordinate amount of metabolic reactions. From a clinical perspective, the average American's intake of magnesium is well below the recommended daily allowance (RDA) and this has been associated with the expression of numerous conditions including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, headache, chronic inflammation, and an increase in nervous system excitability. Approximately 400 mg of supplemental magnesium per day is thought to be adequate for most individuals.

Probiotics: Research is emerging that implicates poor digestive function with musculoskeletal pain expression. This speaks to the need to drastically reduce our consumption of sugar, flour products and refined oils that are devoid of fiber and known to compromise healthy gut bacteria. Supplementation with healthy bacteria called probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria) are known to reduce intestinal inflammation, and for many this translates into less musculoskeletal pain as well.

Ginger and Turmeric: Most herbs that we use to spice our meals are known to have anti-inflammatory functions. The most well-studied in the context of inflammation and pain are ginger and turmeric. Each has been shown to reduce musculoskeletal pain. The most economical way to take ginger and turmeric is with meals as an added spice. However, supplements are available and widely utilized.

B Vitamins: The creation of cellular energy requires most B-complex vitamins. While B vitamins are not traditionally viewed as anti-inflammatory or analgesic, human and animal research suggests that B-vitamin supplementation may offer pain-reducing benefits.

Talk to your doctor before taking any nutritional supplement, particularly if you have a pre-existing health condition and/or are taking medication.

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Joint and Muscle First Aid

When joint and muscle injuries occur, immediate application and continuation of first aid is vital. Delayed or incorrect first aid will slow the healing process dramatically. What do you do when you or someone you know suffers this type of injury? Here are a few things you can do immediately to start the healing process.

Remembering the acronym R.I.C.E. is of great help whenever joint or muscle first aid is needed. The acronym stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Resting an injured area reduces the stress and strain which, in turn, reduces the chance of further injury. When an injury occurs, immediately stop using the injured area. Ice applied to an injured joint or muscle reduces swelling and bleeding by slowing blood flow to the area. Compression (wrapping or taping the area of injury) reduces swelling and gives extra support to injured tissues. And elevation of the injured body part above the level of the heart slows blood flow to the area by forcing the heart to pump "uphill." Reducing blood flow reduces swelling.

Heat and cold are both important components of recovery following an injury, but it's important to understand which to use and how to achieve maximum benefit. Remember these general rules when considering whether to apply ice or heat:

Ice or gel packs are the first choice of care during the first 48-72 hours following injury. Apply the ice, or gel pack over a towel which will allow for a gradual cooling and more comfort. Place the towel under hot (but not scalding) running water, wring out the excess water and place the towel on the affected area. Each application of ice/gel packs should be 20-30 minutes, with 3-5 applications per day.

Moist heat may be applied 48-72 hours after injury. Heat increases circulation by dilating blood vessels and letting more blood into the area. Gel packs, hot towels, hot baths, hot showers, whirlpools, steam saunas, and moist heating pads are examples of heat with moisture. Each application of moist heat should be 20-30 minutes, with 3-5 applications per day.

Cut these instructions out and tape them on the inside of a medicine or kitchen cabinet so they will always be readily available whenever you or someone you know suffers a joint or muscle injury requiring first aid. Remember, the type, severity and circumstances surrounding the injury can impact the precise course of treatment to be pursued. Always consult with your doctor if you are unsure of the severity of an injury or if you have further questions regarding appropriate first-aid treatment.

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Tea Time

From a health perspective, you can't talk about tea without talking about polyphenols, compounds found in tea leaves and other plants. The less processing the tea undergoes, the higher its polyphenol content, which is why research suggests green tea has so many potential health benefits. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants, the same compounds that give fruits and vegetables their disease-fighting capabilities. Antioxidants reduce damage to cells, which reduces the risk of developing cancer and other diseases.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 75 percent of all tea produced worldwide is of the black variety, while only 23 percent is green and 2 percent is oolong. But those percentages may change as research continues to link polyphenols to better health outcomes. That's not to say tea in general (regardless of the type/color) doesn't have potential health benefits; here are a few examples to consider:

Cancer: Numerous studies suggest that green tea protects against a range of cancers including lung, breast and prostate cancer. For example, the Iowa Women's Study noted a substantial reduced risk of digestive and urinary tract cancers in postmenopausal women who consumed two or more cups of tea daily for eight years. Another study found a 42 percent reduced risk of colon cancer in tea drinkers compared to nondrinkers.

Heart Health: In one study, people who consumed five cups of black tea daily for three weeks reduced their blood lipid levels (high levels contribute to heart disease) by up to 10 percent. In another study, people who drank green tea had better blood vessel function 30 minutes after consumption.

Metabolism: Studies including those published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest green tea raises metabolism and improves glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, all of which is good news in terms of obesity and diabetes prevention. Compounds in green tea also may increase the body's ability to burn calories, thus increasing overall energy expenditure. Tea was more effective than caffeinated water, suggesting polyphenols (rather than caffeine, a known stimulant) were the key compounds involved.

Oral Health: Two specific polyphenols (catechins and theaflavins) inhibit growth of oral bacteria, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Dentistry. The compounds are found in green and particularly black tea. Another study supports this health benefit, suggesting green tea extracts discourage the growth of bacteria and may help infections such as strep throat.

Bear in mind that tea contains caffeine, which can have negative health effects, and decaffeination tends to reduce polyphenol content. Certain medications can also interact with tea, so it's important to communicate with your doctor. That said, next time you take a break from your day and sit down to enjoy a nice cup of tea, recognize you may be accomplishing a whole lot more in terms of improving your overall health.

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