The abuse of powerful narcotics/opioids such as prescription pain medications, heroin and morphine, is a serious issue affecting up to 36 million across the globe. Over 2 million people in the US are currently suffering from substance abuse disorders related to narcotics and the consequences are devastating both for those who are addicted and their families. The number of accidental overdose deaths has risen alarmingly in recent years, and there is a strong relationship between the increased non-medical use of opioid medications and heroin abuse. Recent studies have also shown that the use of narcotic painkillers for over 90 days can significantly increase the risk of developing major depression.
Regular opioid use can also lead to addiction. Therefore, health professionals around the world are attempting to find non-narcotic means of reducing their patients’ pain. A groundbreaking study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic has shown that narcotic pain use can be reduced by half in those with chronic pain, by simply checking if they have adequate levels of Vitamin D and other micro nutrients available.
Vitamin D and Chronic Pain
Vitamin D is necessary because it helps the body absorb calcium, which is vital for keeping osteoporosis and rickets at bay. The recommended amount of Vitamin D for adults is 600 IU daily, rising to 800 IU daily for those aged over 65. While most people obtain the amounts they need from their daily diet and from spending adequate time in the sun, some groups are at a particularly high risk for possessing inadequate levels (including the elderly and those with dark skin). Low levels of Vitamin D are also linked to an increase in blood pressure, which is considered a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
The Mayo Clinic study shed new light on the extent of the effects of Vitamin D deficiency, showing that people who lack this Vitamin need more narcotic pain relievers than those who have required levels. The study also showed that a lack of Vitamin D can lead to a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) and lower health perceptions and levels of function.
Amino Acids and Chronic Pain
Studies show that patients suffering from chronic pain are also lacking certain amino acids that are converted into the nervous system messengers commonly referred to as neurotransmitters. While amino acids and neurotransmitters serve multiple functions in the human body, these substances provide the human body with the tools it needs to regulate pain and inflammation. Patients with chronic pain often deplete their pools of these pain fighting chemicals, and if not actively replaced via a targeted nutrition program, treating chronic pain safely and effectively can become more and more difficult. Amino acids offer a variety of health benefits to people in general, but become even more important when the body’s nervous system is subject to the constant stress of pain.
Alternatives for Those with Chronic Pain
If you have chronic pain, it is vital to discuss non-narcotic ways to keep it at bay with your doctor. Currently used alternatives include Omega-3 fats (which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties), dietary supplements like THERALEVE and Vitamin D supplementation – use this calculator to ascertain how much time you should spend in the sun. Doctors also recommend that you reduce your intake of processed foods, which tend to house unhealthy amounts of sugar, thereby increasing insulin and leptin levels. Indeed, if you suffer from chronic pain, avoiding high sugar foods can be very helpful, since high insulin and leptin levels are associated with a correspondingly elevated inflammatory response.
Other natural options include yoga (proven successful at treating lower back pain and migraine related pain), chiropractic adjustments (which can significantly reduce neck pain), or massage (which lowers levels of stress hormone, cortisol). Indeed, embracing a stress-free lifestyle should be a top priority in combatting pain, since tension-induced pain is one of the most commonly reported types of pain. Mindfulness meditation and controlled breathing have been the subject of many studies, which have shown that like yoga, they significantly lower levels of cortisol. Holistic exercise programs (including activities like Tai Chi) have also been shown to be powerful stress relievers.
Some natural supplements and pain relievers that are considered safe and effective include ginger (which is excellent at soothing inflammation), curcumin (which is helpful in reducing osteoarthritic pain), astaxanthin (an antioxidant with documented anti-inflammatory properties), Theramine (an amino acid based medical food) and bromelain (a natural inflammatory sourced from pineapples).
If you have chronic pain, ask your physician to test your Vitamin D and amino acid levels. A simple blood test will show if your levels are adequate or not. If your results show you need a few rays of sunshine or a targeted nutrition plan, ask your doctor about the possibility of reducing your pain medication once your levels are back to normal.
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Mayoclinic.org, What are the risks of vitamin D deficiency?, accessed May, 2015.
Emaxhealth.com, Lack of Vitamin D Doubles Use of Narcotic Pain Medicine, accessed May, 2015.
Drugabuse.gov, America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse, accessed May, 2015.