Dr. Nicholas Anhorn, BSc, ND. Published in the Times & Transcript Wednesday, April 3, 2013
I was lucky enough to be headache-free for the first 25 years of my life.
When I did have my first headache, I thought, ‘That isn’t that bad.’ Boy, was I wrong. That year I suffered with a headache almost every single day. The doctors said that I had received multiple whiplash injuries to my cervical spine from years of hockey and lacrosse, and recommended physical therapy. I tried massage therapy, then I tried physiotherapy twice per week, then I tried a chiropractor three times per week, then another chiropractor, then an X-ray, then an MRI, then a neurologist, then an osteopath, then acupuncture, then IMS, then a series of injections, and then … I gave up. I felt like I had tried everything, so I accepted the pain and the diagnosis.
I hear very similar stories from many of my patients in chronic pain. ‘I tried everything, but the results didn’t last.’ My belief is that no one should have to live in pain. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who are doing just that: living with their pain. In the past three months, one-third of all Canadians report having suffered a loss of income, booked off sick days, or even lost their jobs as a result of chronic pain. However, instead of focusing on these scary statistics, I propose that we look at the people who had chronic pain but are now pain-free. What did they do?
In my last article, I discussed the five key concepts of the most successful pain management centres. In that article I discussed what I describe as the ‘obstacles to healing.’ What I have found is that each person who is stuck in chronic pain has a unique combination of these factors that are impairing their body’s ability to heal.
The main obstacles include:
The poors: Poor posture, poor sleep, poor stress management, poor diet, or poor movement.
The riches: Too much exercise or exercising too soon, too much inflammation in their joints, muscles, nerves and throughout their entire body, or too many toxins accumulated in their tissues impairing their body’s regenerative power.
For me it was a combination of poor posture, poor sleep, and too much inflammation. While finishing up my bachelor of science degree, I was working in a molecular biology research lab in the evenings. I would study in the library until 10 p.m. each night and then head into the lab to work until 2-3 a.m. This would involve my neck being held in an awkward position for hours looking through a microscope (poor posture), and most nights I would just sleep on the staff room’s couch for my 8:30 a.m. class (poor sleep). After months of this, and years of previous sports injuries, my body said ‘no.’ And that is how I view pain. It is a message from the body telling you to stop doing what you are doing. This is a helpful message in many situations. For example, if you put your hand on a hot stove, you want that pain message to tell you to remove your hand before you do further damage. Another example would be if the low engine oil warning light comes on while you are driving and instead of adding more oil, you unplug the warning light, therefore causing damage to your vehicle. Similarly, if you ignore your pain signals (for example, by taking painkillers) and don’t address the ‘obstacles to healing,’ then you continue to cause more damage to your body. So pain is a good message, unless it gets stuck in the ‘on’ position.
One reason for this pain message to get stuck in the ‘on’ position is inflammation. There are many causes of inflammation in the body. For me it was eating foods that I was sensitive to. Food sensitivities are different from food allergies. A food allergy is an immediate reaction caused by a part of the immune system called IgE. Food sensitivities, however, are delayed reactions that can cause an underlying inflammation throughout the entire body by a different part of the immune system called IgG. Before deciding to go into naturopathic medical school, I met with a naturopathic doctor, who did a food sensitivity test on me (IgG blood test). This tested 96 different foods, and the results showed that I was sensitive to six foods, even though I didn’t have any noticeable digestive problems. When I limited those foods in my diet, worked on maintaining a good posture and allowed enough time for quality sleep, I became migraine free and still remain migraine free to this day.
Initially it’s hard for people to believe that food sensitivities, which are usually associated with digestive troubles, could cause inflammation anywhere in the body. But, in fact, 80 per cent of our immune system surrounds the digestive tract, and if these immune cells get triggered, they release inflammatory chemicals that travel throughout the entire body. For some people, this may show up as eczema, joint pain, difficulty losing weight, asthma, fatigue, or bloating and gas. And the list doesn’t stop there. For example, research has shown that 90 per cent of people suffering from migraines also have food sensitivity problems. For each migraine sufferer, the average number of offending foods was 10. Upon removal of those foods, 85 per cent of adult patients and 88.6 per cent of child patients became migraine free.
Determining and avoiding foods that trigger the immune system and cause inflammation is therefore one of the most important strategies to addressing many pain problems. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about different options to determine your food sensitivities. An elimination/challenge assessment or a blood test for IgG antibodies against many common foods are some of the methods that have been successfully used at the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic.