A Gut Approach to Chronic Pain
By David Pollack, DC
Many of us live in chronic pain, whether there’s a single part of us that hurts—like our neck, back, shoulder, or knee—or an entire region of our body. Then there are those of us who hurt everywhere!
Why don’t these pesky pains heal or go away? When pain hasn’t resolved within a reasonable period, there might be another reason besides just the spot that hurts.
Pain is the result of local stimulation of nerve fibers that tell the brain that something is wrong. The brain interprets this signal and tells us, That hurts!
In most situations, our body heals whatever injury is causing the nerve stimulation, and we go about our life never better. Even if there was a physical injury to the area—an accident or a fall—we generally heal. Sometimes, however, the insult to the area does not resolve.
Why does one person stay in pain when another doesn’t? The answer may lie elsewhere.
Our busy gut
Our gut, the digestive tract, stays busy all the time. Beyond its obvious digestive functions, it has two other super important functions we don’t usually think about. The gut is home to 70 percent of our immune system. It’s also home to the production of neurotransmitters, the chemicals our nerves and digestive tract use to communicate with each other. So a problem in the gut can affect the transmission of all sorts of information, including pain and mood.
In other words, gut problems can cause much more global or systemic inflammation than we might realize.
Any digestive issue—from heartburn and reflux to IBS and colitis—can produce inflammation. Even mild bloating is indicative of gut-mediated inflammation. And it doesn’t just stay in our gut. It travels through the bloodstream and likes to stop wherever there is already another inflammatory process occurring. That means wherever it hurts already. So it would seem that getting our digestion-related inflammation under control could actually reduce pain in other areas of our body.
Chronic inflammation also raises our body’s production of cortisol, the hormone that controls inflammation. But chronically increased cortisol stops being effective, leading to further uncontrolled inflammation—and, on top of that, stress.
So increased cortisol causes an increased sensation of being stressed. Guess what that does? Nothing good and a whole lot of bad. More pain and inflammation.
Bottom line: Don’t ignore a digestive problem, no matter how minor it might seem. Left untreated, it can contribute to pain and prevent healing.
Dr. David L. Pollack is the founder of Pollack Wellness Institute, located at 66 Commack Rd., Suite 204, Commack, NY. For appointments or more information, call 631-861-0801, email [email protected] or visit PollackWellness.com.