September 2016

Overcoming Pain  yoga-man.jpg

Pain is a fundamental aspect of being human. Although a very unpleasant experience that we generally try to avoid, from an evolutionary perspective pain has played an essential role in our survival: It grabs our attention, motivates action (for instance, to escape from whatever may be triggering the pain), and teaches us to avoid similar situations in the future. 

Acute pain generally has a clear cause, goes away with healing, and responds well to treatment. However, even modest estimates suggest that at least 25 million Americans suffer daily from chronic pain, typically defined as persisting for at least 3 months. Common areas include back pain, joint pain, and headaches, with sensations ranging from shooting pain to burning or aching. The underlying cause can be unknown and  medication, surgery or physical therapy may provide little or no relief.  Traditionally, the field of medicine viewed the mind and body as functioning separately. However, it is now recognized that pain is affected not only by physical but by psychological factors. Pain itself is an interpretation of signals that are sent to the  brain  through nerves in the body. 

So if you are anxious, depressed, stressed, constantly on the lookout for pain, overestimating the personal consequences or underestimating your ability to cope with it, then you will actually feel more pain than you would if you were relaxed and less threat-focused. Over time, the brain can also become highly attuned to pain, seeking out triggers and creating more pain with less provocation. Ordinary touch can become painful. The brain is then like a sensitive burglar alarm, even setting off when a spider crawls in the corner of the room. On top of this, the meaning that we attach to these experiences of pain, whether having thoughts about being a burden on the family or thoughts about the pain getting worse in the future, can create an additional layer of emotional suffering. 

As strange as it sounds, with curiosity and friendliness we can approach the pain, observing it and watching as it comes and goes. Mindfulness  meditation has been found to decrease pain intensity by 40%. Clients often find that through this process mindfulness reduces the pain and suffering. For others, the pain is still there, but it no longer dominates or interferes with their lives as it did before.  We can arrive at the understanding that pain does not have to define or rule the way that we live each day: it is just one aspect of our experience and it is still possible to live the life that we want to the full. 

A Nation in Pain by Aria Campbell-Danesh, M.A. 
Lurking in your steamy bathroom is a hidden danger potentially 20 times more dangerous than drinking unfiltered tap water... you can easily put a stop to it.

Gut Health

You probably know how important probiotics are for the good bacteria in your gut. But there's something else that could be just as important. After all, it doesn't do you a lot of good to keep adding bacteria, even good bacteria, to your gut if you don't give them anything to eat. Without the right food, they'll just die off. Fortunately, what's good for them is good for us too - but many of us aren't eating enough of it.

So what is this gourmet meal for bacteria that we're skimping on? It's fiber. What we typically think of as mere roughage that bulks up our food and then passes unnoticed through our digestive system is actually a feast for our gut bacteria. In fact, it's their number-one source of nutrition, and without it, they die off or are unable to function properly. And when bacteria aren't doing their jobs, several of our key physiological systems, including our immune system, don't get the fermentation end-products that they need.

A number of studies have shown how detrimental a lack of fiber is to the diversity of our microbiomes. Conversely, consuming more fiber can promote diversity, leading to better health outcomes. In fact, one study of African Americans who consumed 55 grams of fiber a day experienced improved markers for colon cancer in just two weeks. Other researchers suggest that simply increasing the fiber in our diets could result in substantial decreases in healthcare expenditures.

I agree. The more we learn about gut bacteria and the microbiome, the more we see their effects on every aspect of our health. And it's important to keep the microbiome not just populated, but healthy. So if you're taking a probiotic or eating fermented foods to supply good bacteria but you're skimping on your fiber intake, you're not actually doing your body much good. You need to address both parts of the equation.

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