Alternative Ways to Assist Pain and Help with Pain Management

After my recent posts of the management of pain, pain medications and how pain affects so many people lives daily, it is pretty clear that there are lots of people out there in pain. Worst still it highlights what I have known for many years, is that many people who are in pain, or have inflammatory pain conditions, are not being managed really well. Unfortunately many are also trying to manage their own pain conditions and may even be dependent on pain medications. Some of these medications taken long term may in fact be exacerbating their current symptoms, or actually making their pain and inflammation worse. Some of the medications may in fact by shutting off the body’s ability to know that it isn’t actually in pain anymore, but the body actually thinks it is. It is such vicious never ending cycle for many people and there seems to be no long-term, or short term, solutions for many who have to endure the physical and emotional consequences of all these things combined.

The one thing for sure, is that pain often isn’t managed well and there need to be more done to help those in pain. But, it also requires those in pain to seek proper help too. Again it is a bit of complex issue and many in pain often get dismissed initially as well, or are looked at as people who are dependent on pain medications just seeking more pain meds.

Pain does need proper management and if pain is not managed properly, it can do more damage than the medications health professionals, and the person in pain, are worrying about. But sometimes the blanket pain medication treatments don’t work, or they just aren’t enough, and this is why when it comes to pain, it need to be managed with a multi-modality approach. It really cannot just be all about taking medication, or telling people to just go and learn to live with their pain and all will be OK. It won’t be OK and we need to start to educate all concerned that there other options that may assist the current medical treatments and management strategies.

Let’s look at some of the alternatives to pain medications and how these things can help assist those in pain and can be used alongside medications to give better control of pain and also help in reducing dependency of pain medications.

1.Watch your diet

Eating the right foods may provide some protection from the symptoms of pain and the disease state that you may have. The role of diet in inflammatory conditions has been investigated in recent years due to the influence of diet on some of the processes linked to certain disease states that are causing pain and inflammation on a daily basis. Many of the so called anti-inflammatory diets out there are now outdated and have outdated nutritional and dietary advice that don’t really help much at all.

People in pain need to adopt an anti-inflammatory (grain free, primal, ketogenic style diet) to assist with settling any inflammation in the body and also helping the immune system.  This also needs to include prebiotic and probiotic bacteria to help with digestive function, immunity and gut health.  Regulation and restoration of gut function and the microbiome is so important and assisting with pain and inflammatory conditions.

Excess bad carbohydrates increase insulin response and this then causes the body to store fats and stops the burning of fat. This also leads to inflammatory conditions and more inflammation in the body. Excess body fat, now known as obestrogens (because it is estrogenic) needs to be controlled and managed through diet and exercise too. Excess fat and excess weight all lead to inflammation and stress on the body and this can also exacerbate pain and pain pathway.

Certain environmental estrogens, known as endocrine disruptors,  such as preservatives, plastics, pesticides and insecticides that can be ingested through certain nutrients have been suggested as risk factors for exacerbating pain and creating inflammation in the body too

2.Try complementary medicine and complementary therapies

Many people with pain and inflammatory disease states find symptom relief from using a range of different complementary and alternative medicines. There is some good solid research to show that certain natural medicines may help with the management of pain and inflammatory disease states and the associated symptoms. There is now some good research to support many natural medicines treatments such as Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, vitamins, omega 3 oils, probiotics, chiropractic/osteopathy, Yoga, Pilates and more.

Out of all the natural medicine therapies, Acupuncture and Chinese medicines has been one of the most researched and have shown to be the most beneficial and to assist those suffering pain and chronic inflammatory disease and their associated symptoms. Acupuncture has been widely researched to assist with many pain conditions and is now even used in some emergency departments around the world, for acute and chronic pain. Chinese herbal medicines have been used for centuries for pain and inflammatory disease and modern research has shown that certain Chinese herbs and herbal medicine formulas may assist with pain and painful conditions.

Certain strains of prebiotics and probiotics have also been shown to help with the immune system, microbiome, bowel, and digestive associated symptoms of some pain conditions. Probiotics have also been shown to not only help with digestive and immune function, but also with the psychological function as well. It does need to be specific strains of probiotics though. Correction of the microbiome, but using pre and probiotics may assist in reduction of inflammation in the body and thus assist with pain and painful disease states.

There are also western herbal medicines and naturopathic herbal formulations that can assist with pain and assist with pain management. There are also certain amino acids and nutritional medicine supplements that have been shown to assist with managing pain and inflammatory conditions. Like any conditions, management need to be done on an individualised approach and what works for one person, may not work for another.

Chiropractic and Osteopathy have been used for centuries to assist with pain and pain conditions. By correction of the sublaxations and correction of posture, this can assist in better nerve functioning, better blood flow to muscles and also help with pain reduction and reducing inflammation.

Just like with medical treatments, when it comes to complementary medicines, it is important to find someone who is a qualified practitioner and who specialises in pain management. Just like in the medical model, this can also be hard to find. Please find someone who is a registered healthcare practitioner, or part of an association for qualified healthcare practitioners.

3.Boost intake of omega-3 fatty acids

The is lots of research on the health benefits of taking Omega 3 fatty acids and a diet high in these healthy fats. Omega 3 fatty acids may assist many inflammatory conditions such as depression, cardiovascular disease, arthritic conditions and many conditions where inflammatory processes are then leading to pain.

Researchers have also found that the type of fat included in your diet makes a difference in your risk factors for inflammation and pain conditions. Studies have shown that people whose diets were heavily laden with trans fats increased their risk of the expression of inflammatory disease by 48 % when compared with individuals who ate the least of these. By comparison, women whose diets were rich in omega-3 oils lowered their risk of inflammatory conditions by 22 % compared with those who consumed the least amount.

Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, flaxseeds, almonds, and walnuts, may be helpful for pain and inflammatory conditions. Another way to get Omega 3 fatty acids is through supplementation, but please make sure you are using a practitioner only grade omega 3 supplement to ensure higher potency and better quality control.  Just remember, it is all about reducing inflammation.

4.Exercise

Often, people who experience pain fear exercising, in case it causes more problems for them. But over time, regular physical activity may decrease the pain and discomfort that you feel. High-intensity exercise and resistance training may assist in helping to reduce the reducing the symptoms of pain and reducing inflammation in the body.

While resistance training and high intensity interval training may assist in pain management and reducing inflammation in the body, some of the more gentle forms of exercise, such as Yoga and Pilates, may also assist in reducing pain and inflammatory response in the body too. Yoga and Pilates can stretch and strengthen your muscles, help with core strength, help with circulation, which all may be beneficial for pelvic pain management and stress reduction.There has been lots of research into the benefits of Yoga and Pilates and how it can assist pain and inflammation.

No matter what exercise, you choose, exercise may help those with pain and inflammation in many ways, including:

  • encouraging the circulation of blood to your organs
  • maintaining nutrients and oxygen flow to all your body systems
  • assist with decreasing pain and inflammatory response
  • assist with reducing stress
  • releasing endorphins in the brain, which are pain-relieving, “feel good” chemicals

Research has shown that those who engage in some sort of regular exercise have fewer symptoms of pain and less inflammation that those people who do not participate in regular exercise.

5.Managing Stress Levels

Stress and emotional factors are probably one of the most under rated causes of pain and inflammatory response. Stress and emotional factors are big factors in any disease and can make any disease worse. Not only can stress and emotional disorders be exacerbated by pain and inflammation, but so can pain and inflammatory symptoms be exacerbated by stress and emotional disorders, in a never-ending cycle. Pain and inflammation could contribute to making your stress levels, or emotion issues worse, due to the impact that the associated symptoms have on all aspects of your life, including family and personal relationships and work.

Stress management, Counselling, Mindfulness and Relaxation techniques may all assist in reducing stress and emotional disturbances that exacerbates inflammation and pain pathways and painful conditions.

People with pain and chronic pain and inflammation need to manage stress by using mindfulness and relaxation techniques. These can help you to increase your awareness of your body, refocus on something calming, and reduce the activity of stress hormones and inflammation in the body. It is all about learning coping mechanisms and what works best for you, not what works best for others.

6.TENS and Neuromodulators

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is an inexpensive nonpharmacological intervention used in the treatment of acute and chronic pain conditions. These small battery-powered devices deliver alternating current via cutaneous electrodes positioned near the painful area. The parameters of pulse frequency, and pulse intensity are adjustable and linked to TENS efficacy. TENS activates a complex neuronal network to result in a reduction in pain

Neuromodulation is the process by which nervous activity is regulated by way of controlling the physiological levels of several classes of neurotransmitters. Many pain management specialist now use a common form of neuromodulation involves using a device to deliver electrical current in therapeutic doses to the spinal cord to disrupt pain signals from the spinal cord to the brain, converting them to a more pleasant tingling sensation. This has been proven a safe and effective therapeutic approach for managing chronic pain of the arms and legs, neck and back often after spine surgery, or for other neuropathic conditions.

In Summary

It is important to know that people with pain and disease states that are causing chronic pain, will need a multi-modality, or team approach to deal with this disease. The team you need and modalities that you will need will be dependent on your individual symptoms. This will mean finding practitioners who will listen to you and also be open to trying some of the alternatives to some of the pain medications and opiates alongside pharmaceutical medications. As I said before, these alternatives may assist in treating your pain and managing your pain long term and also help with reducing some of the pain medications you may have been dependent on. Try and find healthcare professionals that can offer you a multi-modality approach for ongoing care and support and who also have a team of other people who specialise in the disease you are suffering from too. Again, the approach that you and your pain management specialist, or healthcare provider, choose to take will vary depending on your signs and symptoms.

Before starting any pain management, or new treatment, it is important to know all of your options and the potential outcomes of all of them and to know that the people that you are seeing are specialists in your condition and know how to manage the disease properly. That can often be the hardest thing to find and why you need to do your homework and see people who are specialists in this area of medicine. Too many people are missed and dismissed purely because they are just seeing the wrong people in the first place.

Lastly, if you are in pain and have a pain condition, please do not try and keep managing it yourself, or try to self-medicate. You need to be managed properly and should be getting the advice of a professional, not your friends, family or social media buddies. Pain needs to be managed and it needs to be managed properly and this also goes for pain medications as well. If you are still in pain and pain symptoms are getting worse, this means that you need to get something done about it because your disease may in fact be getting worse, or your body may not be responding to medication any longer.

Take care

Regards

Dr Andrew Orr

-No Stone Left Unturned

 

Can we always blame hormones being out of balance, for women’s health issues?

Often I see people posting that the source of all women’s issues is their hormones being out of balance. While sometimes this may be true, saying that the source of all women’s health issues is hormones being out of whack is not completely true. Sure, hormones may have a bit to do with it, but is it all erratic hormones?

Hey, it is good to blame something, but is it really fair to keep saying that women are all just an imbalance of hormones, when they are just having a bad day, or just don’t know why they are feeling the way they do?

The fact is that when I consult with women and they tell me that they, or their partner, or family etc, think they are a hormonal mess, I always have to tell them that this may not necessarily be so. More often than not, when I do my work ups on women, their hormones are actually normal and not out of balance at all.

So why would a woman be feeling like she is out of balance if her hormones are all in normal range?

Well, the answer to that is…. “How long is a piece of string?”

Yes, this is one of my favourite saying because, with any health issue, or imbalance in the body, you need to look at the individual and what the individual has been doing.

When I consult with women about these issues I will always go through a thorough history and testing with them and find out the following

  1. Are they stressed?
  2. Are they sleeping?
  3. Have they had a major upset in their immediate environment?
  4. Are they eating well?
  5. Are they drinking too much alcohol?
  6. Are you taking medications, or recreational drugs?
  7. Are they having too much sugar?
  8. Are they exercising?
  9. Are they taking time out for self?
  10. Is their partner the source of their moods and ill health?
  11. Do they have a gynaecological condition that has, or hasn’t been diagnosed?
  12. Have you had a health condition, or virus, or some other long standing health issue?

There are so many things that can affect a woman’s moods and wellbeing. Stress is probably the biggest factor, followed by lack of sleep and poor diet. High sugar intake also causes inflammation and can affect hormones, but it can just affect your moods. Poor diet and high sugars can also affect gynaecological conditions and affect an upcoming menstrual cycle too. Having a big drinking session on the weekend, or just a few drinks during the week can seriously affect your health, moods and motivations. Try not drinking for a month and see just how much better you will feel and how much better you wake up in the morning. A big binge drinking session on the weekend can affect you for a week afterwards

Lack of exercise can be another big factor in feeling tired. It is a catch 22 situation. When you are tired you don’t feel like exercising, but sometimes you are tired because you aren’t exercising. Exercise keeps the body feeling fit and moods better and your menstrual cycle better too. Not getting enough sleep can seriously affect your body on all levels.

Lack of sleep will not only make you feel tired, grumpy and teary, but it affects everything. Lack of sleep and too many bright lights in your room can affect your melatonin levels too. Melatonin is also responsible for conversion to serotonin, which is what helps moods as well

Too much stress and running on adrenalin does not help the body either. The body goes into this hyper-activated state and that can cause low grade anxiety and also affect the moods and the body’s energy levels. We also need to check if a woman is suffering depression and this is the cause of her health issues, or why she may seem out of sorts.

Then, you could have a gynaecological issue that is causing inflammation in the body and then being exacerbated by things you are doing in your life too. Some gynaecological issues are asymptomatic, but can cause issues with your health, your moods, your energy and yes, your hormones. But, many women with gynaecological issues actually have normal hormone levels, so it isn’t always hormones causing gynaecological conditions either.

At certain times of the year, we are more prone to colds and flu’s and viruses and these can affect our health, our energy, our moods and our systems as a whole. Some post viral symptoms are worse than the actual virus and can last long after the virus symptoms have subsided.

Chronic pain can also throw the body into a state of shock and affect both the moods and the bodies ability to function. Inflammation can play real havoc with a woman’s body and her health.

There are so many things that can affect a woman’s body and it as we can see, it can’t always be blamed on hormones. There are so many other factors to consider, which can affect a woman’s energy, her moods, her concentration and her daily life. So next time you are feeling a bit off, or a bit moody, or teary, or tired, don’t be so quick to dismiss it as just being hormonal. It may have nothing to do with hormones at all. If someone else tries to dismiss you as being hormonal, maybe it is time to be hormonal like and tell them where to go. Politely, but firmly of course.

If you are feeling like there is something wrong with your body, or you feel out of balance, it is a good idea to see your healthcare provider and get some basic testing done and delve a little deeper into why your body isn’t feeling the best it could be. I always make sure I get a thorough history off women and listen to all of their concerns so that they aren’t just dismissed as just having their hormones out of whack. They may be, but it is best to check first and that isn’t hard to do. I think too many women are just dismissed as being hormonal, or that it is hormones out of balance. Nine times out of ten, it is often something else. Let’s not forget that as we get older, we do start to slow down more too. But, let’s not talk about that one as that could be a whole post on its own.

Take care

Regards

Dr Andrew Orr

-No Stone Left Unturned

 

Are you Stressed? … or are you in Denial?

Most people suffer from stress at some point in their lives. There is good stress and there is bad stress and how people cope with these stresses in different for each and every individual. It is all about how you cope with it. Showing signs of stress does not mean that you are a weak person, just human like everybody else.

But, the word stress is probably not used correctly at times. Many people are actually suffering anxiety, or running on adrenalin and then say they are stressed .The word stress is such a broad term. These days the word stress probably means either you have anxiety, or you are busy being busy.

What do we now define as stress?

Stress is the description used for strain, pressure or force on a system. That system may be you. Stress can be the result of trivial annoyances like driving in heavy traffic, or a life-altering major crisis such as the death of a loved one. Stress can also be someone being busy, or someone running on adrenalin too much. Like I said before, stress could also be someone who is suffering from anxiety and then terms it as stress.

Stress can be used both to refer to the event that is causing the disturbance or the effects of that event on your body. Usually when we say we are feeling stressed we are talking about the symptoms caused by our body’s stress response.

There is no doubt that there are different forms of stress and probably the biggest issue for people these days is actually realising that their body is in distress. It is that constant low grade stress that affects so many people and causes so many issues in the body. That low grade stress is the one that eventually catches up with people and can sometimes have very detrimental effects.

The one thing we know for sure is that stress is a cause of a lot of our health issues, immune system issues, reproductive issues, gynaecological issues, mental health issues, respiratory and cardiovascular issues, sleep issues and so on.

Nobody is born stressed, or is predisposed to being stress. It is a learnt behaviour that can be unlearnt and that is why seeing someone to help with coping strategies around stress is so important. There are also supplements and medicines that can help to deal with stress more effectively too.

What are the Symptoms and effects of stress?

Some of the symptoms and health problems that can be caused or exacerbated by high levels of ongoing stress include:

  • migraine or tension-induced headaches;
  • insomnia, fitful sleeping or nightmares;
  • anxiety, anger or irritability;
  • low, irritable or unstable mood;
  • memory lapses;
  • shoulder, neck or back pain;
  • fatigue;
  • rapid heartbeat;
  • high blood pressure;
  • skin eruptions and worsening of conditions such as eczema;
  • heartburn, nausea (feeling sick), diarrhoea or constipation;
  • reduced libido;
  • shortness of breath;
  • problems with your immune system;
  • heart disease; and
  • chronic pain.

Like I mentioned before, stress can also affect the reproductive system, cardiovascular system, nervous system, immune system and so much more.

How stress affects your body

At the first sign of alarm, certain sensory nerves in your body are stimulated and hormones are released that automatically trigger physical reactions to stress. Your heart rate increases, blood is diverted to your muscles and brain, breathing rate increases, digestion slows down, saliva production stops (your mouth feels dry), perspiration increases and your pupils widen. You feel tense, you startle easily and your attention narrows to focus on possible threats.

This is the ‘fight or flight’ phenomenon, which makes your body tense, alert, and ready for action. After this reaction to a real or perceived threat, your body stays on alert until you feel the danger has passed. When the stressor is gone, the brain signals an ‘all clear’, and your body gradually returns to normal.

While some short-term stress is thought to be good for you, pushing you to make that extra effort in a sporting event or game, chronic or long-term stress can be harmful to your health. This kind of stress is when you feel under constant, intense pressure, or you just cannot see a way out of a terrible situation. The problem for some people is that they do not realise they are stressed, or they actually have anxiety, and their body is in the state of constant adrenal overload that eventually catches up with them and their whole body shuts down completely. We see this with adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue

Dealing with stress

Dealing with stress effectively can be complicated, but usually involves:

  • general measures to improve your overall wellbeing; and
  • learning coping skills and setting healthy boundaries
  • specific steps to deal with stress and particular challenging situations.
  • learning what your triggers may be
  • learning ways to deal with stress and how to be more relaxed

It is about getting coping skills to deal with the body having to deal with stress, or at point of perceived crisis.

The word that we term “Stress” commonly results when you feel your resources — for example, time, money or skills — are insufficient to deal with your responsibilities. Take check of what is causing you stress and where you examine your demands and resources can be a useful first step in dealing with stress. There is where the practice of mindfulness is very useful and also talking to a counsellor/psychologist can help you identify triggers for stress and have coping skills to deal with stress.

Problem solving techniques and coping skills may help you with problems and issues creating stress. You may also need to work on limiting your obligations, or asking for extra resources to help you cope with stress better. You may need to accept that there are times in life where you simply can’t do everything that others in your life, or you yourself are expecting.

One way to help deal with stress is to maintain a healthier mind and body. Here are some of the things you can do to deal with stress better.

Ways to Deal With Stress Better

  • Regular exercise to help with stress and tension in the body. It also helps with moods.
  • Make sure you get at least 1-4 hours “You” time per week. Treat yourself to sufficient relaxation time so that you can switch off from you daily routine. This will help to give you a refreshed and energetic outlook on life. Learn yoga, meditation or other relaxation exercises such as mindfulness. There are some great mindfulness courses available now.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you sleep and lack of sleep and stress depletes it. Lack of sleep also puts the body into distress.
  • Maintain a balanced diet. Without a balanced and health diet, your body will have inflammation and this will cause stress and disharmony in the body too.
  • Learn to accept what you cannot change but also learn to be more assertive, especially if you are one of those people who always say ‘yes’. Healthy boundaries are so important.  Assertiveness training, setting clear boundaries and learning to say no can be very helpful in avoiding overload.
  • Make sure you do something that you love at least 1-2 times per week. Spend time with people you enjoy seeing, listening to music, playing sport, reading a book, watching a funny movie, gardening etc.
  • Talk therapy and coping skills: Talk therapy with a trained professional that can help you deal with stress and help you with coping skills is very important.
  • Avoid the use of drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with stress.
  • Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can help with stress and studies have shown that it is better than medication and equal to talk therapy in its effect
  • There are natural medicines that can help you deal with the affects of stress and please talk to a qualified healthcare professional how best these can help and what to use. Do not self prescribe ever.

How do I know if I need help?

Many people think that they can deal with stress on their own, but the truth is it is better to get a trained professional to help you deal with it properly. This way you commit to actively doing something too and you are also learning coping skills at the same time. You should consider seeking help if:

  • you constantly worry and have trouble concentrating;
  • you feel a lot of guilt;
  • your sleep, energy and motivation is poor;
  • you can’t be bothered doing things anymore;
  • you experience several of the physical symptoms associated with stress;
  • you recognise that you are turning to self-destructive behaviours for temporary relief;
  • everything and everybody around you is being affected by the way you feel; or
  • you feel as though there’s nowhere to turn.
  • Friends keep telling you that you look stressed, or look like you need to slow down

There are qualified professionals who can help you with dealing with stress. It is important that you do see the right person to help you and your individual situation. You can always speak to your doctor or healthcare practitioner and ask them for a referral to someone. There are also mindfulness courses and relaxation courses you can do also. Exercise it important and again, it is a good idea help from a professional to get started and keep going.

Please take the risk of burnout and running on Adrenalin tests below and see how you are fairing (see below)

Take care

Regards

Dr Andrew Orr

-No Stone Left Unturned

Risk of Burnout Challenge

  1. Do you feel let down by other people around you?
  2. Are you too busy for close friends and family?
  3. Are you too busy to do even routine things like send out thank-you notes, return phone calls or mail birthday cards?
  1. Do you tire more easily than you used to?
  2. Are you working harder but accomplishing less?
  3. Are you increasingly cynical and disenchanted?
  4. Are you often invaded by a sadness that you can’t explain?
  5. Do you forget appointments, deadlines, possessions?
  6. Are you increasingly irritable? More short tempered?
  7. Does you body ache or are you having trouble shaking a cold?
  8. Are you finding it harder to be happy and joyful?
  9. Have you lost your sense of humour?
  10. Have you lost interest in sex or have a low libido?
  11. Are you less talkative than you used to be?
  12. Do you think of work all the time, even at rest?
  13. Do you find it hard to say ‘no’ to people or things that require your own personal time?
  14. Do you take time-out for others but do not take time-out for yourself?

Your score

To find your total , add up your “yes” answers.

(0 – 5) >> Cruising along nicely

(5 – 10) >>  Borderline burnout

(10 – 17) >> Burnout candidate

 

Running on Adrenalin Challenge

  1. I feel there isn’t enough time in the day to do all the things need to do.
  2. I speak more quickly than other people, even finishing their sentences for them.
  3. My relatives and friends say I eat too quickly.
  4. I would rather win than enjoy a game.
  5. I am very competitive at work, sports or games.
  6. I tend to be bossy and dominate others.
  7. I prefer to lead than follow.
  8. I feel pressed for time even when I’m not doing something important.
  9. I become more impatient when I have to wait for something or when I’m interrupted.
  10. I tend to make decisions quickly and compulsively.
  11. I take on more than I can accomplish.
  12. I become irritable and even angry, more than other people.
  13. I feel a strong compulsion to be doing something while at home or even on holidays.
  14. I fidget often and become restless, pacing, leg kicking, or fast gum chewing.
  15. I get a vague sense of depression whenever I stop an activity.
  16. I have forgotten how to, or don’t know, how to relax.

 

Score description

0 – This does not apply to me

1 – This statement applies to me less than once per month

2 – This statement applies to me on a regular basis

 

Total score

Out of a possible score of 32 you would have fallen into one of the 4 following categories…

(0 – 10) >> Relaxed

(10 – 15) >> Typical

(15 – 20) >> On the edge

(20 +) >> Adrenalin Junkie!

 

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The Toxic Consequences of Sugar on Mental Health

When sugar cravings set in, the last thing we might think of is how this may affects our long-term mental health. There is now so much research to suggest that we should.

After a stressful day and when our moods can sometimes be low, it is all to easy to reach for sugary treats. But sugar can also be in the form of savoury things too. We need to remember that savoury things convert to sugar and may have hidden sugars as well. There is so much evidence to show the link between sugar and chromic inflammation and now the evidence around it affecting mental health and mood disorders is increasing.

Last week, I shared some new research in post about the greater risk of depression in men and women who consumed significant amounts of sugar in their diet. A few people commented that feeling depressed may lead to increased sugar consumption, rather than the other way around. However, what was really interesting about this study was that the researchers, from University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health in the United Kingdom, used a mathematical model to exclude exactly that. This is known as reverse causation.

Using data from a large group of civil servants in the U.K. – they showed that sugar consumption came before depression, rather than being a consequence of it.

Diet and mental health are linked

When people ask me for help with mood disorders, I always tell them that a multimodality approach is needed, which encompasses changes to diet and lifestyle. It isn’t just about taking a pill. To be honest, there are no magic pills for mood disorders so people need to stop looking for them. True help come from changes to diet, changes to lifestyle, talk therapy, medicines and treatments that have been shown to help mood disorders.

In 2002, a study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas showed that the overall sugar consumption per person in six different countries (Canada, France, Germany, Korea, New Zealand, and the United States) implicated sugar as a factor in higher rates of major depression.

There have been many other research teams that have investigated the effect of diet on mental health. For example, consumption of processed food, take-away foods and fast food – including hamburgers, pizza, and fried foods – was found to be higher in both children, teenagers and adults with increased rates of depression.

A study of Chinese adults, who traditionally drink unsweetened tea , also showed that those who drank soft drinks and other sweetened drinks had higher rates of depression.

The science of sugar

Sugars are simple carbohydrate molecules. While being essential for cell and organ functioning, our bodies have sophisticated machinery to break complex carbohydrate molecules into simple sugars. Sugars therefore do not need to be added to the diet and our bodies do not need added sugar to function properly. Refined carbohydrates (bread, cereals, pastas, sweet drinks etc) all convert to sugar very quickly. This makes the blood sugars spike and causes the body to store fats and also stop the burning of fats. It also causes inflammation in the body, which is the cause of many disease states and health issues that we all face.

What is really important understand is that our bodies do not differentiate between sugars from different sources. Whether it comes from white sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, concentrated grape extract, fruit, or milk, our bodies use the sugar in exactly the same way. Sugar is sugar, not matter what sources it comes from. We can try and sugar coat it (pardon the pun) and dress it up to look healthy, but at the end of the day, it is not healthy for us and is causing major issues with our health, both physically and mentally.

The daily recommended intake of sugar is roughly about 6 teaspoons of sugar for women and 9 teaspoons for men. Even that is probably way too much. To put that into context, a can of Coca-Cola contains up to 10 teaspoons of sugar, while a small banana contains about 3 teaspoons. When people add up what they have in a day, they might be very surprised. Add in some bread, some pasta, some dried fruits, some juice, some sugar in your tea and coffee and it all starts to add up exponentially. We really do consume a lot of sugar.

Sugar affects on the nerves and brain

Neurons are very sensitive cells and are not well prepared for sugar level spikes. In fact, individuals with diabetes are at risk of neuron and nerve damage, and scientists now understand how high blood sugar causes this.

Researchers from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, performed studies on diabetic rats and showed that high blood glucose led to chronic inflammation and neuronal damage and death in the brain. Importantly, there is a strong link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, further supporting the claim that sugar toxicity has a role in brain health.

How to cut down your sugar intake

Cutting sugar from our diet may be easier said than done and these we are bombarded with advertisements for convenience foods and tasty treats. But even seemingly healthful foods can have high levels of hidden sugars. This is where many people get caught out. Food such as breakfast cereals, sauces (including ketchup and pasta sauce), dried fruits, gluten free products, flavoured milks, wholemeal bread, and many products labelled as low fat, such as fruit yogurts, low fat milk etc.

The other food that often get overlooked are fruit juices and so called healthy smoothies. A study published in the British Medical Journal last year showed that over 40% of the smoothies and fruit juices for children contained at least 19 grams of sugar. That is a lot of sugar for an to ingest, let alone a child. High levels of sugars are also in many toddler and baby foods too.

The best way to keep tabs on sugar consumption is to become familiar with nutritional labels. While some products may claim that they have no added sugars, the nutrition facts panel will show the amount of carbohydrates and sugars in the product. It is really important to read these panels because some of what you are ingesting may shock you. Just beware of clever marketing and advertising.

It is so important that we all start to look at foods and start to choose foods that are low in refined ingredients, such as sugar and other additive, but high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients that can relieve the symptoms of depression. Scientists are now seeing that these foods are promoting good brain health, which is great to see.

The next time stress and low mood threatens to spoil your day, remember that good foods can help you and remember where that sugar can actually make your moods worse.

Let’s not forget that trying to withdraw off sugar can be harder than coming off some hard core drugs. Sugar is highly addictive and does have drug like effects on the body. Don’t believe me?

Try it sometime and see hard it is.

Take care

Regards

Dr Andrew Orr

Women’s and Men’s Health Advocate

-“No Stone Left Unturned”