Have a Headache? Pop a Pill!

Once upon a time, when you got a headache, you looked around for the cause. Some causes were very obvious. On Sunday mornings, my husband, known to imbibe a few gin and tonics Saturday nights, would wake up clutching his head and moaning “I knew there was something wrong with that tonic water”…..Right! So that’s one very obvious cause.

It’s when the cause of your headache is not obvious, or you don’t have the time or inclination to figure out where it came from that the problem arises.

You know the drill. Have a headache? Pop a pill or four or so! Preferably a brand name pill, heavily advertised on TV. Pills where the cost of manufacture is zero and where marketing costs are in the millions.

Big drug can afford lavish TV advertising for its products. To sell one pain pill it will spend more than the GDP of many small countries. And the TV ads work. You see a beautiful woman clutching her head, in obvious pain. The weight of the world is on her shoulders. What can she do? Take a pill of course! The bottle is right there in the foreground, brand name carefully highlighted. She takes the pill and voila! Headache gone! She’s practically dancing. Wow! Those pills really work! Right!

In the real world, what happens? We get a headache. We take the pills so heavily advertised on TV. The pain of the headache is temporarily alleviated. The headache is actually just sitting in a corner doing its knitting. The temporary effect of the pills wears off. We take more. Then we need stronger pills and heavier doses. Soon, we need a prescription for pain medication. Luckily for us, we know exactly what to ask our doctor for. It’s another heavily advertised prescription medication.

Is this the answer? Of course not! The answer is a lot simpler, cheaper and healthier than that.

You feel a headache coming on. It will not hit you like a sledgehammer. You feel it coming; a general unease. Where are you? Crouched over your computer, maybe? Neck tense? Shoulders knotted? Tension everywhere? Well, yes. Right there, is the major cause of headache in the modern world.

Just once, don’t reach into your desk drawer and extract your pain pills and swallow them unthinking. Realize that your body is in knots and it’s trying to tell you so. Listen to it. Get up. Stretch. If you’re in a commercial office, walk to the outside door. Take a few breaths. Walk to the water cooler. Drink two cups of water. Stretch five times before returning to your desk. See how that works? Rocket science! The world didn’t end because you took a five minute break. But the synapses firing off your headache subsided. Your eyes cleared. Your shoulders dropped from around your ears. A neck rub is great too, but a bit difficult to get at the office.

If you work from home, oh lucky you! Take all the above steps but, if you have a garden, go outside. Admire your glorious plants. Have a few words with them. Do a little weeding. Return to your desk refreshed.

So, what just happened? We ignored the siren call of lethal chemicals and we soothed our tortured limbs and muscles all by ourselves. This actually works for tension and stress headaches. And it’s so much healthier than ingesting chemicals passed as safe by the Keystone Cops in the FDA.

There are other headaches, of course, not succeptible to these particular natural remedies and I’ll cover them in later articles. But, for now, there is one instance I want to highlight:

If you get a blinding headache, out of the blue, no warning at all, your first instinct is to lie down and hope it passes. Don’t. Call your PCP or the emergency services. You need to be examined right away. Remember. If you get a blinding headache without warning, act immediately. Get help. Now.

The sheer pace of our lives today causes all sorts of unease in our bodies. Big Drug has a panacea for all the ills the befall us. But it’s not a panacea; it’s not even a Band Aid. It’s a false fix and we need to get away from it. Thanks to TV advertising, we’re conditioned to think we should take a pill every time we feel less than on top of the world. Not so. Let’s start with small natural steps and see if we can bring our bodies back to the glorious ease we had as children.

How to Be Healthy: Natural Pain Relief

When you are in pain you want nothing more than to end it. The Western approach is to reach for a pill. If this does not work then a trip to the MD for stronger pills, or even injections or patches. But what if all this fails, or you are simply wishing to avoid the unwanted side effects (the most dramatic being death via Aspirin).

Luckily there are alternatives to the sometimes dangerous ‘conventional’ approach – there is natural pain relief available to you.

The first step is trying your understand your pain. As any real pain expert will tell you – we don’t really know what sets it off.

For example we all know someone who has agonising back pain due to a slipped disc, but many people have slipped discs and no pain. Some who have surgery on the disc get better, some it makes no difference!

Pain would seem to be not just down to physical injuries and causes, but a complex interaction of thoughts, feelings, habits, lifestyle, posture, diet, biochemistry, and for some people even things like atmospheric conditions.

So how do you get to understand your pain in order to get natural pain relief?

Well, first of all you have to become aware of all the possibilities – which you are now. Next, try and find some professional help from an MD interested in more than medicine, or a chiropractor interested in more than adjusting your spine. Other alternatives would be Applied Kinesiologists, acupuncturists, naturopaths. It is probably good to find someone who is experienced in more than one field of natural pain relief – a good sign is if they know about Functional Medicine.

What are some of the natural pain relief alternatives?

A good chiropractor or osteopath should get your muscles and joints in shape using a combination of soft tissue techniques and specific spinal adjustments. Along with the manual techniques a good look into nutrition and your emotions may be in order.

Lets tackle some of the mental/emotional issues first.

Anything that stresses you out will tighten your muscles, so you need to get in control of that. There are a number of easy to do techniques that make traditional psychology look quite old fashioned. Try Emotional Freedom Technique or Thought Field Therapy for starters, and pick up a copy of Maxwell Maltz’s excellent book Psycho cybernetics. Again, having someone to guide you will help.

With nutrition there are a range of helpful supplements, but the first thing is to check your diet – you need enough water and vegetables, and less processed meats, wheat and sugar. Even things like tea and coffee can send some people into pain, but they don’t realise until they stop. One of my patients turned out to be suffering from years of back pain as she had an intolerance to eggs and coffee.

After your diet, supplement with pharmaceutical grade fish oil. You need these healthy fats to make your own natural pain killers and anti-inflammatories, as well as oil to lubricate your joints and sooth the nerves.

The spices ginger and cayenne pepper have shown good results in clinical trials for pain relief.

The humble pineapple is full of a natural pain killer called bromelain, which can be bought in pill form.

There is also SAM-e (short for S-adenosylmethionine) which has been shown to be as good as some drugs for arthritis.

Another is the herb arnica – often used in homeopathic form, which makes it safe for children. It comes as both a pill and a cream, and no matter what skeptics may say it seems to help.

One of my favourite tools I use in our clinic for helping to asses which nutrients and foods may be best for an individual is the Braverman Nature Assessment. You can find this easily online but you will need help interpreting what it means, so feel free to email the clinic!

Another way to help decrease pain and swelling is promoting the production glutathione. Glutathione is needed to detoxify, promote immune system health, and keep your cells producing energy.

Although glutathione is found in all foods it is destroyed by your digestive juices. You can however boost it with very specific supplementation.

How to raise glutathione will be the subject of another article – or see the resource box below.

Whatever pain you are struggling with I hope this short article helps.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Exercise, And Then Some

Muscle Soreness

When you use your quadriceps, your muscles will get the sorest, since it is the largest muscle group in your body. Whenever you use that muscle in a different capacity than you’re used to, you’ll experience some kind of soreness. However, once you do that exercise anywhere from 3-6 times, your body will adapt and you’ll find that the soreness does not continue when you’re exercising in that way.

Variety in Your Workouts

There a lot of really great reasons to switch up your workout routines. One reason is so that you don’t get bored. When you’re repeatedly doing the same thing, it becomes almost a habit and doesn’t keep your mind’s attention as well as a new workout would. It also keeps you from doing a routine out of habit, which can lead to inattention and potentially even an injury. Varying your workouts also allows you to use the muscles in a different capacity. For instance, there are 3 muscles in your triceps and 2 muscles in your biceps. Each workout is going to touch those areas differently. It’s also good to get used to variety in case your needs change or you have an injury. If you’re used to constantly changing up your workout, it will be easier to transition to a new style of working out that suits your needs.

Working with a Trainer vs. Group Classes

A trainer can pinpoint exactly what you need to be doing to get your body in the shape you want it. They can tailor exercises to suit your body, which is a major plus. They’ll also help you discover what kinds of exercise you enjoy doing, so that you can do your workout on your own and still have the motivation to do so. Group classes, on the other hand, are really great because you have the camaraderie of other people who are doing the same workout you are, no matter how grueling it might get. They’re also on a regular schedule, so if your schedule changes, you can catch a class earlier or later in the day, or even the next day. Working out with a trainer or working out in a group class both provide amazing physical benefits and will get you the body you want. Which one you choose is really up to your preference. Some people enjoy the companionship of others in their classes and some people enjoy working one-on-one.

How Often?

The minimum you should exercise is 20-30 minutes, 3 days a week. Of course, you can always shoot for higher. Gradually work your way up to longer workouts and more frequency, but don’t push yourself. Always keep in mind what your body is capable of doing. You know your body better than any professional out there. The incredible thing about exercise is that the more you do it, the more you want to do it. Especially if you’re finding new exercises that you enjoy doing.

Cardio vs. Weight-Bearing

A lot of women focus on cardio and a lot of men focus on weight-bearing activities, have you noticed that? If you really want to get fit, you need to do both. Cardio is any exercise that gets your heart rate up. You should be able to talk to someone else, but not really hold an entire conversation. This can be anything from bicycling to kickboxing. Weight-bearing activities are any kind of exercise where you’re using the muscles in your body. We typically think of this as weight-lifting, but even walking can be a weight-bearing exercise if you consider that you’re not sitting or lying down. Be sure to fit in both kinds of exercise each week.

Stretching

There has been a lot of hype and confusion about stretching, kind of like the newest diet fads. Stretching is really important and here’s what you need to know about it: you only really need to stretch at the end of a workout, during your cool down. Before working out, though, you need to warm up. You can do this by doing sidesteps, marching in place, and circling your arms. This loosens up the muscles and gets them ready to go. If you don’t warm up before a workout, you can risk pulling or straining a muscle.

The Best Type of Exercise

Here’s my biggest secret: the best kind of exercise you can do, is one you enjoy doing. That’s it. If you like doing it, it won’t seem like a chore, which means you’ll do it more often and for longer periods of time.

Food and Exercise

Food is really up to the individual. The best way to find out what to eat to get your body in shape is to work with a nutritionist or a health coach. They can help you figure out which foods are best for your body, since there is no blanket, one-size-fits-all diet. Even protein intake isn’t the same for everyone. It really just depends on your body type. In terms of eating before and after workouts, you want to make sure that you do eat something before you work out, especially if it’s in the morning. You don’t want to eat a huge meal that’s going to make you feel uncomfortable when you’re working out, but you do want to have some kind of sustenance in your stomach.

When You’re New to Working Out

The biggest complaint trainers hear from newbies is that they’re hungry. Now that you’re working out more and you’re burning more calories, your body needs more nutrition. That doesn’t mean that after every workout you need to go polish off a bag of potato chips. It just means that you need to find healthy snacks that will keep you nourished and satisfied, like a handful of almonds or string cheese.

Water

A standard measure for the amount of water you need is to drink half of your body weight in ounces every day. Of course, this also depends on the individual. If you’re working out more, you need more water. If it’s hot out and you’re sweating a lot, drink up. If it’s dry outside and it’s drying out your skin, you need to drink more. The best way to tell if you’re drinking enough water is to look at the color of your urine. It should be a pale yellow or even clear; darker than that and you’re dehydrated. You can also hop on a scale before and after a workout. Any difference in weight will be because of water. For every pound, drink a cup of water.

The Mind-Body Connection in Health

Neurotransmitters, Receptors, and Prescription Drugs

Science has made some amazing breakthrough discoveries in the last fifty years or so. Television, internet, cell phones, technological advancements – all of these have drastically changed our lives, for better or for worse. But in the area of human health, perhaps the most profound discovery of all has been made regarding the mind-body connection in human physiology.

The term mind-body connection is more than just a new-age catchphrase. It feels kind of strange to think about this, but science has shown us that every thought or emotion you experience can actually be boiled down to the binding of certain tiny molecules called neurotransmitters in your nervous system.

It happens at lightning speed. When you have a specific thought or emotion, synapses in your nervous system are firing, causing a chain reaction through the release of neurotransmitters. If you have a home brain scanning device (just kidding), you could actually see this. You would see that when you think about certain things or feelings, different parts of your brain are activated.

For example, thoughts about a pleasurable experience would release endorphins that activate the opiate receptors in your brain, giving you feelings of happiness or peace. Feelings of anger would release molecules called catecholamines, giving you a burst of energy and causing your circulation to increase or your face to flush.

Neurotransmitters are also involved in the body’s physical systems. The pumping of the heart, the movement of the stomach in digestion, the breathing of your lungs – these are all controlled by the binding of neurotransmitters to the cells in your body.

Of course, this has created a pretty big impact in the field of medicine, primarily in the creation of new drugs. Being able to understand the receptors and neurotransmitters in the body, scientists have developed a whole array of drugs aimed at treating or preventing a variety of health conditions, both mental and physical. This has given birth to our new age of medicine, where in treating disease, prescription drugs reign supreme. While this has benefited many people, the downside is that the powerful movement of the drug industry is detracting from the other benefits we can gain from this new scientific understanding.

The Mind-Body Connection in Daily Life

The same neurotransmitters involved in thought and emotion also have receptors in the various organs of the body. What this means is that not only are your thoughts and emotions physical processes, but they also have an effect on the systems in your body.

Take the digestive system for example. The digestive system has been coined “the second brain” because it is so rich in nerve endings and receptor sites. These nerves in your digestion have many of the same receptors as the ones in your brain. So when you have certain thoughts or emotions, the release of neurotransmitters are going to have an effect on your digestive system. We’ve all had the experience of a nervous stomach, or felt the effects of anger in our gut.

It’s not a one way street either. The organ systems of the body release neurotransmitters that have an effect on our brains, and this can then affect our thoughts and emotions. The human body is a complex system of feedback loops.

This understanding can have just as profound a change, if not a bigger one, than the development of new drugs. In seeing our thoughts and emotions as physical processes that affect the health of our body, it can motivate us to be more attentive to what is going on in both our minds and bodies.

For example, understanding the mind-body connection, it becomes harder to just blow off something like having too much stress as if it is only mental or emotional. Stress can actually have detrimental effects on our health because it leads to the release of excess stress hormones which can cause a number of health problems. Or, when our immune systems become weak because the mind tells us that brutally high expectations are the path to success, we can start to question whether sacrificing health is a worthy trade for this pursuit.

In the 17th century, Descartes penned his famous phrase “I think, therefore I am,” implying the highest quality of humanity is the power of the mind. Over time, we have come to value the mind as being above and therefore superior to the body. We use our minds to control our bodies, to pursue our ideals often at the expense of our physical health.

The breakthrough understanding in the science of neurotransmitters and receptors challenges this mentality. The mind is not elevated above the body – the mind and the body are one and the same. By understanding this reality, we can see more clearly how the mind and body affect each other and learn to take better care of ourselves, our health, and each other.