In recent articles, I talk about ways in which you can treat chronic pain versus managing it with medications, and why this is important.
Chronic pain is a big issue, especially here in the U.S. An estimated 100 million Americans live with chronic pain, and these numbers are expected to grow in coming years.
Why are more and more Americans suffering from chronic pain at alarming rates?
There are several factors such as environment, stress, injury, or illness. However, one culprit that is often overlooked is diet, and how nutrition can mitigate or prevent a chronic disorder from occurring down the road.
Chronic Pain and Poor Nutrition
Whether you are working, exercising, sleeping, reading or watching TV, the food and drinks you put into your body affect everything you do. And many of the chronic diseases Americans are dealing with are preventable with a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
Common diseases which can be prevented include
- Cardiovascular disease – the number one killer of men and women in the U.S. Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol increase your risk of developing blood clots. High sodium diets can also lead to high blood pressure, which contributes to heart disease. And if you are someone who consumes alcohol excessively, then your blood pressure can also skyrocket leading to cardiovascular disease.
- Diabetes. Diabetes takes place when your body cannot produce enough insulin, or it can’t use its current insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes is common among people who are obese or overweight. This means that Type 2 can be reversed with a better nutritional diet and a more active lifestyle.
- Lung disease. This is one that many people misinterpret as they think that smokers or people who are around secondhand smoke can only develop lung disease or lung cancer. However, in reality, what many people don’t realize is that the types of foods you ingest affect how well you breathe. Poor diet also leads to weight gain putting increased pressure on the lungs, which affects breathing. If you are winded after walking up a flight of stairs, then this is a sign of poor diet.
The next logical question is what should you be focused on when it comes to incorporating proper nutrition and a more active lifestyle?
Go With Your Gut (Literally) When It Comes to a Better Diet
Did you know that your body is more bacteria than human? There are roughly 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body and only 30 trillion human cells.
Bacteria in conjunction with viruses, fungi, and other microscopic living things are referred to as microbes in your body. Trillions of these microbes reside mainly in your intestines and on your skin. Also, there are up to 1,000 bacterial species in your gut microbiome, and each of these plays a different role in your body – some are essential while others can cause disease.
How does your gut microbiome affect your health?
In short gut microbiomes affect the way you store fat. Also, your gut microbiomes affect how you balance your glucose levels, along with how your body responds to hormonal changes (including stress, or depression) that make you feel hungry or satiated – thus creating an emotional eating or drinking behavior.
When your gut microbiomes are out of whack, then this can lead to a leaky gut, which is when your intestinal wall begins to let out more additional waste (or harmful substances) than it should into your bloodstream. And when this happens, not only does your body experience weight gain, other severe health issues can develop such as:
- Immune reactions
- Autoimmune disorders
- IBS or chronic gastrointestinal disorders
- Metabolic diseases such as diabetes
- Celiac disease
- Certain forms of cancer such as colorectal and esophageal
So how do you get your gut health in check?
Basically, it really boils down to replacing foods that are high in bad fats, sugars, carbohydrates, and sodium (pretty much all of the packaged and convenient fast foods), and incorporate more of the good (and delicious) stuff into your diet.
Foods, in particular, that can be beneficial to you, and your gut includes:
- Probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are found in fermented foods, beverages (have you tried Kombucha drinks?), and supplements. Prebiotics can be found in certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Both probiotics and prebiotics are gut healthy compounds.
- Fiber is also an excellent prebiotic and is considered to be an essential ingredient for gut health. When it comes to fiber, there are two types – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers, such as oatmeal, some fruits and vegetables, and legumes can help lower your LDL cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Insoluble fibers, which can be found in whole grains, kidney beans, and fruits and vegetables produce more of a cleansing effect on your digestive system. Fiber is also a critical ingredient to prevent inflammation of the intestine, also referred to as diverticulitis.
- Bananas are loaded with potassium and magnesium, which can protect your body against inflammation. Studies have also shown that bananas can help support the release of excessive weight. Also, apples, which are high in fiber, are a great snack to eat. However, when buying apples, it is best to purchase organic to help prevent unwanted pesticides from entering your body.
What About a More Active Lifestyle?
It’s no secret that as a society we have become very sedentary. From being active as hunters and gatherers, many Americans today are confined to sitting and rarely moving. This creates all sorts of health problems when it comes to posture and how this impacts breathing, and the phrase you probably heard of by now, “sitting is the new cancer.”
Proper nutrition and an active lifestyle go hand-in-hand. And when it comes to a more active lifestyle, it does not mean you need to be training for an ultra-marathon (if you are then great).
Instead, focus more on just moving around. Go for a walk outside and get some Vitamin D, which is known to boost your feel-good serotonin levels.
You can also do yoga, which is great for flexibility, balance, strength, and overall well-being.
Having a workout partner can also be helpful. This can be someone to go on walks with or someone to push you a little harder to help you get into better shape.
When you are more active, you begin to release endorphins that make you feel good. And the release of these endorphins is a great way to help you deal with stress versus coping with stress by eating bad foods or indulging excessive alcohol.
Why live or experience pain down the road when you can live and feel more alive right now? Incorporating proper nutrition into your diet can help you restore your gut bacteria so you can avoid chronic disorders down the road. And having a more active lifestyle in conjunction with a proper diet can also work wonders to help you live and be healthier.
Marge Kalfon, MSPT is the founder of PT by Marge and is a licensed physical therapist in Virginia. She graduated with her Masters of Science in Physical Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University in 1992. Since then, she has practiced in a wide variety of settings ranging from large hospitals to small private practices. She has extensive training and experience in a wide variety of manual therapy techniques as well as orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation.