Dieting Away...Chronic Pain?

Note: This is a three part series on chronic pain. The first part will address the inflammatory component of chronic pain. The second will address the CNS component and the third will address the childhood factors leading to increased for chronic pain.

Continuous throbbing headaches, stiff and sore joints, aching muscles and a burning low back, sharp shooting pains down the backs of your legs or the side of your face. Arising with the weary thought that you have to face yet another day on little to no sleep, kept awake by the pain that has overtaken your body.

You feel angry at yourself, at your body. Why can't I just be like everyone else? Why does life have to hurt? Maybe it as an old injury that never seemed to fully heal. Perhaps it was something that crept up on you and you have no knowledge of when or how the pain began.

Maybe you were born with a condition that has caused a steady decline in your health and you can't remember a time that you were pain free.

Your own flesh feels foreign,

like a prison that keeps you locked in an unending wheel of exhaustion and agony.

You feel trapped in your own skin.

Your own flesh feels foreign, like a prison that keeps you locked in an unending wheel of exhaustion and agony. You feel trapped in your own skin.

Life with chronic pain is more than debilitating. It is soul crushing. The immense weight those of us who suffer from chronic pain carries cannot be overstated. When it seems all but impossible to get out of bed just to take a shower, you realize that pain has become the unwanted focus and driver of your life.

The far reaching effects of chronic pain can't even begin to be understood by those who don't suffer from this nightmare.

Chronic pain can seem like a hopeless condition to live with, especially when you don't remember the last time you weren't in pain, but there is hope. Research is showing that chronic pain can have both an inflammatory and a central nervous system or CNS component and by using an approach that integrates addressing both aspects, relief may be attainable.

Why does my body ache?

While the reasons why one particular person suffers from chronic pain and another doesn't is not quite clear yet in academic research, inflammation plays a defining role. When you think of inflammation, you usually think of the hot, red, painful swollen knee when you trip or get injured while playing sports.

The inflammation of chronic pain is similar but a bit different. Low grade systemic inflammation is a condition in which there is a long-term release of pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemicals within certain cells in your body) from immune cells. The innate immune system which encompasses such components as the skin, your cough reflex, and mucus production, can be involved as well.

Inflammation, in the normal physiological immune response, plays a positive role. In it's proper form, inflammation helps to isolate any harmful intruders in the body and alert the immune system to destroy them. This helps to keep you from getting sick or dying from a foreign antigen, like the flu or Cholera.

If inflammation is so good, then why do I feel so bad? Inflammation is only a "good" thing when it is done under the proper physiological context. So if you've been exposed to the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, the immune system will try its best to get rid of that virus to prevent you from becoming sick.

If there is no foreign intruder, then inflammation in the body can cause more harm than good.

Why would my cells

be promoting

inflammation in my body...?

Doesn't that seem like

my body is working against me?

So naturally the question to ask is: why would my cells be promoting inflammation in my body if there is no intruder? Doesn't that seem like my body is working against me?

In a sense, yes... and no. Inflammation in the body isn't just caused by foreign intruders. It is also mediated by certain hormones, your life choices, and unsurprisingly, your diet.

Leptin and Chronic Pain?

Leptin is a hormone produced by the adipocytes, or fat cells, in your body. The more fatty tissue you have the more leptin is produced. Predominantly leptin is thought to play a role in fat storage in the body. It's main role is to allow the brain to help assess the stores of energy that you have available to you.

People who are considered to be overweight or obese usually have more levels of leptin circulating in the blood than people who are normal weight or underweight. The response that leptin invokes on the immune system is basically pro-inflammatory [1].