The problem with taking pain killers

Problem with taking pain killers

Discomfort or pain is a normal part of the way your body heals and taking too many pain killers can interfere with this natural process.

Pain, inflammation and healing

Your body’s healing process at the site of an injury or against disease first involves an inflammatory mechanism, which is followed by an anti-inflammatory one. In other words, your body inflames itself to heal before it anti-inflames. This can cause pain, which is how pain and inflammation are closely linked. An example of this is the redness you see around a cut, which indicates the inflammation occurring before the cut can heal over, or the fever your get with a virus as your body fights it. 

Prostaglandins and pain

To control this inflammatory and anti-inflammatory process, your body uses prostaglandins. 

Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances (hormones are messengers) that you can’t do without. They occur in nearly all your body’s tissues and fluids, are formed from elongated types of essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats, which are considered essential because the body can't produce them) and are believed to be synthesised in your cell membranes.

Prostaglandins are responsible for regulating your cells' communication system, opening and closing cell channels, providing the fine tuning needed for maintaining homeostasis or balance within your body, increasing blood flow within your kidneys, dilating bronchial tubes and controlling inflammatory function. More specifically, they are involved in the constriction and dilation of your blood vessels, the induction of labor, the regulation of calcium transport, hormone regulation, cell growth, fluid retention in the kidneys and stomach acid secretion. 

Inflammatory and anti-inflammatory prostaglandins

There are three groups of prostaglandins and you need them all. The first two, prostaglandin–1 (PG1) and prostaglandin–3 (PG3), are derived from the essential fatty acid omega 3 and are anti-inflammatory. The third, prostaglandin–2 (PG2), is derived from the essential fatty acid omega 6 and is inflammatory.

Drugs inhibit or stop the healing process

The problem with your body's inflaming and anti-inflaming process is that this it is often accompanied by pain for which people routinely take aspirin, NSAIDS, steroids, and to some extent paracetamol. When you consume pain medication, it has little-realised consequences for your body.

Steroids, NSAIDS and aspirin work by inhibiting the function of PG2, the inflammatory prostaglandin. More techincally, they inhibit the conversion of the essential fatty acid—and primary precursor to prostaglandin—arachadonic acid, via enzymatic actions into PG2. While this action suppresses pain and inflammation, it also delays or prevents your body’s innate healing process.

Unfortunately, pain medications aren’t targeted towards a specific area of pain, meaning they affect your body as a whole and every function listed above. For example, when your take aspirin for lower back pain, your calcium uptake, cell health and fluid retention is impacted and you may suffer indigestion.  

The cause remains

When you take pain medication, you are also not treating the cause of the problem. In fact, your health problem may linger in part because the pain medication you have taken has stopped your body's natural healing process. In this way, pain medication can mask ongoing health concerns. 

Side effects of pain medication

Pain drugs can also have unwanted side effects, especially if you use them in the longer-term. These include stomach problems (bleeding, ulcer and stomach upset), kidney problems, high blood pressure or heart problems, fluid retention (causing swelling, such as around the lower legs, feet, ankles, and hands), rashes or other allergic reactions.

Chronic pain and Omega-3 fat

If pain and discomfort caused by inflammation is chronic, a safer and healthier way of dealing with it is to find and treat the cause.

One possible cause for excess inflammation in your body is the modern diet, in which there is commonly an imbalance between the intake of Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids resulting in an imbalance of prostaglandins. Too much PG2 and not enough PG1 and PG3 can lead to systemic inflammation and cause disease.

A healthier long-term response to pain and inflammation might be to improve this balance by increasing the amount of omega 3’s in your diet and reducing the amount omega 6’s. 

Before you pop a pill

Instead of grabbing a pill next time you experience pain, consider some alternatives first

  • Yoga, pilates or tai chi help may help manage your back or joint pain

  • Reduce or cut out inflammatory foods such as sugar, other unrefined carbohydrates and alcohol help

  • Add more anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats into your diet

  • Also add natural anti-inflammatory foods such green vegetables, turmeric and ginger

  • Consider acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, osteopathy or chiropractic treatments

Remember, pain is a messenger that something is not right and should not be ignored. Investigate and take appropriate measures. 

The best and most efficient pharmacy is within your own system. Robert C Peale