This blog is going to be a bit “science-y”, but I want to go over a topic that I think is crucial to understand in nutrition and supplementation for managing chronic pain – and nerve pain in particular. I promise to bring all of this together in a simple application. For starters, let’s get some key terms out of the way:
ATP: Basically, ATP is energy. All living cells produce ATP in order to carry out basic functions. ATP is produced by chemical reactions that take place in mitochondria.
Mitochondria: the part of the cell that helps make ATP for energy
Free Radical: A chemical that is missing a negative charge (electron) making it unstable. Free radicals take electrons from other healthy cells in the body starting a potentially harmful chemical reaction. Free radicals are part of the energy-making process.
Reactive Oxygen Species: An oxygen-based free radical that is produced as part of the energy-making process
Oxidative Stress: Damage caused to cells by Reactive Oxygen Species.
Anti-Oxidant: Chemicals that can give electrons to free radicals so they will stop damaging healthy cells.
Let’s put this in the context of the human body and pain. In order for us to live, all of the cells in our bodies have to produce energy. This is why we need calories to live -- our cells use calories to make energy. In the process of making energy, our cells also make waste that can be harmful. Compare this to your car (see images below).
Your car takes gasoline and turns it into energy so it can move. As a result of creating energy, chemicals are released into the air that can be very harmful to the environment. Folks in environmental sciences say, “Dilution is the Solution to Pollution”. To dilute something is to add another substance that makes it weaker. And that’s essentially what anti-oxidants do. By giving free radicals plenty of electrons, anti-oxidants can stop the damage.
So what does all of this mean to the patient struggling with chronic pain? Research has suggested that Reactive Oxygen Species may be particularly harmful to nerve cells (https://www.omicsonline.org/generation-of-reactive-oxygen-species-ros-and-pro-inflammatory-signaling-in-human-brain-cells-in-primary-culture-2161-0460.S2-001.php?aid=4869). Imagine a metal pole left outsideOver time the metal begins to rust and become weak because of oxygen. Your nerves are all covered with something called a myelin sheath that protects them. Over time, oxygen can damage the myelin sheath just like rust on the metal pole. This can make it difficult for your nerves to function properly, but may also leave nerve cells open to attack (http://www.neuropathytreatmentgroup.com/2-ways-oxidative-stress-hurts-your-nerves-how-to-stop-it/).
Researchers believe that oxidative stress placed on nerve cells may cause inflammation that can lead to burning, numbness, and tingling (http://media.axon.es/pdf/83313_2.pdf). Oxidative stress on nerves has been associated with fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
So what can we do about this?
a) Diets high in anti-oxidant foods may be extremely beneficial to calming nerve related pain and preventing oxidative stress. Some high anti-oxidant foods include (https://draxe.com/top-10-high-antioxidant-foods/):
Dark Chocolate - for staying with me through the science, you get a reward (yes, you can eat some chocolate in moderation!)
b) We can also use high anti-oxidant supplements. Alpha Lipoic Acid has shown promise in helping to relieve nerve pain by limiting oxidative damage in the brain (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2939615/). If you are interested in trying Alpha Lipoic Acid, we encourage you to look for a product that contains 600 mg of r-ALA like the one we carry at the clinic.
We hope you’ve found some useful information in this blog. Again, patients suffering from chronic pain are encouraged to explore high anti-oxidant foods and supplements like Alpha Lipoic Acid.
Yours in good health,