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The Sleep-Deficit and Chronic Disease Epidemic – Is There A Connection?

The Sleep-Deficit and Chronic Disease Epidemic – Is There A Connection? 1

Sleep is one of the most vital elements of achieving good health and its importance cannot be overestimated. Nearly every system of the body depends on satisfactory sleep quality and quantity for routine healing, repair and restoration.  Insufficient sleep robs the body of renewable energy sources and cell restoration, creating a suboptimal environment in the body, and eventually leading to dysfunction, imbalance and poor health. 

Sleep disturbances are common in nearly all chronic pain and fatigue conditions, and notably in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. In some cases, chronic pain and fatigue are a result of underlying sleep problems, while in other cases, sleep problems are actually caused by chronic pain and fatigue. In both scenarios, restoring quality sleep is imperative for healing and pain management.

Circadian Rhythms

The human body functions on an internal 24-hour cycle, known as a circadian rhythm, which functions to align the body’s internal activities with its external environment. This rhythm dictates both physiological and behavioral activities, including the sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, metabolism, eating schedules, hormone secretion, glucose homeostasis, and cell reproduction. A healthy circadian rhythm will be synchronized to the earth’s rotation, meaning light is the most influential trigger for determining an individual’s circadian rhythm. Other elements that can influence the rhythm include genetics, eating schedules, activity, and hormones such as melatonin. Activities such as staying up late, working odd shifts, and eating at unusual hours defy natural influences that establish a healthy circadian rhythm and therefore, can disrupt various internal activities, leading to poor health. 

The sleep-wake cycle is one of the initial activities damaged by a disrupted circadian rhythm, prompting chronic insomnia and sleep disturbances. The inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, chronic fatigue, and randomly falling asleep at unusual times are all roadblocks to quality sleep that will result in a lack of restoration and healing. Establishing a healthy sleep-wake cycle by means of supporting a natural circadian rhythm is foundational for anyone struggling with suboptimal health.

Stages of Sleep

While a healthy circadian rhythm will promote a routine sleep schedule, the next goal for establishing quality sleep is to ensure the body successfully passes through all 5 stages of sleep. Stage 1 sleep is a light sleep in which muscle activity slows (sometimes sudden muscle jerks are experienced during this stage), preparing us for stage 2. Nearly 50 percent of our sleep time is spent in stage 2, during which eye movement ceases and brain activity slows, for the purpose of healing and restoration. As the body passes into stage 3 and stage 4 (collectively known as deep sleep), extremely slow delta brain waves are active, while muscle and eye activity remain silent. Finally, the body spends approximately 20 percent of its total sleep time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In this final stage, breathing is rapid, irregular and shallow, while blood pressure and heart rate increase. The eyes rapidly move in various directions, and muscles are temporarily paralyzed. Each night, the body consecutively passes through the stages of sleep multiple times.  Each cycle may last up to two hours. As the night progresses, REM sleep lengthens while stage 3 and 4 sleep shorten. Waking up during a sleep cycle can often disrupt the continuity of the sleep stages as the body decides whether it should resume the previous sleep stage or start over, leading to insomnia and common sleep disturbances.

Sleep and Chronic Pain and Fatigue Syndromes

Chronic pain and fatigue syndromes such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are often classified by sleep disturbances. Pain can act as both a cause and consequence of sleep disturbances, and in the case of chronic pain and fatigue syndromes, both elements are present. Neuroimaging studies on fibromyalgia patients have revealed functional sleep disturbances including reduced short-wave sleep and abnormal α-rhythms (usually present when we are awake, but relaxed), which suggest frequent awakenings during non-REM sleep (stages 1-4). Deprivation of stage 4 deep sleep is common with these findings and can exacerbate pain and impair pathways that function to inhibit pain. These pathways are already compromised in fibromyalgia patients, leading to abnormal pain sensitivity. Improving sleep has resulted in better pain management and fatigue while impaired sleep in healthy individuals has created pain and fatigue. This illustrates the critical role of sleep in pain management and its importance in those with chronic pain and fatigue syndromes.

Sleep and Neurological Regeneration

Several important activities that affect both physical health and mental wellbeing are established while we pass through the stages of sleep. One important activity is the production, proliferation, and connection of new neurons, a process known as neurogenesis. As new neurons are produced, to replace old neurons, new neurological pathways (circuits) are also developed to improve and restore activity of the central nervous system. This is one example of how sleep can improve learning, memory, and other cognitive functions. As new neurons are generated, new receptors for key neurotransmitters such as GABA and dopamine, are also established. Improved transmission of these neurotransmitters can account for the positive effect sleep has on mood, depression and anxiety.

Healthy Sleep Habits

A healthy circadian rhythm will establish a sleep-wake cycle that follows the natural patterns of the sun. Most adults benefit most from obtaining at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep between the hours of 10 or 11pm and 6 or 7am. Naturally, the body desires more sleep during the longer nights of the winter season. Likewise, the body is more vibrant and energetic during the long days of the summer, when exposure to sunlight is more direct and lengthier. Both quantity and the specific time of the day are important for sleep quality. Sleeping for an adequate length of time during daylight hours when the body’s circadian rhythm is fighting its external environment, creates disrupted, low-quality sleep. This is often seen in third shift workers who may obtain an adequate amount of sleep, but still experience sleep deprivation. Similarly, lack of adequate sleep during an appropriate time can result in sleep deprivation.

Allowing the body to adequately prepare for sleep is equally important. The brain begins releasing melatonin approximately two hours before it assumes sleep, for the purpose of calming and relaxing the body, which promotes uninterrupted sleep. This preparation can be aided by turning off all electronic devices an hour before sleeping, to remove the blue light that cancels the effects of melatonin. Some individuals find that a warm bath with magnesium salts is relaxing and promotes better sleep. Alternatively, taking magnesium can help relax muscles and encourage better rest. Engaging in calming activities, reading encouraging literature, and using an oil diffuser with calming essential oils can further establish sound sleep. Finally, it is important to sleep in a dark room, void of startling sounds and lights, to support optimal melatonin production and uninterrupted sleep.

Botanicals and Nutraceuticals to Promote Sleep

Establishing healthy sleep habits can require patience and perseverance, especially when trying to build them in the context of a chronic pain and fatigue syndrome. In these cases, calming botanicals and nutrients that promote melatonin production and relaxation can help restore good sleep habits. Chamomile has been used as a mild tranquilizer for centuries and helps promote sleep. It makes a delicious bedtime tea. Valerian is another popular botanical, used in many cultures, for improving sleep quality. It has been shown to induce a sedative-like effect by inhibiting the breakdown of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter. Valerian can also help relax muscles, which encourages relaxation and sleep. Both lemon balm and passionflower are useful when sleep is disturbed by chronic stress and anxiety, common comorbidities with chronic pain and fatigue syndromes. Lemon balm and passion flower have been shown, in studies, to significantly improve difficulties in falling asleep and improves the calming activity of GABA, similar to valerian. Additionally, lemon balm may help to decrease pain sensations, leading to better sleep quality. Often a combination of calming botanicals is most effective for improving sleep quality. 

Other nutrients that support relaxation and sleep include L-theanine, GABA, phosphatidylserine, and melatonin. L-theanine is an amino acid found primarily in green tea. It is a precursor to the production of the calming neurotransmitter, GABA. In some cases, supplementing with GABA directly can be temporarily helpful while supporting the body’s natural production of this neurotransmitter. GABA’s calming actions can be attributed to its ability to balance excitatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine, promote muscle relaxation, and reduce anxiety, all of which contribute to poor sleep. Phosphatidylserine is particularly useful when chronic stress is inhibiting sleep quality, marked by frequent awakenings in the early morning with the inability to resume sleep. Phosphatidylserine is a fatty molecule that is integrated into cell membranes and especially those of the brain cells. It helps improve the transmission of neurotransmitters between cells. Finally, melatonin (or a precursor, 5-HTP) may be helpful in rebuilding neurotransmitters that help regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Regardless of the state of one’s health, sleep is foundational for regaining health and maintaining health. In a society that idolizes productivity, busy schedules, late nights and early mornings often rob us of the most important element of health. As a result, health challenges sneak up upon us, sooner than we would expect and leave us struggling to regain the health we once possessed. It is paramount to correct and preserve this vital activity if we would choose health. 

In the new book by Dr. David Brady called The Fibro Fix he provides detailed instructions on stress reduction and sleep improvement.  

Dr. Brady’s new book, The Fibro Fix, will give you a wealth of information on how to negotiate your way toward getting the proper diagnosis and the proper treatment for your symptoms of widespread pain and fatigue.   The book can be ordered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other fine book vendors, or at FibroFix.com. Also, learn more about The Fibro Fix Summit where Dr. Brady interviews 30+ experts on FM at FibroFixSummit.com. Also, please visit Dr. Brady’s main website at DrDavidBrady.com and follow him on Facebook at DrDavidBrady.   

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2014). Brain basics: understanding sleep. National Institute of Health. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm

Zee, P. C., Attarian, H., & Videnovic, A. (2013). Circadian Rhythm Abnormalities. Continuum : Lifelong Learning in Neurology, 19(1 Sleep Disorders), 132–147. http://doi.org/10.1212/01.CON.0000427209.21177.aa 

Choy, E.H. (2016). Current treatments to counter sleep dysfunction as a pathogenic stimulus of fibromyalgia. Pain Managment, 6(4), 339-46. doi: 10.2217/pmt-2016-0009. 

Diaz-Piedra et al. (2015). Sleep disturbances in fibromyalgia syndrome: the role of clinical and polysomnographic variables explaining poor sleep quality in patients. Sleep Medicine, 16(8), 917-25. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2015.03.011.

Vijayan, S., Klerman, E. B., Adler, G. K., & Kopell, N. J. (2015). Thalamic mechanisms underlying alpha-delta sleep with implications for fibromyalgia. Journal of Neurophysiology, 114(3), 1923–1930. http://doi.org/10.1152/jn.00280.2015

Fernandes, C., Rocha, N. B. F., Rocha, S., Herrera-Solís, A., Salas-Pacheco, J., García-García, F., … Arias-Carrión, O. (2015). Detrimental role of prolonged sleep deprivation on adult neurogenesis. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 9, 140. http://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2015.00140

Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular Medicine Reports, 3(6), 895–901. http://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2010.377 

ent, S., Padula, A., Moore, D., Patterson, M., & Mehling, W. (2006). Valerian for Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The American Journal of Medicine, 119(12), 1005–1012. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.02.026

Cases, J., Ibarra, A., Feuillère, N., Roller, M., & Sukkar, S. G. (2011). Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 4(3), 211–218. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12349-010-0045-4 

The Importance of Stress Reduction in the Maintenance of Wellness  & the Prevention of Chronic Disease

The Importance of Stress Reduction in the Maintenance of Wellness & the Prevention of Chronic Disease 0

Stress is increasingly becoming a root problem in most health conditions, and is an especially significant element in global pain and fatigue conditions such as fibromyalgia. Physical and occupational stressors are commonly encountered throughout life and may include a busy schedule, a demanding occupation, managing children and family life, financial burdens, a heavy school load, planning for a large event such as new move or job, and the never-ending pinging of electronic devices and communications invading everyday life. Emotional stress is more complex and often stems from weightier matters such as relationship difficulties, abuse, death, fear and anxiety. While everyone experiences temporary physical stressors throughout their life, emotional stressors can linger and lead to damaging feelings of despair and hopelessness if resolution is not obtained. Both forms of stress can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, reducing the body’s resiliency and arresting the healing process. The health effects of chronic stress have been the subject of many studies in recent years, owing to the fact that it has been linked to increased risks of cardiovascular disease and upper respiratory diseases, psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, widespread inflammation, and autoimmune conditions. In light of this, the fight for optimal health requires a commitment to daily stress reduction.

An individual’s stress response is highly dependent on genetic vulnerability, coping mechanisms, personality, and the presence of social and familial support. Any type of stress puts excess pressure and demands on the body, prompting various biological systems to respond. Individuals with a high level of resiliency and a strong support system are often able to cope with and manage greater levels of stress, compared to those whose constitution is weak and who lack the support of others. Chronic stress triggers the production of cortisol and catecholamines such as dopamine and norepinephrine - hormones which activate the “fight and fight” response. As these hormones surge through the body, they suppress the immune system and the healing mechanisms, by blocking the production of various immune cells. They also increase the body’s use of sugars and proteins in an effort to support the high amount of energy needed to maintain the stress response. As a result, muscle wasting and nutrient deficiencies may ensue. Stress hormones also disturb normal sleep patterns and cognitive function as they interact with and alter brain neurotransmitters. Temporary stress is unlikely to create long-term positive health effects; however, chronic stress easily disrupts several biological systems, illustrating why it has become a root element in chronic health conditions, and especially in global pain and fatigue disorders such as fibromyalgia.

Stress-Reducing Activities

Occasional stress is, quite simply, a part of human life and there are certainly occasions when stressors are heavier and threaten our health. However, incorporating basic stress-reducing activities into a daily routine can be helpful in balancing the stress response and increasing resiliency. 

One of the most basic behaviors that can help in reducing stress and improving health, is to evaluate whether you are overcommitted. Life is full of opportunities, but the human body is limited in its capacity. Therefore, learning to focus on a few important commitments, while simultaneously forgoing less important opportunities will help prevent stress associated with over-commitment. Establishing boundaries and fully committing to a few select obligations often produces a deeper sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Regularly participating in some form of mind-focusing exercise is shown to have significantly positive impacts on stress levels and mental health. Meditation, prayer and guided imagery are all excellent tools for focusing the mind. Meditation trains the brain to become aware of the moment and to be single-focused. Chronic stress often exerts itself as “mind-racing” and hypervigilance. Regular meditation can help bring thoughts into focus, improve attention, facilitate problem-solving, reduce all stress biomarkers, and improve cardiovascular risk factors. Likewise, prayer is a form of religious meditation that confers all the same benefits as other forms of meditation. Throughout history, it has been noted that religious practices such as prayer are significantly beneficial for reducing anxiety, improving mood and mental outlook, pain tolerance, and general health. Guided imagery is a powerful relaxation tool that encourages optimism and positive thoughts. It has also been proven to improve sleep, pain, anxiety and depression. 

Chronic stress can result in tight, spasmodic muscles, provoking pain, fatigue, and weakness. Engaging in light physical activity through stretching, yoga, walks through nature, and enjoyable activities is useful for encouraging relaxation, loosening tight muscles, improving blood flow, and decreasing pain. Light physical activity coupled with a mind-focusing activity creates a perfect marriage for stress-reduction by targeting both physical and mental stress. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is another important adjunct to both mental and physical activities intended to reduce stress. The new enhanced exercise and movement guide from Dr. Brady, offered as a companion to his book The Fibro Fix, makes getting the body moving again safely without exacerbating your pain. It can be accessed at: https://www.fibrofix.com/products/exercise-and-movement-supplemental-self-treatment-guide

Creating a calming environment through the use of music and light is a simple way to sustain a state of relaxation. Like guided imagery, music therapy promotes positive emotions while reducing anxiety and stress. Classical music, particularly, has been shown to positively stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to slow the heart rate and relax muscles. Colored light has the ability to affect brain hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, both of which are important for establishing a healthy wake/sleep cycle and contribute to positive moods. Specific colors have been used to foster specific moods in the practice of chromotherapy. Most individuals can affirm the positive effects of warm sunlight versus the cold, fearful feelings provoked by dark, shadowy colors. Aromatherapy is yet another means of generating a calming environment, helpful for reducing stress

Stress-Reducing Botanicals/Nutrients

As alluded to earlier, chronic stress places substantial demands on various biological systems; most notably, the endocrine system, which is responsible for producing many of the hormones involved in the stress response. As stress-reduction is pursued, various botanicals may be helpful for supporting these biological systems and motivating quicker improvement. Panax ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus, and Rhodiola rosea, are among the best known species of plants in a class of botanicals known as adaptogens. These botanicals support the adrenal glands and balance the production of stress hormones, thereby improving the body’s resiliency to stress and helping to recover. However, some of these classic adaptogens can be somewhat stimulating to the system and can make issues such as anxiety and hyper-vigilance issues worse. Therefore, I prefer using calming or neutral adaptogens mainly such as Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha). Still other botanicals can help reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve sleep by supporting neurotransmitters in the brain. These botanicals include valerian, chamomile, lemon balm, Bacopa, passionflower, and hops. Natural brain hormones such as melatonin and 5-HTP are temporarily helpful when disrupted sleep patterns and increased pain perception prevent recovery from stress. Similarly, amino acids such as L-theanine, L-tryptophan, and L-tyrosine can be useful in boosting natural hormone production since these amino acids are precursors in the production of many brain hormones and neurotransmitters, although the latter can also provide an unwanted stimulatory effect in some circumstances and should be used under the guidance of a health care professional skilled in the nuances of managing the stress response with nutritional and botanical agents. 

As conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome continue to surge, it is imperative to remove any roadblocks to healing. Stress is a foremost concern in many health conditions and may not only be a roadblock, but also a root cause of poor health and healing. Stress-reduction often clears the muddy waters of poor health and allows for a better representation of any genuine health concerns, making it an essential lifestyle modification.

In the new book by Dr. David Brady called The Fibro Fix he provides detailed instructions on the use of daily stress reduction techniques and practices, movement/mobility exercises, and the use of nutritional and botanical/herbal therapies for stress reduction.  

Dr. Brady’s new book, The Fibro Fix, will give you a wealth of information on how to negotiate your way toward getting the proper diagnosis and the proper treatment for your symptoms of widespread pain and fatigue.   The book can be ordered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other fine book vendors, or at FibroFix.com. Also, learn more about The Fibro Fix Summit where Dr. Brady interviews 30+ experts on FM at FibroFixSummit.com. Also, please visit Dr. Brady’s main website at DrDavidBrady.com and follow him on Facebook at DrDavidBrady.  

References:
Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel, S. D. (2005). STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 607–628. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141

Salleh, M. R. (2008). Life Event, Stress and Illness. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS, 15(4), 9–18. 

Wimmer, L., Bellingrath, S., & von Stockhausen, L. (2016). Cognitive Effects of Mindfulness Training: Results of a Pilot Study Based on a Theory Driven Approach. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1037. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01037

Andrade, C., & Radhakrishnan, R. (2009). Prayer and healing: A medical and scientific perspective on randomized controlled trials. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 51(4), 247–253. http://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.58288

Chen, S.-F., Wang, H.-H., Yang, H.-Y., & Chung, U.-L. (2015). Effect of Relaxation With Guided Imagery on The Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 17(11), e31277. http://doi.org/10.5812/ircmj.31277

Lee, K.S., Jeong, H.C., Yim, J.E., & Jeon, M.Y. (2016). Effects of Music Therapy on the Cardiovascular and Autonomic Nervous System in Stress-Induced University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 22(1), 59-65. doi: 10.1089/acm.2015.0079.

Radeljak, S., Zarković-Palijan, T., Kovacević, D., & Kovac, M. (2008). Chromotherapy in the regulation of neurohormonal balance in human brain--complementary application in modern psychiatric treatment. Collegium Antropologicum, 32, Suppl 2, 185-8.

Head, K.A., & Kelly, G.S. (2009). Nutrients and botanicals for treatment of stress: adrenal fatigue, neurotransmitter imbalance, anxiety, and restless sleep. Alternative Medicine Review, 14(2), 114-40.

Neural Signature for Fibromyalgia May Aid Diagnosis and Treatment

Neural Signature for Fibromyalgia May Aid Diagnosis and Treatment 2

In the link below you will find a press release regarding really interesting research and builds upon previous similar work and findings. It is wonderful to further illustrate again the fact that this condition is a central nervous system (CNS) issue, not a peripheral (muscle and other soft-tissue) one. However, I always wonder how accurately the researchers select who is in their fibromyalgia (FM) subject group and who is their control group, given the lacking diagnostic criteria and strong prevalence of misdiagnosis. Basically, in all of the research studies I read I continue to strongly question if researchers are really parsing out only classic FM subjects as being those having FM, or are they dragging in various pseudo-FM subjects (false FM diagnosis), finding interesting information, but on sub-sets of patients with various different disorders and not findings unique to actual classic FM? The number of people in this study is still pretty small also.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161017111159.htm 

  • David Brady
3 Uses for Aloe Vera Beyond Sunburns

3 Uses for Aloe Vera Beyond Sunburns 1

Aloe Vera - Beyond Sunburns

The aloe vera plant is a striking specimen that resembles a cactus with its thorny, fleshy leaves.  It grows best in dry climates and is known to flourish in the arid regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, America, and some parts of India. The word “aloe” originally derives from the Arabic word “Alloeh,” meaning “shining bitter substance,” while the word “vera” is Latin in origin, meaning “true.” Thus, aloe vera is considered the true aloe, as it is the most widely known type of aloe plant (there are actually over 500 species of aloe) and is the standard pharmaceutical source.

Aloe vera has many nicknames, such as burn plant, lily of the desert, and elephant’s gall, and has been used for medical purposes in Greece, Egypt, India, Mexico, Japan and China for over 1,000 years. Some of its earliest known uses date back 6,000 years to Egypt, where it was depicted in stone carvings and was known as the “plant of immortality.” Used by the Egyptians for skin care and embalming, it was also placed in the tombs of deceased pharaohs as a burial present.

Although aloe vera is most recognized for its soothing effects on sunburns, research shows a variety of other potential benefits, including antioxidant properties and its ability to help support a healthy inflammatory response. Aloe has been studied for its effect on blood glucose, skin tissue engineering, wound healing, acne and even dentistry. It appears that much of aloe’s beneficial effects have to do with its antioxidant properties, meaning its propensity to help combat oxidative stress.

Blood Sugar

One of the areas in which aloe vera shows promise is with helping to support healthy blood sugar levels. In a 2014 study with 99 non-insulin diabetics, participants were split into three groups, where one group received no aloe while the other two received 100 mg and 200 mg of aloe vera gel powder respectively. Those in the 200 mg group saw greater reductions in fasting blood glucose, glucose levels after eating, cholesterol and blood pressure as well.  Additional animal studies have supported these findings. 

Skin Health

Topical aloe vera cream has been found to be helpful with open skin wounds, with improvements noticed by the end of the first week of use. An interesting area which may not immediately come to mind when we think of open wounds is acne, yet some of these lesions can easily open, which perhaps is the reason aloe has shown promise with mild to moderate instances of this condition. Compared to topical retinoids, which are typically the drug of choice for acne, aloe may prove to be a more pleasing choice, as it may offer more soothing effects and help ease the trauma to the skin.

Burns

Although not as common, burns can be more traumatic than other skin ailments. Aloe has been shown to ease some of the pain and skin pulling associated with changing a burn dressing in first and second-degree burns. In experiments with tape stripping, adding aloe to vitamin E proved more effective with burns than vitamin E alone. 

It is interesting to note that aloe is quite popular within the glassblowing community. Many glassblowers keep aloe vera plants growing in their hot shops so that they are immediately available in the event these artists are accidentally burned. They simply remove a few “meaty” leaves from the plant, break them open at the widest part, and squeeze some gel out of the leaves directly onto the affected site. 

These wonderful properties could be the reason aloe vera shows promise in other areas such as the GI tract and gingiva (gums). With so many of aloe’s beneficial properties being studied, we are sure to see more updates coming in these, and possibly other, areas. 

The Importance of Stress Reduction in the Maintenance of Wellness  and the Prevention of Chronic Disease

The Importance of Stress Reduction in the Maintenance of Wellness and the Prevention of Chronic Disease 1

Stress is increasingly becoming a root problem in most health conditions, and is an especially significant element in global pain and fatigue conditions such as fibromyalgia. Physical and occupational stressors are commonly encountered throughout life and may include a busy schedule, a demanding occupation, managing children and family life, financial burdens, a heavy school load, planning for a large event such as new move or job, and the never-ending pinging of electronic devices and communications invading everyday life. Emotional stress is more complex and often stems from weightier matters such as relationship difficulties, abuse, death, fear and anxiety. While everyone experiences temporary physical stressors throughout their life, emotional stressors can linger and lead to damaging feelings of despair and hopelessness if resolution is not obtained. Both forms of stress can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, reducing the body’s resiliency and arresting the healing process. The health effects of chronic stress have been the subject of many studies in recent years, owing to the fact that it has been linked to increased risks of cardiovascular disease and upper respiratory diseases, psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, widespread inflammation, and autoimmune conditions. In light of this, the fight for optimal health requires a commitment to daily stress reduction.

An individual’s stress response is highly dependent on genetic vulnerability, coping mechanisms, personality, and the presence of social and familial support. Any type of stress puts excess pressure and demands on the body, prompting various biological systems to respond. Individuals with a high level of resiliency and a strong support system are often able to cope with and manage greater levels of stress, compared to those whose constitution is weak and who lack the support of others. Chronic stress triggers the production of cortisol and catecholamines such as dopamine and norepinephrine - hormones which activate the “fight and fight” response. As these hormones surge through the body, they suppress the immune system and the healing mechanisms, by blocking the production of various immune cells. They also increase the body’s use of sugars and proteins in an effort to support the high amount of energy needed to maintain the stress response. As a result, muscle wasting and nutrient deficiencies may ensue. Stress hormones also disturb normal sleep patterns and cognitive function as they interact with and alter brain neurotransmitters. Temporary stress is unlikely to create long-term health effects; however, chronic stress easily disrupts several biological systems, illustrating why it has become a root element in chronic health conditions, and especially in global pain and fatigue disorders such as fibromyalgia.

Stress-Reducing Activities

Occasional stress is, quite simply, a part of human life and there are certainly occasions when stressors are heavier and threaten our health. However, incorporating basic stress-reducing activities into a daily routine can be helpful in balancing the stress response and increasing resiliency.

One of the most basic behaviors that can help in reducing stress and improve health, is to evaluate whether you are overcommitted. Life is full of opportunities, but the human body is limited in its capacity. Therefore, learning to focus on a few important commitments, while simultaneously forgoing less important opportunities will help prevent stress associated with over-commitment. Establishing boundaries and fully committing to a few select obligations often produces a deeper sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Regularly participating in some form of mind-focusing exercise is shown to have significantly positive impacts on stress levels and mental health. Meditation, prayer and guided imagery are all excellent tools for focusing the mind. Meditation trains the brain to become aware of the moment and single-focused. Chronic stress often exerts itself as “mind-racing” and hypervigilance. Regular meditation can help bring thoughts into focus, improve attention, facilitate problem-solving, reduce all stress biomarkers, and improve cardiovascular risk factors. Likewise, prayer is a form of religious meditation that confers all the same benefits as other forms of meditation. Throughout history, it has been noted that religious practices such as prayer are significantly beneficial for reducing anxiety, improving mood and mental outlook, pain tolerance, and general health. Guided imagery is a powerful relaxation tool that encourages optimism and positive thoughts. It has also been proven to improve sleep, pain, anxiety and depression. 

Chronic stress can result in tight, spasmodic muscles, provoking pain, fatigue, and weakness. Engaging in light physical activity through stretching, yoga, walks through nature, and enjoyable activities is useful for encouraging relaxation, loosening tight muscles, improving blood flow, and decreasing pain. Light physical activity coupled with a mind-focusing activity creates a perfect marriage for stress-reduction by targeting both physical and mental stress. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is another important adjunct to both mental and physical activities intended to reduce stress.

Creating a calming environment through the use of music and light is a simple way to sustain a state of relaxation. Like guided imagery, music therapy promotes positive emotions while reducing anxiety and stress. Classical music, particularly, has been shown to positively stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to slow the heart rate and relax muscles. Colored light has the ability to affect brain hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, both of which are important for establishing a healthy wake/sleep cycle and contribute to positive moods. Specific colors have been used to foster specific moods in the practice of chromotherapy. Most individuals can affirm the positive effects of warm sunlight versus the cold, fearful feelings provoked by dark, shadowy colors. Aromatherapy is yet another means of generating a calming environment, helpful for reducing stress.

Stress-Reducing Botanicals/Nutrients

As alluded to earlier, chronic stress places substantial demands on various biological systems; most notably, the endocrine system, which is responsible for producing many of the hormones involved in the stress response. As stress-reduction is pursued, various botanicals may be helpful for supporting these biological systems and motivating quicker improvement. Panax ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus, and Rhodiola rosea, are among the best known species of plants in a class of botanicals known as adaptogens. These botanicals support the adrenal glands and balance the production of stress hormones, thereby improving the body’s resiliency to stress and helping to recover. However, some of these classic adaptogens can be somewhat stimulating to the system and can make issues such as anxiety and hyper-vigilance issues worse. Therefore, I prefer using claming or neutral adaptogens mainly such as Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha). Still other botanicals can help reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve sleep by supporting neurotransmitters in the brain. These botanicals include valerian, chamomile, lemon balm, Bacopa, passionflower, and hops.

Natural brain hormones such as melatonin and 5-HTP are temporarily helpful when disrupted sleep patterns and increased pain perception prevent recovery from stress. Similarly, amino acids such as L-theanine, L-tyrosine, and L-tryptophan can be useful in boosting natural hormone production since these amino acids are precursors in the production of many brain hormones and neurotransmitters, although the latter two can also provide an unwanted stimulatory effect in some circumstances so they should be used under the guidance of a health care professional skilled in the nuances of managing the stress response with nutritional and botanical agents.

As conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome continue to surge, it is imperative to remove any roadblocks to healing. Stress is a foremost concern in many health conditions and may not only be a roadblock, but also a root cause of poor health and healing. Stress-reduction often clears the muddy waters of poor health and allows for a better representation of any genuine health concerns, making it an essential lifestyle modification. 

In the new book by Dr. David Brady called The Fibro Fix he provides detailed instructions on the use of daily stress reduction techniques and practices, movement/mobility exercises, and the use of nutritional and botanical/herbal therapies for stress reduction. 

Dr. Brady’s new book, The Fibro Fix, will give you a wealth of information on how to negotiate your way toward getting the proper diagnosis and the proper treatment for your symptoms of widespread pain and fatigue.   The book can be ordered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other fine book vendors, or at FibroFix.com. Also, learn more about The Fibro Fix Summit where Dr. Brady interviews 30+ experts on FM at FibroFixSummit.com. Also, please visit Dr. Brady’s main website at DrDavidBrady.com and follow him on Facebook at DrDavidBrady.  

References:

Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel, S. D. (2005). STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 607–628. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141

Salleh, M. R. (2008). Life Event, Stress and Illness. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS, 15(4), 9–18. 

Wimmer, L., Bellingrath, S., & von Stockhausen, L. (2016). Cognitive Effects of Mindfulness Training: Results of a Pilot Study Based on a Theory Driven Approach. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1037. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01037

Andrade, C., & Radhakrishnan, R. (2009). Prayer and healing: A medical and scientific perspective on randomized controlled trials. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 51(4), 247–253. http://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.58288

Chen, S.-F., Wang, H.-H., Yang, H.-Y., & Chung, U.-L. (2015). Effect of Relaxation With Guided Imagery on The Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 17(11), e31277. http://doi.org/10.5812/ircmj.31277

Lee, K.S., Jeong, H.C., Yim, J.E., & Jeon, M.Y. (2016). Effects of Music Therapy on the Cardiovascular and Autonomic Nervous System in Stress-Induced University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 22(1), 59-65. doi: 10.1089/acm.2015.0079. 

Radeljak, S., Zarković-Palijan, T., Kovacević, D., & Kovac, M. (2008). Chromotherapy in the regulation of neurohormonal balance in human brain--complementary application in modern psychiatric treatment. Collegium Antropologicum, 32, Suppl 2, 185-8. 

Head, K.A., & Kelly, G.S. (2009). Nutrients and botanicals for treatment of stress: adrenal fatigue, neurotransmitter imbalance, anxiety, and restless sleep. Alternative Medicine Review, 14(2), 114-40. 

 

Childhood Trauma and Stress and Fibromyalgia - Is There a Connection?

Childhood Trauma and Stress and Fibromyalgia - Is There a Connection? 24

Traumatic experiences and stressors in childhood have historically been overlooked as predisposing factors in the development of various chronic pain disorders and psychiatric conditions, including fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome. However, the tide is turning as research is revealing a significant correlation between childhood trauma and adult health.

 The central nervous system is rapidly developing during childhood and being conditioned to respond to various stimuli and stressors that are encountered in life. As an assortment of environmental stimuli are encountered, new pathways are created between the cells of the brain in response to each stimulus. For example, a pleasurable experience such as a hug from a parent or a sweet food creates pathways that teach the brain to respond pleasurably to those stimuli. Likewise, a frightening experience will create and exercise pathways that respond in fear. This process of creating new pathways in response to stimuli is referred to as neuroplasticity. As we age, neuroplasticity decreases, meaning it is more difficult to develop new pathways and adjust our brain’s responses to stimuli. Children are at a distinct advantage in possessing a high degree of neuroplasticity. However, this also highlights the importance of delivering meaningful stimuli to the developing brain, to ensure the development of positive pathways.

 In the presence of a strong support system and normal, short-lived stressors, a child’s stress responses are appropriately activated and buffered through supportive relationships. In this way, positive pathways are developing in the brain and training the nervous system how to appropriately respond to the normal stressors of life. As the brain encounters various stressors, a healthy resilience is built so that increasingly stressful circumstances are able to be experienced with normal biological responses.

 In the absence of supportive relationships or in the presence of extreme and/or long-standing stressors, the stress response is inappropriately activated and may negatively impact the development of the brain and neurological system. As regions of the brain that are responsible for fear, anxiety and impulsive responses are activated, neural pathways are developed to favor these regions of the brain. Subsequently, regions of the brain that are responsible for reasoning, planning and behavioral control may lack appropriate pathways, leading to a propensity toward negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

 The human stress response elicits a cascade of events that impact the brain, neurological system, and various endocrine glands and hormones, explaining its broad influence over health. The stress response begins with neurons experiencing environmental stressors or stimuli, translating the stimuli into messages, and sending those messages along pathways to various regions of the brain for interpretation and response. During these activities, the production of brain chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, are triggered. Neurotransmitters deliver messages to other regions of the brain and other organs. These chemicals communicate with the adrenal glands (of the endocrine system), which then produce hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). These hormones are responsible for the traditional “fight-and-flight” response to traumatic or dangerous stressors. While these are helpful if we need to dodge a ball or car accident, chronic activation of these hormones can weaken the health of the immune system, the gut, energy systems, and pain perception, contributing to various health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. When the stress response is over activated during childhood, it becomes hypervigilant and has difficulty maintaining balance in adulthood.

 According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the most common traumatic stressors affecting children include, accidents, physical trauma, abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic and community violence. Other impactful stressors include death of a family member, divorce, drug or alcohol abuse, and natural disasters. When encountered during childhood, these traumatic stressors precondition the neurological system and the stress response system to produce exaggerated responses to normal stimuli. Fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome are two examples of hypervigilant neurological responses. Normal stimuli such as wind blowing in the face or clothing rubbing against the skin can produce painful sensations in those with fibromyalgia, illustrating an exaggerated pain response. Normal stressors triggering the neurological system to inappropriately stimulate the muscles of the intestine, leading to alternating constipation and spastic diarrhea, is a classic sign of irritable bowel syndrome. The pain response is also heightened in those with irritable bowel syndrome, causing abdominal pain.

 Currently, specific causes of conditions associated with chronic pain and fatigue, such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, are unknown; however, nearly two decades of research has strongly pointed to early childhood stressors as significant risk factors for initiating these conditions. While not every child who has been exposed to traumatic stressors will experience emotional and physical health calamities, research shows that children exposed to traumatic events or long-standing stressors are 2.7 times more likely to experience functional somatic conditions (functionally debilitating conditions for which no distinct cause can be determined), such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome and others. Additionally, these conditions commonly exist with psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression. The age at which trauma or stress is experienced, its duration, and even the type of trauma does not appear to shift this alarming statistic.

 Considering the increasing prevalence of functional somatic conditions, emotional and psychiatric problems, it is important to consider the influence of childhood experiences in the development of these conditions. Dwelling upon past trauma is not always helpful in supporting health and healing, and may actually be counterproductive; however, understanding its influence upon health is helpful in being able to appropriately identify elusive health conditions such as fibromyalgia. It is also important to understand for the purpose of protecting future generations from the debilitating effects of childhood trauma and stressors. Finally, it serves as a good illustration of the success of a functional medicine approach, which relies on a thorough health and lifestyle history to put together the “story” of an individual’s health and gain insight into the root causes of health problems.

 Dr. Brady’s new book, The Fibro Fix, will give you a wealth of information on how to negotiate your way toward getting the proper diagnosis and the proper treatment for your symptoms of widespread pain and fatigue.   The book can be ordered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other fine book vendors, or at FibroFix.com. Also, learn more about The Fibro Fix Summit where Dr. Brady interviews 30+ experts on FM at FibroFixSummit.com.  

References:

  1. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2005/2014). Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain: Working Paper 3. Updated Edition. http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu
  2. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2010.) Early Childhood Trauma. Retrieved from http://www.nctsn.org/content/scope-problem
  3. Burke, N.N., Finn, D.P., McGuire, B.E., & Roche, M. (2016). Psychological stress in early life as a predisposing factor for the development of chronic pain: Clinical and preclinical evidence and neurobiological mechanisms. Journal of Neuroscience Research. doi: 10.1002/jnr.23802.
  4. Zouikr, I., Bartholomeusz, M. D., & Hodgson, D. M. (2016). Early life programming of pain: focus on neuroimmune to endocrine communication. Journal of Translational Medicine, 14, 123. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-016-0879-8
  5. Afari, N., Ahumada, S. M., Wright, L. J., Mostoufi, S., Golnari, G., Reis, V., & Cuneo, J. G. (2014). Psychological Trauma and Functional Somatic Syndromes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Psychosomatic Medicine, 76(1), 2–11. http://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0000000000000010
  • David Brady