Amino Acids, Neurotransmitters and Pain Relief

Chronic pain is a complex condition that can change the way your body works. The natural chemicals (neurotransmitters) that your nervous system depends on to help manage pain and inflammation are in high demand, so making sure you have enough of them available is vital for proper relief.

Did you Know?

Amino acids and nutrients are the building blocks of  the neurotransmitters your nervous system uses to reduce the volume and frequency of pain and inflammatory signals. Addressing amino acid depletion with medical foods is a safe and easy way to restore the foundation of your nervous system’s health and an important part of any comprehensive pain management program.

Everyday Medications that Increase the Risk of Heart Attack

Data out of Stanford University suggest that Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s) such as Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium are associated with a higher risk of heart attack.  Published in the journal PLOS One online, researchers looked over 2.9 million patients over a several year period to determine if patients who took PPI’s for gastro esophageal reflux had an increased risk for myocardial infarction than patients who did not.  Concern was raised when scientists discovered that PPI’s potentially reduced the antiplatelet effect of clopidogrel, a drug use to prevent clotting after a heart attack or stroke.  The clopidogrel is used after heart attack to prevent clotting which could lead another heart attack.  They were concerned that if heart attack was raised in this population, it could extend to lower risk patients.

The study showed that patients taking PPI’s had a 16% increased risk of heart attack.  H2 Blockers, such as Zantac and Pepcid were not associated with an increase risk.  Perhaps more importantly, the risk was not just associated with high risk categories such as having had a previous heart attack, the elderly or taking clopidogrel.  It was applicable to all ages and risk groups.

The study has several limitations including the attempt to look back at charts and determine what medications are being taken.  Often patients will take over the counter PPI’s and may not be accurately reporting it to their physician.  Also, retrospective analyses like this are subject to certain biases and are not as valuable as preplanned double-blind clinical trials.  However, the large number of patients reviewed does give the study significant credence.

PPI’s are one the most commonly used medications in the United States and around the world, with over 113 million prescriptions filled globally each year.  PPI’s are used to treat stomach and intestinal ulcers and heartburn, as well as to prevent gastrointestinal bleeding from NSAID’s in higher risk populations.  NSAID’s have been associated with a number of serious complications in addition to bleeding ulcers including kidney and liver issues, fluid retention with swelling in the legs, elevated blood pressure and possibly increasing the risk of heart attack.

Medications that are often used to treat or prevent the side effects of another medication create a potentially vicious cycle for patients who will ultimately end up taking more and more medications to manage an illness. The risk of adverse events increases with the number of medications prescribed, and the number of medications prescribed increases with age.

The avoidance of polypharmacy and therefore reducing the risk of dangerous medication side effects is crucial for patients and providers.  Alternative therapies, such as FDA regulated medical foods, which by definition must be on the FDA GRAS list (generally recognized as safe), may have similar efficacy to standard pharmaceuticals but without the side effects. Understanding the risks and benefits of medications is an important part of being a patient and a healthcare provider. Exploring the medication options that may be better tolerated is something every patient and physician should do.

 

The Problem with Prescription Pain Killers

Pain is a big deal. On one level, it’s very useful. It tells us when there’s something wrong, and is pretty efficient at giving us a handy indication when what we’re doing may not be particularly good for us. Those who cannot feel pain [1] suffer from horrendous associated problems, and frequently damage themselves quite badly without being alerted to the fact that they’re doing so by pain. However, unlike a man-made alarm, the body does not come with an ‘off’ switch which one can hit once one’s been made aware of the problem. Chronic pain is a major issue, and one of the most troubling symptoms of a great many medical conditions. It’s a factor which seriously affects people’s lives, and good pain management is recognized as being vital to the all-important quality of life [2] experienced by those needing medical treatment. Having said this, however, it is also being increasingly recognized that the people of North America are becoming dangerously dependent upon prescription painkillers. All too often, we pop a pill when we do not really need to, and plenty of us are relying on prescribed narcotic painkillers when we would undoubtedly be a lot better off with some other method of pain-relief. While there is certainly a place for narcotic painkillers in the management of seriously painful conditions, it needs to be recognized that these drugs do come with a major health warning – and alternatives or avoidance should be the preferred options if at all possible.

Narcotic Painkillers

Opioid painkillers were originally designed for cancer pain and somehow over time have become a first line therapy for many physicians despite the potential for addiction. What may be lesser known, however, are the dangers inherent within these drugs, and the startling scope of America’s dependence upon them. Put simply, opioids such as Vicodin and codeine bind to opioid receptors within the brain, which dulls the brain’s pain response. These receptors are designed to work with the body’s natural opioids – endorphins [3]. Endorphins are released during exercise, and numb pain as well as promoting a feeling of wellbeing, enabling and motivating us to stay on the move and thus potentially to survive for longer. Narcotics fulfil the same role – but in hyper-exaggerated form. Narcotic analgesics swamp our opioid receptors, saturate them to the point where we’re utterly numbed and frequently rather high. They’re very effective as a method of pain relief, but also quite dangerous and are associated with a host of dangerous side effects.

Painkiller Addiction

It’s very easy to develop a taste for opioid painkillers. Why wouldn’t you? They keep pain at bay, and they make you feel good. They’re also, unfortunately, highly addictive. Their very nature means that you’re inclined to seek out more and more – and America’s healthcare system doesn’t exactly discourage you from overdoing it. Big pharmaceutical companies do, after all, stand to make a lot of money from plenty of pill-popping patients. North America has the world’s worst rate of prescription painkiller addiction by a long, long way [4]. Places with nationalized healthcare (in which pharmaceutical companies would have nothing to gain from touting their product to the public) are not in any more pain than the people of America, but they’re far less addicted to painkillers. The solution for someone from the USA to the slightest malady invariably involves popping a pill, while those from other countries are put on courses of pills only when necessary, and given alternative pain-relief methods more often. Each system obviously has its pros and cons – but in this particular case the figures concerning painkiller addiction speak for themselves. More overdose deaths in the USA have been caused by prescription narcotics since 2003 than cocaine and heroin put together – partly (if not wholly) because narcotic prescription rates have increased enormously in this time [5].

An Easy Death

A major issue with opioid painkillers is that they’re not only all too easy to get hold of, and highly addictive – they’re also unpredictable killers. While medical science is pretty good at estimating doses according to body weight and so on, the problem of tolerance is always going to rear its ugly head. The body develops a resistance to opioids over time which means that one must take a higher and higher dose in order to achieve the desired effect. And, at any moment, that dose might prove just too high for the body to cope with. Opioids kill in a number of ways. The most common of these is respiratory depression. This can be reversed – but only if the overdose is low and medical aid arrives quickly [6]. If this is not the case, then the overdoser finds themselves unable to adequately fill their lungs and essentially starves of oxygen. It is far better not to risk this, not to get addicted, and to seek alternatives to narcotic analgesics whenever possible!

[1] Gillian Mahoney, “Meet the Child Who Feels No Pain”, ABC, Oct 2013

[2] Nathanial Katz, “The Impact of Pain Management on Quality Of Life”, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Jul 2002

[3] PBS, “Role of endorphins discovered, 1975”

[4] Arnold M. Washington, “America’s Painful Love Affair With Painkillers”, Rehabs

[5] National Safety Council, “Opioid painkillers: How they work and why they can be risky”

[6] Ben Wolford, “Respiratory Depression Reversed In Trials With Drug That Fights Opioid Side Effect”, Medical Daily, Aug 2014

 

A Safe Way to Manage Obesity

Over two thirds of Americans are overweight and over one third are defined as obese and the number of people with obesity in the world now exceeds those with malnutrition (1).  Being overweight or obese significantly increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis.  Yet despite the public’s awareness of these issues, obesity remains an epidemic.

People often describe the frustrations of trying to lose weight, whether it is through failed diets or exercise programs.  They either don’t lose weight at all or lose only to gain it back a month or two later. Effective weight loss programs that allow for long term success are desired but many patients struggle despite the available resources. The time constraints of work and family are difficult to overcome and patients often need help or a jump start to get their weight loss regimen going.

The cornerstones of an appropriate diet to lose weight include lowering caloric intake, decreasing complex carbohydrate ingestion, avoiding “empty calories” such as processed sugars and regular aerobic exercise. Fad or gimmick diets that help you to lose weight fast often lead to rebound weight gain and psychological distress.  Healthy weight loss should be targeted for 1-2 pounds per week over the course of many weeks.  The first five pounds usually come off fast and then the weight loss slows down.  People get discouraged and give up during this phase as it can be the most difficult part of the process.  Additionally, many patients suffer from uncontrollable appetite while dieting and this limits the effectiveness of the diet.

5 tips for weight loss

Recent data points to unique nutritional deficiencies as a contributing factor to Obesity. The medical foods  Apptrim and Apptrim-D  are specifically designed to treat these specific nutrient and  micro-nutrient deficiencies by supplying obese patients with a bioavailable source of amino acids and nutrients.  AppTrim and AppTrim-D contain the amino acids that specifically produce the neurotransmitters that are involved in controlling appetite, hunger and satiety.  Neurotransmitters are the brain’s messengers that tell the nerves what to do and help your stomach and brain communicate with each other. Obese patients often lack the neurotransmitters required to suppress appetite and food cravings. AppTrim helps to decrease appetite, carbohydrate cravings and improves early satiety thus helping an individual maintain a diet and weight loss goals.

Several double blind placebo controlled trials using AppTrim have been performed.  These studies have demonstrated that patients taking AppTrim along with diet and exercise lost more weight and felt less hungry than patients using diet and exercise alone.  Also, since AppTrim is a medical food, it contains only ingredients that are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Obesity is a very complex disease and effective management requires a comprehensive approach that includes addressing the distinct nutrient and micro-nutrient deficiencies in addition to diet and exercise. 

1. Ogden C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B.K., & Flegal K. M. (2014). Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association, 311(8), 806-814

Safer Options for Pain Management

Pain is complex and there are several treatment options to choose from depending on the type of pain you are experiencing including medications, therapies and mind-body techniques.  The most common treatment consists of analgesics:  narcotic (opioid) and non-narcotic (non-opioid) analgesics.

Narcotics vs NSAIDS
Primary Differences Between Narcotics and NSAIDs

Narcotic analgesics are derived from or related to opium.  Opioids bind to opioid receptors which are present in many regions of the nervous system and are involved in pain signaling and control.  Opioid analgesics relieve pain by acting directly on the central nervous system.  They block incoming pain signals but also work in other parts of the brain, modulating pain receptors in the nervous system, primarily located in the brain and the spinal cord.

Non-opioid analgesics or NSAIDs work by blocking the production of prostaglandins by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase enzyme and therefore decreasing the formation of pain mediators in the peripheral nervous system.   Non-opioids work more directly on injured or inflamed body tissue. In a basic sense, opioids decrease the brain’s awareness of the pain whereas the non-opioids affect some of the chemical changes that normally take place wherever body tissues are injured or inflamed.

Although non-opioids are often preferred for certain types of chronic pain, they have two serious drawbacks.  The first is the ceiling effect; Non-opioids have an upper limit of pain relief that can be achieved.  Once the upper limit is achieved; increasing the dosage will not provide any further pain relief but may exacerbate side effects.  Opioids on the other hand tend not to have a ceiling.  The more you take, the more pain relief you will get.  The second major drawback of non-opioids is the side effects profile.  The side effects of NSAIDS make it impossible for certain patient populations to use NSAIDs such as those with history of peptic ulcer disease, cardiovascular disease and the elderly. In 2014, the American Academy of Neurology determined that the risks of opioids outweigh the benefits for certain chronic pain conditions.

Treatment of pain with the use of medical foods gives patients a safer option for pain management by approaching pain from a new perspective.  Medical foods treat the nutritional deficiencies that are found in patients with acute and chronic pain.  By restoring an optimal balance between the chemicals in the body, substances called neurotransmitters, that are responsible for transmitting and dampening pain signals, one can better manage pain.

Research has found low levels of the amino acids gluatamate, tryptophan, arginine, serine, and histidine in patients with chronic and acute pain.  The perception of pain can be modified by providing amino acids and nutrient precursors to the key neurotransmitters involved in the pain process. Amino acids are able to cross the blood brain barrier and are necessary to produce the appropriate neurotransmitters needed to reduce pain signals and lower inflammation. Increasing the intake of amino acids and nutrients lead to an increase in neurotransmitter levels [1].

The theory that the body’s need for amino acids and nutrients are modified by a disease has been long recognized and is supported by studies that reflect changes in plasma, urinary and tissue levels of nutrients with modified intakes of these nutrients [2].   There are various reasons for depletion of nutrient levels including diet, metabolic demands and genetics.  The required amount for each patient varies depending on the duration and severity of pain. Addressing the increased demand for amino acids and nutrients is a key component for improving clinical outcomes.

Two double-blind clinical trials compared Theramine, a medical food specially designed to address the increased amino acid and nutrient requirements of pain syndromes, to low dose naproxen and ibuprofen.  In both studies, Theramine showed statistically greater pain relief than either naproxen or ibuprofen.  This was measured by patient report and a reduction in the inflammatory markers C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) [3, 4].  Treatment with amino acid precursors was associated with substantial improvement in chronic back pain and a reduction in inflammation.

Pain Reduction with TheramineThe improvement in pain directly correlated with increased amino acid precursors to neurotransmitters in the blood.

Theramine is designed using Targeted Cellular Technology (TCT), which facilitates the uptake and utilization of the neurotransmitters precursors that are used in the modulation of pain.  TCT allows for the production of neurotransmitters from ingestion of smaller amounts of amino acids to elicit the same response as larger amounts, making daily dosing more feasible and reducing the potential for tolerance.

At least 100 million adult Americans suffers from chronic pain, a safe and effective treatment option such as medical foods that do not treat symptoms alone but addresses the distinctive nutritional needs of adults who have different or altered physiologic requirements due to pain is vitally needed.

To date, Theramine has been in clinical use for over 10 years with no report of GI bleed or adverse side effects and the clinical trials of Theramine clearly support the theory that the nutritional management of pain syndromes is a safe and effective treatment for pain.

The Nutrient Management of Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a chronic medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is elevated.  Blood pressure measures the force pushing outward on your arterial walls.  Since your body needs oxygen to survive, it is carried throughout the body.  Every time that your heart beats it is pumping oxygen through a network of blood vessels and capillaries.  There are two forces to every heart beat.  The first force occurs as blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries that are part of the circulatory system, also known as systolic pressure.  The second force is created as the heart rests in between heartbeats, also known as diastolic pressure.  These are the two numbers that a person can see in a blood pressure reading.  Problems arise when there is too much force on the heart.  This can lead to conditions such as vascular weaknesses, vascular scarring, increased risk of blood clots, increased plaque build-up, tissue and organ damage from narrowed and blocked arteries, and increased workload on the circulatory system.  When cholesterol or plaque builds up because of scarring, the heart has to work harder in order to pump blood to the arteries.  This can eventually result in damage to the heart which can ultimately lead to heart failure.  This disease affects 76.4 million adults in the United States and can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure.

Hypertension is usually a symptomless condition with complications.  Usually people only feel symptoms in extreme readings, for example if their systolic reading is 180 or their diastolic is 110.  This is what is known as a hypertensive crisis.  It is important that adults be familiar with their blood pressure numbers on a consistent basis in order to prevent this disease from causing serious health issues.

There are simple ways to help control a person’s blood pressure.  According to the American Heart Association, there are 8 main ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle.  Eat a better diet (including reducing salt), regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, avoid tobacco smoke, comply with medication prescriptions, limit alcohol, and understand hot tub safety.

Prescription medication is commonly used to help patients manage hypertension effectively.  One of the most commonly prescribed medications is lisinopril, a type of ACE Inhibitor that helps relax blood vessels keeping blood pressure low.  As with any drug therapy, there are good and bad side effects associated with lisinopril.  For example, lisinopril and other ACE inhibitors can cause a wide range of side effects, some less serious than others such as cough, dizziness, weakness, headaches, or nausea.  More serious side effects include swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing, fever, fainting, and chest pain. Any patient taking this class of drugs should be aware of these side effects and monitor themselves at the onset of therapy and periodically throughout the course of therapy to ensure that the medication is more beneficial than harmful.

Another popular prescription option for patients with hypertension, are calcium channel blockers.  Calcium channel blockers relax and open up narrowed blood vessels by preventing calcium from entering the smooth muscle cells of the heart and arteries. The common side effects of this class of medications include headache, swelling, dizziness, flushing, fatigue, nausea, and palpitations.

Diuretics are also commonly prescribed and help expel excess sodium and fluid from the body in order to help control blood pressure.  Some of the side effects associated with diuretics are arrhythmia, extreme tiredness or weakness, muscle cramps, dizziness, fever, and dehydration.

Beta-blockers are also commonly used to treat hypertension. This class of medication is used to reduce heart rate, the heart’s workload, and the heart’s output of blood by preventing certain hormones from stimulating the heart. Side effects of beta blockers include diarrhea, depression, vomiting, depression, nightmares, and hallucinations.  One of the main dangers of beta-blockers is that if they are withdrawn suddenly conditions like angina can worsen, causing heart attacks or sudden death.

Doctors often hesitated to prescribe ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and diuretics until a patient’s blood pressure reaches 160/100. Anything below that level is deemed “mild hypertension” and not considered imminently dangerous, so a drugs’ potential side effects might outweigh their benefits. For patients with mild to moderate hypertension, nutritional interventions are commonly used in an effort to prevent the disease from progressing to a life threatening state.

A safe alternative for Hypertension is a medical food like Hypertensa® which are commonly used to expand blood vessels and improve blood flow through a natural pathway.  This class of medications addresses the increased nutritional demands of hypertension.  It uses specific amino acids and nutrients that are responsible for regulating blood pressure and vascular function.  Unlike drugs, medical foods address the production of the specific neurotransmitters that drive all the automatic functions of your body including heart rate and blood pressure.  Hypertension and many drugs that treat hypertension can alter the way the body uses these substances which are derived from both the diet and internal metabolic processes, creating deficiencies which cannot be fixed by altering diet alone.  By addressing the increased metabolic requirements of hypertension with nutritional interventions, the body will have the tools that it needs to help regulate blood pressure and heart rate.

The Second Brain

It’s 10 pm and you are stressed.  All of the sudden your stomach starts churning and you remember that half eaten carton of Ben and Jerry’s left in your freezer.  Before you know it the ice cream is gone and you are left hoping that it will settle the butterflies in your stomach.  We have all had that feeling, but then the question arises.  What makes us have that “gut feeling”?  Why are our stomachs controlling our emotions, and therefore controlling our eating patterns?

Your gut can work independently without any input from your brain, unlike any other organ in the human body.  This is how the stomach got its name of “the second brain”.  The stomach is controlled by the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is made up of 100 million neurons.  The ENS is used to control the movement and absorption of food through the intestines.  The stomach has the ability to send signals to the brain that can affect certain feelings, such as sadness or stress, as well as influence memory, learning, and decision-making.  The stomach relies on 30 neurotransmitters in order to function that are identical to those in the brain.  The ENS communicates with the central nervous system (CNS) through the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, but does not rely on it in order to function.  Studies have shown that the ENS continues to function, even after the vagus nerve, which connects the CNS to the ENS, has been severed.

Different foods can affect emotions differently.  Specific components of food can influence neurohormones in the gut that are responsible for signaling the brain.  What a person eats affects their mood.  Fatty acids reduce feelings of sadness and hunger.  This is why most people in times of stress and sadness will turn to the help of “comfort foods” to help them feel better.  Ghrelin, a hormone manufactured by the gut, stimulates hunger in the brain and is one of the neurochemicals that sends messages back and forth between the ENS and CNS in order to affect mood. Every time a meal is consumed ghrelin levels fall, and then continue to rise again until the next meal. Obese people tend to have higher levels of ghrelin even after eating, which can leave them feeling hungry more often. High-fat foods stimulate dopamine production and can enhance mood/euphoria, thus encouraging the brain and stomach to seek out more high fat food.

Measuring the beerbelly

During gastric bypass surgery, the part of the stomach which produces the most ghrelin is isolated in order to make the patient less hungry.  The doctor then attaches the stomach to a section of the small intestine called the ileum which produces PPY, a hormone that makes you feel full.  PPY typically takes 20 minutes to send the message to the brain to let it know that the stomach is full.  Making these two sections of the stomach closer together allows the brain to receive the signal quicker in order to encourage the body to eat less.

Surgery is an expensive and drastic solution to fighting a problem such as obesity.  People try to diet, which if done safely and combined with exercise can be effective. One important thing to note is that people dieting will also have increased levels of grehlin, increasing hunger levels.   This is one reason why people find dieting to be so difficult. Food affects mood due and increased cravings caused by certain hormones can be difficult to control.  Perhaps this is why your co-worker who is on a 3-day juice cleanse is in such a sour mood.

If exercise and dietary changes fail to make a dent in hunger, weight and BMI then a more targeted approach can help people interested in managing appetite and controlling food intake. Medical foods is certainly one option that should be explored. As a safe and effective class of medications medical foods deliver the specific neurotransmitter precursors required by nervous system to help reduce appetite and promote early satiety As stated earlier, your stomach uses neurotransmitters just as the brain does.  Using these neurotransmitters help your stomach become more satisfied and helps manage your mood and cravings, helping you manage appetite safely and effectively.  Clinical trials show that a medical food as an adjunct to a weight loss diet and exercise plan can help increase weight loss and decrease BMI.

Ten Foods that May Help Curb Appetite:

  1. Avocados – Composed of monounsaturated fats, which take longer to digest, avocados help suppress ghrelin production and appetite.  The soluble fiber in avocados slow digestion by forming a thick gel as it travels throughout the gut.
  2. Greek Yogurt – A high-protein appetite buster.  Since it is thick, you feel fuller faster.
  3. Legumes – High in soluble fiber, resistant starch, and oligosaccharides.  These complex carbs help slow digestion.
  4. Cottage Cheese –  A good source of protein which helps suppress appetite.
  5. Oatmeal – Contains beta-glucans, a soluble fiber, that helps it travel slowly through the digestive track.
  6. Nuts – Nuts contain healthy fats and fiber which help you digest more slowly.
  7. Fruit – high in fiber, which helps to slow digestion and keep you feeling full longer.
  8. Wasabi – suppresses appetite and also contains anti-inflammatory qualities.
  9. Salmon – Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which helps the body increase leptin, a hormone used for suppressing hunger.
  10. Cinnamon – Cinnamon helps lower blood sugar which helps control appetite.

Alternative Therapies for Pain Associated with Peripheral Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy can occur when people with diabetes develop nerve damage. Most commonly, the peripheral nerves of the feet are affected first, causing numbness, cramps, loss of balance, extreme sensitivity and pain starting in the toes and over time progressing up the legs. Diabetic neuropathy can affect nerves in hands and arms, as well as parts of the autonomic nervous system that are responsible for regulating heart rate, blood pressure and sleep cycles. Not everyone who has diabetes will develop neuropathy. (1)

Peripheral neuropathy, also known as distal symmetric neuropathy or sensorimotor neuropathy, is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy affects 60-70% of diabetics. Certain risk factors increase the chances of developing diabetic neuropathy. These include age, the duration of the disease, and glucose levels in the blood. There are different factors that may lead to diabetic neuropathy. Additionally, certain neurovascular factors, autoimmune factors, mechanical injury to nerves, inherited traits that increase susceptibility to nerve disease, and lifestyle factors can increase the chances of developing diabetic neuropathy.

Preventing diabetic neuropathies is a challenge but is not impossible. Diabetic patients should keep glucose levels as close to the normal range as possible. Maintaining a normal blood glucose level can help protect nerve cells from unnecessary damage and even lesson symptoms associated with diabetic neuropathy.

There are many treatment options currently available to patients for pain relief associated with diabetic neuropathy. Two commonly used medications for pain relief associated with nerve pain are opioids and a class of medications known as anti-epileptics. Opioids were originally developed to help patients manage pain associated with cancer, but have since been incorporated in a number of pain management treatment protocols for non-cancer pain. This class of medications can be a useful for pain relief, but can also lead to addiction and other harmful side effects. Anti-epileptics like gabapentin are also commonly used to manage diabetic nerve pain. This class of medications was originally developed to treat epilepsy, but has since been approved by the FDA to treat nerve pain. Common side effects of gabapentin and other anti-epileptic medications include dizziness, dry mouth, blurred vision, headaches, diarrhea, fluid retention, and weight gain.(2)

Patients and providers have increasingly been looking to certain medical foods as a safe and effective alternative option to some of the more dangerous pharmaceuticals used for the management of pain and numbness associated with peripheral neuropathy. One example is Percura, a medical food that is specially formulated to provide the nervous system with the amino acids and nutrients required to effectively manage the unique nutritional needs of nerve cells. A recent open label study showed that patients with moderate to severe peripheral neuropathy showed improvement in pain after one month taking Percura. Side effects associated with Percura are mild and temporary and include, bloating and diarrhea. Percura and other medical foods may represent a valuable treatment option for patients with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, without the side effects associated with opioids or anti-epileptic medications.


[1] Dyck, Peter J., Feldman, Eva L., Vinik, Aaron I..  “Diabetic Neuropathies: The Nerve Damage of Diabetes”. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse.  NIH Publication, February 2009. Web. November 26 2013. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/neuropathies/#what

[2]“What are the Real Risks of Antidepressants?”.  Harvard Health Publications.  Harvard Medical School, May 2005.  Web. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/What_are_the_real_risks_of_antidepressants.htm

Alternatives to Opioid Pain Medications for Injured Workers

Workplace injuries affect approximately 4.1 million Americans annually (1) .  More than half of these injured individuals will have to miss work and receive long-term medical care.  Worker’s compensation plans provide partial wages during the time of injury and recovery period in addition to covering the cost of medical care.  The recent trend among physicians treating work related injuries has been the practice of prescribing high and sometimes dangerous doses of opioid pain medications for extended periods of time.  Data from 2005-2008 in 17 states showed an average number of 1,599 cases requiring narcotics for non-surgical cases, with more than seven work days missed due to injury(2).  Additionally, in an average of 6% of these cases, the narcotics were prescribed for long-term periods of time.  These drugs may include but are not limited to hydrocodone, fentanyl, methadone, and oxycodone.  Approximately 50-90% of injured workers will receive narcotics for chronic pain conditions (3).  Opioid pain medications can have deadly side effects and the increased availability and dosages of these medications can be detrimental to an injured worker and prolong the time it takes to return to work.

Opioid pain medications are the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States(4).  They work to decrease the perception of pain and increase pain threshold.  While these drugs are helpful to decrease overall pain of various injuries and conditions, they are highly addictive and only address a portion of the pain process.  Common side effects may be mild such as constipation and fatigue, however, they have also been linked to more severe side effects including sleep apnea, decreased hormone production, and increased falls and broken bones among the elderly population(4).  Additionally patients taking opioid pain medications for long periods of time can become addicted and experience serious symptoms of withdrawal which include nausea, shaking, chills, and sweating when finishing a course of these medications (5).  Lately there has also been in an increase in drug overdose leading to death.  In a study that observed 10,000 patients who were prescribed opioids for 90 days, 51% experienced at least one overdose, and six individuals died as a result of overdose 6.  In 2008 the number of deaths resulting from overdose reached nearly 15,000 individuals(1).

Increased availability and access to opioid pain medications is one of the main problems leading to addiction and overdose among injured workers.  Some physicians are prescribing these medications to treat acute and long-term pain disorders such as arthritis and musculoskeletal pain.  Oftentimes high doses are prescribed and the dosage continues to increase over time as tolerance to the effects of the medications increases.  Instead of treating the underlying physiological conditions causing the painful condition, opioid pain medications are prescribed to help manage and mask the pain associated with a work related injury. They are prescribed for many reasons, however, a few of the most common are pressure from patients to prescribe a strong medication that will lead to decreased pain, as well as pressure from insurance companies to prescribe the most cost-effective generic pain medications. Patients may experience temporary pain relief while on these medications, however chronic pain may persist long after the injury has healed.

Prescribing high dose opioid pain medications for work related injuries often leads to other injuries and physiologic impairments.  In many cases, patients remain out of work for much longer than individuals who are not prescribed opioids, as they often develop new health conditions and require more medications.  In the study conducted by the Danish Health Interview Survey in 2000 observing 10,434 individuals, patients who were not prescribed opioid pain medications to treat their injuries recovered four times more often than individuals prescribed opioid pain medications(7).  Additionally, in this study patients taking opioid pain medications were shown to have a lower quality of life and higher death risk than those patients managing pain without opioids.

Some patients who are prescribed opioid pain medications, especially long-term, may develop other serious conditions such as obesity, mood disorders, and depression.  An injured worker who is taking medication for a pain condition may not be able to exercise regularly and weight gain is fairly common.  Opioid pain medications can also have an effect on overall mood and quality of life.  If an individual takes these medications long-term it can be very hard to stop taking them.  The patient can experience large amounts of anxiety and depression when decreasing the dosage or attempting to discontinue the medication all together.  Research has found that of the 1.9 million workers claims that were filed between 2007-2008, those who previously had or developed a co-morbidity as a result of injury such as depression, obesity, or hypertension, experienced more costly treatments and often longer treatment plans all together(8).

Work related injuries will continue to be an issue for insurers and employers.  The overprescribing of opioid pain medications in this country must be addressed by physicians, insurance companies, and drug manufacturers.   The conversion of acute pain to chronic pain associated with a work related injury can be managed in a more efficient way that will allow an injured worker to return to work as soon as they are healed without the burden of addiction or other opioid pain medication related side effects.  Theramine can be used as a complimentary or standalone therapy among this vulnerable population and can provide treating physicians with the ability to prescribe the lowest effective dose of an opioid pain medication while addressing the underlying pathology of the pain process.

Theramine is a prescription only medication regulated by the FDA as a medical food. Medical foods are prescription only medications which address the underlying pathology of pain associated with the work related injury or illness.  Theramine is clinically proven to correct amino acid deficiencies associated with chronic pain syndromes, and improve the overall perception of pain(9).  Theramine is designed to manage the increased nutritional requirements associated with acute or chronic pain conditions.  Theramine is a proprietary amino acid formulation that, by providing neurotransmitter precursors, helps stimulate production of neurotransmitters that are often deficient in pain conditions.  The ingredients in Theramine are Generally Recognized as Safe by the FDA, and are specially formulated utilizing a proprietary Targeted Cellular Technology to facilitate the uptake and metabolizing of milligram quantities of amino acids and other nutrients.  There have been no reported adverse side effects associated with the clinical application of over 50 million individual doses of Theramine. The most common side effects associated with amino acid therapies are headache, dry mouth, and upset stomach and are often short term, and can be decreased with increased fluid intake.  Theramine can be administered in conjunction with the lowest effective doses of an opiate or NSAID pain medication without loss of efficacy(10).  Treating work related injuries with Theramine may prove to be one possible medication solution to control pain and help decrease the quantity and dosages of opioid pain medications administered in the United States.

1)      http://www.workers-comp-news.com/injury_stats.php

2)      http://www.wcrinet.org/studies/public/books/WCRI_2012_Annual_Report.pdf

3)      http://ehstoday.com/health/workers-compensation/injured-workers-opiate-addiction-0209/

4)      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/09/health/opioid-painkiller-prescriptions-pose-danger-without-oversight.html?pagewanted=all

5)      http://www.opiates.com/opiate-withdrawal.html

6)      http://www.crcotp.com/crcotp_featured/even-when-prescribed-opioids-can-cause-addiction-and-overdose.php

7)      A Population-based Cohort Study on Chronic Pain:The Role of Opioids Per Sjøgren, MD, DMSC,* Morten Grønbæk, PhD, Vera Peuckmann, PhD,  and Ola Ekh-+olm, PhDw, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.

8)      http://coventrywcs.com/web/groups/public/@cvty_workerscomp_coventrywcs/documents/webcontent/c054910.pdf

9)      Shell WE, Silver D, Charuvastra E, Pavlik S, Bullias D; “Theramine and Ibuprofen for the treatment of chronic low back pain double blind clinical trial”, 2010 Targeted Medical Pharma Inc.

10)   Shell WE et al.; “Theramine and Naproxen for the treatment of low back pain, a double bind clinical trial”; Americal Journal of Therapeutics April,2012.

Pain Management in Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is spread through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks.  Ticks can attach to any part of the human body, but tend to reach areas that are difficult to see such as the groin, armpits, or scalp.  Ticks must be attached for 36 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, can be transmitted.

There are four stages in the progression of Lyme disease.  The first stage, known as the early localized stage, takes place between 3-30 days after the tick bite.  The infected person can experience fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.  One of the most prominent signs of this stage is the Erythema migrans rash, also known as the bull’s-eye rash for its unique shape.  This rash occurs in 60% of infected individuals. (CDC)

The second stage is known as the early disseminated stage and it occurs days to a week after the tick bite if the bite is not treated within the early localized stage.  During this stage, a person starts to experience more noticeable and serious symptoms.  These symptoms include Facial or Bell’s palsy, additional erythema migrans rashes, and stiffness due to meningitis.  At this point, patients begin to feel shooting pains that can interfere with sleep as well as pain and swelling in the large joints.

If the disease is not treated, 60% of patients enter into the late disseminated stage which happens months to years post-tick bite.  These individuals typically develop arthritis with severe pain and swelling in the joints.  It is typically found in the larger joints, for example the knees.  Arthritis caused by Lyme disease exhibits itself differently than other causes of arthritis.  Lyme arthritis is similar to osteoarthritis because of stiffness due to painful swollen joints.  This happens because Lyme bacteria invade the joints and cause inflammation to the tissue that lines the joints, and eventually, if untreated, can cause the cartilage within the joints to become damaged.[1]

The final stage is the lingering symptoms after treatment.  About 10-20% of patients experience symptoms after the patient has taken antibiotics.  This is called Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).  Some evidence shows this is due to an autoimmune response, in which the immune system is continuing to respond after the infection has been cleared, causing damage to be done to a body’s tissues.  Symptoms of PTLDS can include muscle and joint pain, cognitive defects, sleep disturbance, and fatigue. (CDC)

The quicker a doctor is able to diagnose Lyme disease, the quicker they can treat it.  Patients can be prescribed antibiotics in order to rid their system of the bacteria.  Most patients who are prescribed the antibiotic during the early stages usually recover quickly and completely.

With the antibiotics working to take care of the bacteria, what is taking care of the pain associated with Lyme disease?  A patient can still be experiencing pain while taking these antibiotics, which progressively becomes worse throughout all the stages Lyme disease.  Patients who experience pain in association with Lyme disease are less likely to be active, sleep well, or eat properly due to pain.

Commonly prescribed pain medications are opioids and NSAIDs.  Both, although common, can be very dangerous.  According to a report released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there can be consequences when choosing to use an opioid.  Opioids are easy to abuse because of their addictive qualities.  Regular or long term use of opioids can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Once a patient stops using opioids, they can experience withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, and involuntary leg movements.  An overdose can cause severe respiratory depression and death. [2]

NSAIDs, although effective in treating pain and inflammation, are linked to adverse side effects which make them inappropriate for use in many patient populations.  There are several serious side effects and toxicity related to use of traditional NSAIDs which can lead to costly hospitalizations or death.  A study on the effects of NSAID induced side effects in the elderly reflected the average direct costs of GI side effects per patient-day on NSAIDs were 3.5 times higher than those of a patient-day not on NSAIDs. Seventy percent of the cost was attributed to GI events resulting from NSAID treatment.[3]  Treatment of GI problems alone caused by the use of NSAIDs is estimated to add over 40% to the cost of arthritis care.[4]

Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book “Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections” discusses an alternative to these common pain medications called Theramine®. Theramine is a medical food specifically designed for the dietary management of pain syndromes. This specialized natural product, provides the specific amino acids and nutrients required by the brain and nervous system to effectively reduce pain and inflammation. Theramine is non-addictive and is not associated with adverse GI or cardiovascular side effects.  It is used in clinical practice to reduce inflammation and improve pain perception by addressing the increased nutritional requirements of pain syndromes.  In two double blind, multi-center clinical studies comparing Theramine and an NSAID, Theramine was shown to be more effective at treating pain and inflammation than either naproxen or ibuprofen. Lyme disease can alter the metabolic requirements of the body, leading to specific amino acid and nutrient deficiencies. Effectively managing the increased demand for these essential physiologic components should be an integral part of any pain management protocol.

 


[1] American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “Effective treatment of Lyme-disease-related arthritis depends on proper diagnosis.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2011.

<www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110202132605.htm>.

[2] “Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction” NIDA. October 2011. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

[3] Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2001 August; 52(2): 185–192. Cost of prescribed NSAID-related gastrointestinal adverse events in elderly patients

[4] Bloom, BS. Direct medical costs of disease and gastrointestinal side effects during treatment for arthritis. Am J Med. 1988; 84(2A): 20-24