Disease or vital symptom?
However, aggressive treatment of chronic cases with drugs and surgery appear to contribute more to the problems of the sufferers than their resolution. Drugs have only temporary effects and do nothing about the underlying causes, aside from adding their numerous side effects to an already aggravated situation. Surgery is rarely successful. In fact, only about 1 percent of cases may be considered successfully concluded. This is partly because traditional methods of diagnosis such as routine X-rays are ineffective. A US 1997 report states that the likelihood of finding through X-rays any musculoskeletal disease that requires specific therapy, is less than 0.2 percent, or 1 in 500. Certainly, a very unsatisfactory situation for millions of sufferers.
Partly, it is the fact that back pain is diagnosed and treated as a disease, rather than as a vital symptom of more general degenerative, functional, gynecological, infectious, rheumatic, vascular, or more often than usually supposed, psychological problems or disorders. Sometimes, back pains may be associated with organs and diseases that have no connection with the spinal chord, such as duodenal ulcers. In other cases, and more plausibly, a heart dysfunction or the abdominal muscles may be involved.
Years of propaganda
Yet an increasing body of evidence is showing that many of these diseases are directly related to poor nutrition—poor in the sense of faulty not beggarly. A more relevant example may be osteoporosis, affecting especially post-menopausal women. Years of propaganda about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) have convinced western women that osteoporosis is an inevitable consequence of untreated menopause. Actually, the degeneration of our bones may have far more to do with our diet and eating habits, than the end of our menses.
There is in fact powerful and convincing epidemiological proof of that in the diet of two continents. Asian and African women who drink hardly any milk (because of extremely high rates of lactose intolerance) and eat very little meat, are almost free of osteoporosis. That hardly fits the western dietary model that wants more of both, to counterbalance osteoporosis!
But the powerful agro-industrial interests involved do not acknowledge the lessons of two continents. How could these help to sell meat and dairy products? Besides, there is always HRT there for help. The increased risks of cancer down the line, are appropriately mooted or downplayed.
Causative role of foods
By contrast, not only osteoporosis but most other musculoskeletal disorders respond very well to what I call Nutrition Replacement Therapy (NRT). Virtually all of them may be improved by correct nutrition. First, by boosting the immune system, and there is hardly a better way of doing that, than by correct nutrition. Second, by largely reducing inflammation, both by eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties, and avoiding for a while foods with inflammation potential. And third, by eliminating the causes if these are poor nutrition, food allergies or food sensitivities, as they very frequently are. Hence nutrition has a very important role in such disorders, and as always where correct nutrition is concerned, it is free of harmful side effects.
Some years ago, physicians would have laughed if someone suggested that back pains may be caused by food allergies. Today, nobody does. This is because a large body of evidence published in the most prestigious medical journals, leaves no doubt about the causative role of some foods in susceptible individuals. Alcohol, cheese, corn, chemical additives, dairy products, hot spices, peppers, tomatoes and other nightshades, various food enhancers like monosodium glutamate (MSG), etc, have all been implicated in food allergies that can ultimately cause back pains.
Sufferers from back pains may begin testing themselves for possible food allergies by going on a fast, and then gradually adding foods to the diet. If a fast improves back pains, there is a very strong presumption for food allergy. Food sensitivities are more difficult to detect, because they may take days to appear, after the offending food is eaten. But foods can also help overcome inflammation and pain.
The case of cod liver oil
It is strange how modern research tends to confirm the appropriateness of earlier foods and supplements, long after they have been forgotten. A simple example will have to do. English medical texts prescribed cod liver oil as a treatment for chronic rheumatism and gout as early as 1776. By the middle of the nineteenth century the fish oil was routinely dispensed against diseases of the joints and spine. By the end of the same century and the advent of painkillers, cod liver oil had ceased to be prescribed for musculoskeletal disorders. It was used instead to boost the resistance of young children (at risk for vitamin deficiencies as we know now), even before vitamins were recognized or the oil’s richness in vitamins A and D were known.
Now we are beginning to understand the mechanism of inflammation and know that some of the principal mediators are the metabolic products of arachidonic fatty acid. These are the Series 2 prostanglandins, with names like thromboxanes, leucotrienes and lipoxins. However, generally humans do not possess the enzymes required for the production of arachidonic acid. Therefore, this can only come from our diet, if this happens to contain cheese, corn, meat, milk, seed oils, wheat, etc. By carefully planning a dietary regimen, we can considerably reduce inflammation by drastically minimizing the amount of arachidonic acid in our diet.
Not all that simple
We can also reduce inflammation by eating foods with anti-inflammatory potential, like fatty fish, garlic, ginger, turmeric, vegetables, etc. But here things can be much more complex. Take for example, perhaps one of the most widely drunk hot beverages in the world, namely coffee. Because coffee has certain vasodilating (vein enlarging) properties, it helps the circulation of the blood and in some cases it helps reduce pain. But coffee also tends to block the endorphin receptors in the brain. Endorphins reduce substance P across the synapses of nerves, thus making the body less receptive to pain. By blocking endorphin receptors, coffee may increase pain in certain other cases. Reducing inflammation and pain through nutrition is certainly feasible. Unfortunately, it is not really all that simple.