I was walking on the beach recently when I bumped into an old friend and, as we walked and talked, he told me he had popped an anti-inflammatory pill the night before for his painful knees, to enable him to walk pain-free that morning. That is what is called prophylactic drug use: taking the drug to stop future, not present, pain and inflammation. I said nothing and continued our jovial chat.
Many people today take anti-inflammatory drugs (and pain killers for that matter) as if they are jelly-beans. They are ubiquitous, so commonly are they used. Our society has been so indoctrinated to believe 3 things about inflammation:
1) Inflammation is unnatural, an aberration, a harmful development or thing gone wrong, on the part of the body;
2) The inflammation, because it is unnatural and harmful, must be subdued, suppressed, cooled, quietened, silenced and quickly countered with said drugs and ice application. RICE was the old acronym for inflammation: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, but this seems to have morphed more recently into DAFE: Drugs And Forced Exercise;
3) Anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs are safe to consume and present no real health problems.
All 3 assumptions are wrong.The truth is:
1) Inflammation is not unnatural nor an aberration, nor the body acting disorderly. It does not indicate the body has gone wrong. In fact, it is the body working as designed. It is a life-saving biological process, a gift of nature which is aimed at restoring the involved area to normal function and structure to the best of its ability. Inflammation is a natural part of healing just as coughing and vomiting, or fevers, or diarrhoea, or any other symptom or sign. The 4 cardinal signs of inflammation- redness, swelling, pain and heat- all serve a uniquely protective and reparatory purpose in the healing process of an injured or irritated body area, the benefits of which can be read in any medical text;
2) Inflammation is universal in the human and animal population following injury/irritation and all animals respond by resting the involved area as much as possible given existing circumstances. They do not seek to subdue the inflammation, and then force exercise upon themselves and neither should we. Pain is nature’s guardian angel. It sends the message: “thou shalt not!”. Drugs to suppress inflammation specifically and pain generally become defacto permission slips to do more chronic damage to ourselves. When these drugs are taken regularly, we engage in habitual self-damage.
3) Anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers generally have side-effects ranging from mild to fatal. Just as importantly, the drugs work against your body’s natural wisdom. Your body mounts a natural defence, becomes inflamed, and then “kapow” it is suppressed and subdued, through something called the prostaglandin pathway. You might feel better now but, like credit cards, you pay with interest later. Wow Now! Sorrow tomorrow! Play now, Pay later!
As Dr Joel Fuhrman states: “anything that takes away symptoms rapidly is likely to be a health hazard”.
Are Australians taking their inflammation and pain away rapidly? Consider this statistic: The average person in Australia, man, woman and child, takes 149 pain killers (including anti-inflammatories) per year, or nearly 12,000 per lifetime! This was reported in the Australian Bureau of Statistics in December, 2011. They are staggering statistics.
Dr Bernie Siegel in his wonderful book Prescriptions for Living states: “Your body never lies, unless it’s drugged.”
This is not to say that pain relief is to be eschewed at all times. No-one should endure excruciating pain, and there is a genuine case for pain relief in such instances. Pain relief for such cases and of course in medical procedures such as surgery is one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. It would be churlish to deny this. However, much pain killer use and nearly all anti-inflammatory use in my experience is unnecessary IF the person is willing to go to a deeper level of awareness and understanding as to why the inflammation/pain is there, and approach it from a different, more rational perspective.
Soldier-On at Your Peril
The TV ad of ‘Soldier-On, Soldier-On’ was a catchy, clever campaign which used the military metaphor implying soldiering on was a noble sacrifice just like soldiers in battle. Ignore your true sensations, kill the pain with some pills and push through, or soldier-on, went the message. It was swallowed, literally and figuratively. It was a hugely successful advertising campaign and made hundreds of millions profit for the drug companies. The healthy, smiling faces of the actors in the ad, all happily soldiering on, belied the story behind the story.
The truth is that the habitual suppression of pain and inflammation comes with a heavy price: less body awareness, more long-term pain, more long-term side-effects, increased co-morbidities, increased medication and increased mortality.
The penchant of people to routinely push their bodies past their true capacity is as damaging as smoking, alcoholism or any other detrimental addiction.Soldering-on itself has become a 21st Century addiction.
Although I have no evidence to support this, I honestly believe that one of the reasons for the increase in dementia, alzheimer’s and premature senility is this trend of soldiering-on and the profligate use of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers.
Soldiering-on kills more people than soldiering, in my opinion!
The burden of chronic disease in the western world is reaching crisis point. Coupled with the crippling and untenable cost of our drug-oriented health care (read disease-suppressing) system, is the unquantifiable grief that millions of people endure as they succumb to the many ills, many pills and many bills scenario.
Unless in an emergency situation, ignore the soldier-on mantra, let inflammation be your friend, and allow this force of nature to work for your health.
It is foolhardy to force exercise upon yourself when in pain. It is even more foolish to force it when you have numbed the pain.
Unless a professional athlete, where any price is paid for success, including one’s health, the healthy approach is rest and desistance, until the inflammation has done its job.
Part Two Next:
Chronic Inflammation: The Causes behind the Causes