Goblins, Ghouls.... and Pain?
Booo Halloween is here. The scary ghosts, goblins, and ghouls will be out, but these frightful creatures are not half as frightening as all of the candy that is consumed by those who partake in a little “Trick or Treat”. In fact, some folks completely leave out the “trick” and go straight for the “treat”. Now, bags of tiny morsels are to be found at every grocery store in town. The temptation is strong. And the mind grows weak at the slightest whiff from a chocolate bar. Before you grab a bag of candy with the thought of “just a little won’t hurt me”, think again. The sugar in all those treats causes pain. That’s right, sugar causes pain.
When you consume a candy bar, the sugar is rapidly absorbed and causes a spike in your blood sugar level. Frequent spikes in blood sugar levels leads to wide-spread damage because sugar attacks tissues, cells, and compounds necessary for life. Those with diabetes, a disease that causes an extreme form of elevated blood sugar levels, can attest to the wide-spread damage that sugar leaves in its wake. For example, diabetic peripheral neuropathy is just one kind of painful condition caused by elevated blood sugar levels. However, diabetics are not the only ones who should worry about sugar. Even if you do not have diabetes, you should still be frightened by the effects that sugar has on your body. In the past ten years, researchers have found a solid link between sugar consumption and inflammation. Spikes in blood sugar levels promote inflammation and inflammation leads to chronic pain. This pro-inflammatory state causes many people to rely on anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and naproxen to control pain. These medications would not be necessary if the body was naturally able to regulate inflammation. A normal, healthy body can naturally control inflammation; but, this regulatory system does not work well when being attacked by the evils of sugar. According to ex-Surgeon General Dr. David Kessler, sugar is an Axis of Food Evil that should be avoided.
Some of those who live with a painful condition have already learned to avoid sugar. Actress Donna Mills, who lives with an arthritic condition, says, “When I’m getting too much sugar, I find that makes the pain worse.” Many doctors who treat chronic diseases like pain advocate for a “low-glycemic load” diet. This nutritional style reduces the sugar (glycemic) load on the body and prevents blood sugar spikes. Every food item is rated by something called the “glycemic index” which represents the percentage that the blood sugar level raises when that food item is consumed. Avoiding things that have a high glycemic index (and even more importantly a high glycemic load) reduces the sugar intake and stabilizes the blood sugar levels. With a low, steady blood sugar level, the body experiences less attacks and less damage from sugar. With a low, steady blood sugar level, the body has a fighting chance to be pain-free.
Watch out! Sugar is not only ghoulish, sugar is also sneaky. Everyone knows that candy contains high levels of sugar. But did you know that a russet potato also contains a high level of sugar? Getting familiar with the places where sugar hides by using the glycemic index can help you to control pain. The hidden sugar adds up and your daily intake of sugar accumulates rapidly. So that one little Halloween morsel by itself may not seem like much, but combining that treat with all the other sources of sugar in your diet can definitely add up to some serious trouble. This Halloween try to stay out of pain (or worse pain than you are already in) by enjoying the tricks, goblins and ghouls instead of the treats.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.