The body produces its own powerful pain-modulating neurotransmitters. Chronic pain and other chronic stressors, combined with a diet low in protein, can create deficiencies in the three most critical of these pain-modulators: serotonin, gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA), and endorphin. In earlier articles in Practical Pain Management, we discussed the use of diet and amino acid supplementation in promoting optimal levels of serotonin and GABA. This article targets the use of diet and amino acids in the optimization of the endogenous opiates, the endorphins-our most potent natural analgesics. Endorphin is a term used to identify a group of naturally-occurring compounds that can powerfully reduce pain.Primary among them are the beta-endorphins and the enkephalins. These endogenous opioids, molecule-for-molecule, are thousands of times stronger than morphine. B-Endorphin is composed of 20 amino acids (see Table 1). Amino acids are the constituents of protein-containing foods. There are a total of 22 amino acids found in these foods in varying amounts. If adequate protein is consumed, endorphin levels may remain high enough to effectively modulate pain. Chronic pain sufferers, however, typically become significantly deficient in their endorphin-producing capacity. The 21st century U.S. diet is often inadequate in protein content. It is also low in the anti-inflammatory vitamin and mineral co-factors which are typically found in fresh vegetables and fruits. Pain and the medications needed for relief can both reduce appetite and further reduce the intake of nutrients vital to the production of endorphins. Since opiate medications depend on endorphin activity to support their effectiveness, supplying the amino acid building blocks for the production of additional endorphins can be critically beneficial.
Sandra Ishkanes is a Functional Medicine specialist. She takes a whole-body approach to healthcare, combining nutrition, lifestyle and cutting-edge medical testing.
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