How to Overcome Chronic Pain Naturally (By Healing a Leaky Gut)

by Lori Jo Berg

A chronic pain epidemic?

If someone would have told me in 2010 that my chronic knee pain had nothing to do with my knee and more to do with my gut, I would have called them crazy.

The idea that chronic pain is directly tied to an impaired digestive system can be a tough one to grasp.

When you go to a doctor for knee pain, they examine your knee – not your gut.

It’s pretty common knowledge, but the standard options at this point are typically pain medications, an injection directly to the knee, or a topical anti-inflammatory of some sort.

So, I can see where the idea that pain is tied to the gut seems a little far-fetched.

But, when we look at the body as a whole unit functioning together, it’s much easier to see that localized pain is a representation of the whole body – not just the knee, or the hip, or whatever is hurting you.

Chronic pain (those aches and pains that keep you up at night and prevent you from living the life you’ve dreamed of) is the body’s way of getting our attention. It’s a strong indicator that inflammation is running rampant and a red flag that something needs to change.

But what do we change and where do we start?

It can be really overwhelming to think about, especially when living in a state of daily chronic pain.

Look no further than your diet. It’s the one thing we all have control over and consuming food is the one thing we all do on a daily basis. Changing our diet is one of the most powerful things we can do to decrease inflammation in the body.

This may not only explain why I saw such a huge improvement, but why we see transformation after transformation in our community. I personally tried anti-inflammatory supplements, physical therapy, and light exercise, but the biggest shift came when I focused on changing the food I consumed on a daily basis.

Chronic Pain – An Issue on the Rise

It’s no secret that chronic pain is on the rise, making it a top concern for both patients and healthcare providers. A recent study followed 148,467 residents and showed that the most common reasons for seeing a medical doctor were osteoarthritis/joint disorders (33.6%) and back pain (23.9%). Additionally, arthritic conditions, like fibromyalgia, gout, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, are the leading cause of disability among US citizens, affecting 50 million adults (1 in 5).

And that number isn’t static. The number of people struggling with pain issues on a daily basis has been steadily increasing over the years, which further intensifies the need to answer some big questions around chronic pain:

  • Why do I hurt so much?
  • Why do so many people suffer from chronic pain?
  • What are other solutions, aside from medication and/or surgery?
  • Is there anything we can do to prevent and/or reverse permanent damage?
  • Is it something I’m eating or not eating?
  • Do supplements help?
  • Where does exercise fit in?

Read on, I dive into answering these questions (and more) below.

Why Do We Feel Pain?

Why feel pain

Every part of our body is designed to feel pain, thanks to specialized pain receptors called nociceptors. They have the very important job of responding to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli by sending pain signals to the brain and spinal cord. Once the brain detects a threat, an inflammatory process is ignited to begin repairing the damaged issue. Inflammatory chemicals, such as PGE2 (prostaglandin E-2), TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor), and IL-6 (Interleukin-6) are released as part of the repair process. These sensory pain receptors are found in every tissue in the body except the brain and are activated by chemicals that are either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

I’d like to reiterate this VERY important sentence….

These sensory pain receptors are found in every tissue in the body except the brain and are activated by chemicals that are either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

In other words, because inflammation must be present in order to feel pain, anything that causes inflammation in the body can potentially contribute to chronic pain.

I like to think of it like this:

Potential Threat (Injury, Diet) -> Release of Inflammatory Chemicals -> Pain Sensation

The main purpose of an inflammatory response is to respond to acute cellular injuries and restore normal tissue function and this process works rather smoothly in the case of acute injury. However, what happens when the potential threat is always there, whether it’s via physical trauma, chemical agents, drugs, infections, or diet?

Regardless of the source, repetitive injury to cells promotes chronic inflammation and, as a result, tissues begin to lose their ability to heal. The body simply cannot keep up when the inflammation is chronically present, which inevitably leads to damage and disease.

Inflammation – A Key Player

One of the most common ways the body ends up in a chronic inflammatory state is through poor dietary habits. Pro-inflammatory foods, like grains, sugar, and vegetable oil, turn on inflammatory chemicals like those mentioned above.

According to Dr. David Seaman, D.C., author of The Diet Induced Pro-Inflammatory State, it is inappropriate to view inflammation as merely a component of the healing process. He clearly states the contrary – chronic inflammation should be seen as a part of the disease process.

Leaky Gut Syndrome and Inflammation

Leaky Gut Syndrome, or increased intestinal permeability, is a classic example of how chronic inflammation can lead to disease. Leaky Gut is the generic term used when the gut lining is chronically inflamed and its natural ability to keep harmful stuff out of our bloodstream is compromised.

From a high level, the gut is regulated by finger-like projections on the surface of the tissue, as well as the cells that form tight junctions on the cellular wall. When the surface is irritated, it becomes extra leaky and exposes the body to large undigested molecules that the body recognizes as a foreign substance. As a result, the body ignites an inflammatory response by activating antibodies and cytokines to help defend itself.

It’s important to understand that an acute inflammatory response is necessary to heal. But repetitive activation of the immune system leads to chronic inflammation and further contributes to the cycle of pain.

How to Detect Chronic Inflammation

One way to detect chronic inflammation is via inflammatory blood markers, such as IL-6 (Interleukin-6). This is a protein that plays an important role in the immune system and elevated levels can indicate systemic inflammation.

This protein can be detected in blood levels and is often ordered in conjunction with a highly sensitive C-Reactive Protein Test, or HS-CRP. CRP is the most commonly ordered test for inflammation, and in the absence of an acute infection (where we’d expect CRP to experience a short spike), it can provide objective confirmation that the body is in a state of chronic inflammation.

Another factor to be aware of is the role Essential Fatty acids (Omega-3 and Omega-6) play in the development of chronic pain.

The Importance of Essential Fatty Acids (Omega-3 and Omega-6)

Omega 3

Omega-6 fatty acids activate pro-inflammatory chemicals, while omega-3 fatty acids activate anti-inflammatory chemicals. Ideally, these fatty acids would be consumed in a 1:1 ratio. However, modern western diets commonly contain up to 25 times more omega-6 than omega-3, which further explains why chronic pain is so prevalent today.

Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most researched nutrients in the world, with the University of Toronto, Canada administering the first ever case study on the effects of omega-3 supplementation and chronic neuropathic pain. Each patient in the study was given 2400-2700 mg of EPA and DHA (omega-3) per day. Outcome measures were obtained pre-treatment and post-treatment and results showed clinically significant pain reduction and increased function in all 5 cases, while no adverse side effects were reported.

Increasing your intake of omega-3 rich foods, such as fresh water salmon, cod liver oil, flaxseed and walnuts, as well as decreasing omega-6 dominant foods, like grain-fed beef and vegetable oil, are great ways to start combating inflammation and decreasing pain. However, these tweaks prove to be only one piece of the puzzle.

We must go back and look at the gut once again…

Healing the Gut Is Key to Reducing Chronic Inflammation

Simply eating all food deemed as healthy isn’t necessarily the answer to healing a leaky gut. As you may recall, when a leaky gut is present, larger molecules are allowed to pass through into the bloodstream igniting an inflammatory response to the foreign invader. The inflammatory response releases chemicals that aid in tissue repair, but also have the ability to act upon sensory receptors. And because these sensory pain receptors are triggered by inflammatory chemicals, the whole pain cycle has the potential to be activated.

Thus, any food (healthy or not) has the potential to pass through the gut wall and have this effect.

This may explain why eggs and nuts (among others) are often problematic for those with a leaky gut. It’s well-established that both have much to offer in terms of micro and macronutrients, but they tend to activate an immune response more so than other foods like cooked zucchini or pears.

In other words, the timing and the state (i.e cooked, pureed, etc.) in which we consume healthy food matters. Nuts and eggs can certainly be part of a healthy diet, but we first must allow the gut to heal by consuming easy-to-digest foods before we challenge it with foods that are much harder to break down.

And I’m excited to share with you how thousands of people in our community are reducing and even eliminating chronic pain by following the steps below.

How to Heal a Leaky Gut and Eliminate Pain

heal leaky gut

1 – Create a Custom Diet

The key is to allow the gut to heal by consuming nutrient-dense foods that are easy to digest and eliminate those that have a high potential to cause inflammation. A healthy gut allows nutrients to actually be absorbed, which eliminates the nutritional deficiency factor that can further contribute to the cycle of pain. Finding the right diet can seem like an overwhelming process, which is why we highly recommend the Solving Leaky Gut Program. It includes step-by step-directions on what foods to eliminate, how to reintroduce them and much, much more.

2 – Address All Leaky Gut Triggers

We all need to be reminded that vibrant health is a product of the mind, body and spirit connection. It’s easy to underestimate how things like stress, sleep, and exercise play into inflammation and ultimately contribute to chronic pain. We address all of this in Solving Leaky Gut as well, but if you want to quickly understand your triggers, take this quiz to find out what areas of your life need improving.

3 – Get a Stool Test

If your gut isn’t healing, despite the right diet and supplements, stool testing can help you determine if underlying gut infections or parasites are wreaking havoc. Not all stool tests are created equal, we’ve found that a combination of 2 tests prove to be more effective than one. (Click the link above for our current recommended labs.)

Consider an Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid Supplement

Nutritional deficiencies, specifically an omega-3 deficiency, can also play a role in chronic pain. Numerous research studies support the fact that omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and the fact that they’re essential means we have to obtain them via diet. But, for a variety of reasons, it is difficult to get enough omega-3s strictly from food, so we highly recommend supplementing.

And our favorite omega-3 supplement is Fermented Cod Liver Oil, which is cold pressed to retain it’s omega-3 content and contains about 25% DHA and EPA (highly recommended forms of omega-3s). Adding this essential fatty acid into the diet can help decrease inflammation and therefore play a role in decreasing chronic pain.

Speaking of supplements… there is a whole world of supplements designed specifically to reduce pain naturally. This article wouldn’t be complete without addressing this sub-topic.

Natural Pain Relievers – Effective or a Waste of Money?

The dictionary defines the word supplement as “reinforce or extend a whole,” and that’s exactly how we recommend utilizing supplements for health purposes. Once you’ve addressed all possible avenues of inflammation and built a strong foundation, such as cleaning up your diet, eliminating and managing stress, handling infections, etc., we can then start adding in supplements one at a time. All too often, we see people turn to supplements first, while ignoring major sources of inflammation.

Supplements, when used as part of a multi-faceted healing approach, can really have a positive impact on chronic pain. One of the newest and most effective products on the market is Curaphen (regular and extra strength), which combines 4 powerful ingredients to address the multiple mechanisms of pain. In particular, the BCM-95 curcumin used in Curaphen has been clinically tested and shown in published studies to have a much greater absorption rate than plain curcumin and turmeric extracts. Boswellia also proves to be an effective anti-inflammatory that aids in natural pain relief.

Living a Pain-Free Life Is More Than Possible

pain free

The pain process is actually designed to keep us safe, but it can end up backfiring when the threat turns from acute to chronic. Attacking inflammation at the source is the key to living a chronic-pain-free life, and while there are many factors to consider, building a custom diet and fixing your gut is a great place to start.

We’ve found that the more people understand what leaky gut is and how it affects nearly every aspect of life, the more likely they are to address it. Thousands of people have found this webinar on Solving a Leaky Gut to be extremely helpful, as we share with you all the knowledge we’ve gained from working with people over the years.

Hopefully, the concept that the pain in your back is tied to your gut doesn’t seem so crazy anymore. By understanding what activates pain, my hope for you is that you can now see the important role you play in turning it off. The occasional sore muscle is to be expected, especially for those who are active. But the chronic pain that so many live with on a daily basis doesn’t have to be a permanent reality. The body is designed to heal from the inside out and can achieve great things when given the right tools.

How is your diet affecting the way you feel on a daily basis?

In good health,

Lori Jo

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About the author

Lori Jo Berg Lori Jo’s health journey started 13 years ago as an eager Freshman about to begin her dream of playing college basketball. But the stomach aches, extreme fatigue, depression, and recurring panic attacks began to take their toll, and she was no longer able to meet the demands of a college athlete. After numerous doctor’s appointments, she was left with a pile of medications, bills, and zero answers. She decided to take matters into her own hands and slowly began to regain her health primarily through a paleo/SCD based diet and lifestyle changes. This journey has led her to work for SCD Lifestyle as one of the Customer Happiness Engineers. Lori Jo is a busy wife and mother of two young girls and has a passion for helping others on their own journey back to health.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet Works

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Stevens April 17, 2017 at 9:16 am

My current challenge is weight loss due to inability to consume enough calories, with a gut pain free diet. I have leaky gut, adrenal fatigue, candida diagnosed mid Dec. I have been on SCD somewhat for 7 years, utilizing almond flour, and got off track last summer with too much fruit/honey + whey protein. I started the Intro Diet April 1st having eliminated fruit/honey (mid Dec), dairy (Jan 1st), nuts (Mar 15), eggs (Mar 31).
I am 75, 6’1″, now 135 lbs and slowly and had been low gut pain for 3 days and while striving to get to 2,000 calories per day with a target range of 2,600 – 3,200. I am active want to be MUCH more active (gardening, kayaking, HIIT etc). Adding coconut oil/milk seemed Ok as did sweet potato, but may have been too much ( have been taking fish oil and quite a bit of olive oil – heating sliced carrots). The DILEMMA: weight loss/low energy/low calories vs gut pain and presumably healing leaky gut where my gut feel (excuse the pun) says leaky gut should be the priority. Thanks, peter Stevens.

Reply

Lori Jo Berg April 17, 2017 at 10:01 am

Hi Peter- I’m not sure I understand your question! If you’re looking to gain weight but still heal the gut, here are some resources for you:
http://scdlifestyle.com/2010/08/5-easy-ways-to-add-calories-to-the-scd-diet/

http://scdlifestyle.com/2010/07/are-you-starving-yourself-on-the-specific-carbohydrate-diet/

Reply

Peter Stevens April 21, 2017 at 7:49 am

Hi Lori
thanks for the 2 articles – very helpful.
My question simply is: should gut pain be avoided at all costs? What I was doing was living with a low level of pain (from coconut and sweet potato) in the early hours in the am and until noonish, to get my calories up. I have been ‘stuffing myself’ with meat and veggies but need to get over 2,000 cals/day or I keep loosing weight. I have been consuming my body as I am well below 10% BMI. It’s only 3 weeks since i restarted with the intro diet and I have so little food choices. Stool has been getting less loose (oddly) but pain now increasing each morning.

Reply

Peter Stevens April 26, 2017 at 10:41 am

Lori
I don’t have an answer to my follow up question which has not been published here – your answer while helpful DIDN’T help and for others reading here does not enable them to benefit from my follow up question and the answer I am looking for – if you need to communicate with me direct please email me – but please don’t ignore me, peter Stevens

Reply

Lori Jo Berg April 27, 2017 at 12:59 pm

HI Peter – It’s possible the follow up questions did not come through properly. I apologize and have just approved it.
LEt me know how else I can help and you’re not being ignored:)

Reply

Peter Stevens May 2, 2017 at 11:56 am

Lori
Let me try again:
My daughter seeing I was losing muscle mass, and unable to get calories up because I was doing everything to avoid GUT PAIN said:
“maybe you should bear the gut pain and eat more to stop losing weight”.
SO the issue is: should gut pain be avoided at all costs – the reason for my longish initial email was to give you the background.
I hope this makes the issue clear.
peter stevens

Reply

Lori Jo Berg May 4, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Hi Peter – our hope is that you’d get to a place where you could eat (and gain weight) and not have any gut pain…and not have to choose one or the other. I can’t really say which one is “better” because they are both something we don’t want to see you have to go through. Gut pain typically resembles something wrong with the digestive system and so it is our hope we could resolve this and then begin to put the weight back on. These resources may be helpful for you:
http://scdlifestyle.com/2010/08/5-easy-ways-to-add-calories-to-the-scd-diet/

http://scdlifestyle.com/2010/07/are-you-starving-yourself-on-the-specific-carbohydrate-diet/

Reply

Katie July 20, 2017 at 7:43 pm

Hi Lori,

I have been reading up a lot about rheumatoid arthritis on the internet and there is a lot of information about limiting Saturated Fat and Omega 6 Fatty Acids. I am in Phase 2 of the SCD and I really want to include olive oil and coconut oil but I am worried they may be inflammatory. Do you know where these oils sit with respect to rheumatoid arthritis?

Thanks

Reply

Lori Jo Berg July 24, 2017 at 2:17 pm

HI Katie- there are good and bad Saturated fats. Those from coconut and a high quality olive oil are the good kind and would be find to test out on the diet:) A very small amount of omega 6 fats are OK, but you’ll want to eliminate these inflammatory oils in your diet and the majority of omega 6 oils come from vegetable oil (soy, corn, canola, etc).

Reply

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