Chronic Pain: More Cases, More Mystery
Plus: Is your brain shrinking and deteriorating, too?
Chronic pain is becoming more common among US adults, on a percentage basis, and scientists remain largely baffled by what chronic pain actually is, what causes it, and how to treat it.
New research reveals more details about the scope of the problem: The number of new cases exceeds those of diabetes, depression or high blood pressure. And only 10.4% of people who have chronic pain are pain-free a year later, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health.
The mystery runs deep. Chronic pain is not just a physical sensation but also a mental and emotional construct, in which pain becomes like a memory in the brain and the nervous system, even when there’s no identifiable cause. The increase in prevalence has been linked to rising obesity, along with other factors, including stress, anxiety and depression.
“Chronic pain is an astonishingly difficult condition to treat,” Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, PhD, a University at Buffalo associate professor of sociology, told me. “Indeed, many pain clinicians prefer to describe themselves as managing pain rather than treating it, to make clear that they cannot promise a cure.”
I did a deep dive on the topic today on Medium.
Our Brains Are Mysteriously Shrinking and Deteriorating Prematurely
Brains of people in Western societies are shrinking faster than those of the indigenous Tsimane people of the Amazon. At the same time, Westerners get dementia at much higher rates. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to guess at what’s going on. Researchers tell me the problem is likely an imbalance between energy in and energy out. Given the conveniences of modern society, many of us simply eat too much and move too little.
Related, scientists have linked grip strength and other measures of physical capability to mental resilience. As I report on Medium:
An analysis of data on 1,000 older women found the risk of developing dementia over 15 years was more than double in those who had weak grip strength at the start of the study, and also in those who were slowest in a timed test to get out of a chair, walk 10 feet (3 meters), return and sit back down. If those measures of capability decreased during the first five years of the study, dementia risk rose further.
You can imagine what experts suggest for those of us who’d like to preserve brain volume and brain power: Exercise more, eat less, and eat healthier.
Short takes on new research
Get moving before you get sick
People who meet or exceed US exercise guidelines were 47% less likely to die from flu or pneumonia than those who do not, a new study finds. Just one more nudge to aim for at least 22 minutes of daily walking or other aerobic activity and a couple sessions a week of weightlifting or other strength training, both of which are important to improve fitness, boost the immune system and foster better health and longevity. Related:
… and/or …
Eating well is kinda like exercising
People who exercise the same amount can have different levels of fitness based on what they eat. A new study finds a healthy #diet (Mediterranean style of eating) can have a similar fitness effect to taking 4,000 more steps per day. The research analyzed adults, average age 54, for cardiorespiratory fitness, which "reflects the body’s ability to provide and use oxygen for exercise," kind of a proxy for health of the heart, lungs, muscles and blood flow. “In middle-aged adults, healthy dietary patterns were strongly and favorably associated with fitness even after taking habitual activity levels into account,” said Michael Mi of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “The relationship was similar in women and men, and more pronounced in those under 54 years of age compared to older adults.”
Avoid non-sugar sweeteners
From the Everything in Moderation department: Tempting as it might be to reach for artificial sweeteners to replace sugar in an effort to shed a few pounds, or to prevent cancer or other diseases sugar has been linked to, the World Health Organization (WHO) now advises against using non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) for either purpose. Common artificial sweeteners (also called non-nutritive sweeteners) included in the advisory: acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia and stevia derivatives.
BIT OF WISDOM
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
— John Muir
Until next week, wishing you health and happiness.
If you find this newsletter useful, please forward it to someone who might benefit. You can find more of my health and wellness writing on Medium, plus I post health news briefs on Mastodon. And if you want to live a long, healthy, happy life, check out my book, Make Sleep Your Superpower.