The Pain Hormone Connection
You may know that low levels of hormones for men and women can lead to fatigue, depression, weight gain, headaches, insomnia and low libido. But what you might not know is that deficient or fluctuating hormones for men and women can lead to all types of body pain, and potentially increase sensitivity to pain!
There are four types of hormone deficiencies or imbalances that I see regularly in my practice, and that have been studied over the last ten years and are closely correlated with body pain, reduction in healing time from injuries and lowering the pain threshold. These hormone deficiencies ironically often occur with stress, and with the very medications that are used to treat pain problems, leading to a vicious cycle of chronic, unrelenting pain.
Lingering, declining or fluctuating levels of estrogen and testosterone in women during PMS, perimenopause, fibromyalgia and post-partum period (following the birth of a baby) can lead to an experience of more fatigue and increased pain all over the body. Estrogen and testosterone levels fluctuate with age and also with stress—further complicating the pain cycle. Lower levels of testosterone and progesterone, often caused by medications such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants and pain medications, have shown to reduce healing time from injuries and reduce the overall pain threshold, creating increased body pain and pain perception.
Testosterone for men seems to be most closely tied to aches and pains, healing and the sensitivity of the pain threshold. Men who have low levels of testosterone brought on by stress (toxic stress induces low testosterone), or the use of medication that interferes with hormone levels, can all experience increased body, joint and muscle pain and reduction of the ability to manage acute and chronic pain. If estrogen (estradiol) levels are elevated in men, due to excessive exposure to environmental estrogens, increased body fat, fatty liver or lowering levels of testosterone—this too can lead to increased pain in the body, and certainly create less motivation to do anything about it.
Women and Men
Thyroid hormones when deficient (especially T3 levels) can lead to increased body inflammation, which accentuates pain in the body—more from an inflammatory response. A thyroid level decline is often related to weight gain, genetics, stress and male and female hormone fluctuations. The entire hormone system is dependent on each gland to do its job. When one area fails or begins to show deficiencies another hormone system may be affected, creating even more of an imbalance and thus symptoms of deficiency, and in this case, more pain.
Diet is a key factor in body pain. Elevated levels of the hormone insulin, created by excessive intake of sugars and processed quick carbohydrates, can leave the body in an inflamed state, leading to increased pain and reduced movement. The diet is so powerful—I continually tell my patients “food is a drug”—it will either work very well for you and your health or it will be the one factor that creates havoc and disease. The good-old-American diet is a disaster for pain, due to the inflammatory response linked to toxic sugary and flour-laden starchy processed foods.
What to Do
What can you do if you are in pain, trying to heal from an injury, have fibromyalgia, arthritis or are struggling with chronic back, knee or shoulder pain? Here are some suggestions on where to start once you have had a medical evaluation.
Consider the power of hormones. If you have not been tested (with a full hormone test and thyroid test) now is the time to think seriously about it. Women and men of all ages can be tested to determine what hormone level is deficient or imbalanced. The timing of testing for women is important and should be done in the second half of the cycle or anytime in menopause. For men, testing can be done at any time, preferably in the morning hours before noon. Optimizing hormone levels at all ages and keeping them in balance naturally through either bio-identical hormones or natural supplementation will no doubt improve the ongoing pain state of any individual.
Diet—it’s probably time to revamp the diet. Move the sugary foods and drinks out of the house and away from your temptation. If you don’t eat sugary foods, but you obsess on breads and starches, this may be your problem with pain. It becomes more complicated when you have a family history of obesity and diabetes, as it often creates an increased sensitivity to sugars and flour, leading to escalating insulin, body swelling/inflammation and thus pain and fatigue.
Manage your stress. Even when you are not able to change the stress in your life, you can still change your body’s reaction to it. Deep breathing—conscious belly breathing four to six times a day with ten deep inhalation and exhalation counts will calm the stress response. This will create a better response from your adrenal glands (stress glands) that support your body’s ability to manage pain and pain sensations. I recommend AM/PM stress supplements that support adrenal glands and help promote better coping with your stress cycle.
Curcumin (turmeric/spice), vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil—the anti-inflammatory and pain calming effects of these supplements is significant.
Exercise. Movement seems to be one of the keys to unlocking the pain cycle. Getting outside, breathing fresh air, walking or getting into a warm pool, and yoga exercises have all shown to lower pain in the body over a six-week period of time if done a minimum of four days per week.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Emotional, physical and mental stress can all harbor pain within the body. If you feel that there is one or more emotion that you have regularly—anger, fear, anxiety, bitterness, worry, depression, irritation, impatience, sadness, unfulfillment—it may be time for EFT, a treatment offered at Ventana Wellness, using acupressure points to move “stuck emotions” that will ultimately help you heal and get on with your healthy life.
Best of health and balance,