Opioids Kill White Americans – Is it opioids or suicide or addiction or untreated pain?


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Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in

Mortality Rates of Young Whites

New York Times

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Yes, white Americans, headlined yesterday by Gina Kolata and Sarah Cohen, New York Times science writers.  This article points to the highest mortality in young whites. See post early November on the Princeton researchers who reported deaths in white Americans. True, infants and children have severe pain, but this new article is on young white adults.


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Those who are anti-opioid and those who lost a loved one from opioids and heroin (an opioid that helps pain), will send in comments to the paper so that everyone can see how bad opioids are. Most patients who take opioids are too disabled from pain to write.

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Pain is stigmatized, opioids stigmatized, people in pain are stigmatized, doctors who treat pain are stigmatized. Any wonder 97% of medical schools do not teach pain management?

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Is it opioids or suicide or addiction or untreated pain that is killing our youth?

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How many suicides have opioids prevented? Americans make up less than 5% of the global population but consume 80% of the world’s supply of opioid prescription pills. What if your cancer pain now becomes severe intractable chronic pain? Cancer has been changing. The survival rate has increased, and many of these cancer patients treated with opioid therapy, survived the cancer but have residual chronic pain from cancer or its treatment. Surely they are among the 18,000 white people who died.

 

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Please read the earlier post this week on the ethics of opioid treatment, on

CDC’s imminent radical cut in opioid doses for 100 million patients nationwide.

Use search function above photo – type in CDC or DEA.

Your pain. Your lives. Their profit.

A thorny problem.

Tell us what happened to you. Doctors, tell us what you are seeing.

Have you been denied disability due to pain? Denied non-opioid treatment?

Chronic severe pain affects forty million Americans.

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Some insurers have denied or limited non-opioid treatments yet continued expensive opioids for decades. Has your insurance refused your treatment? Pain specialists have been barraged by denials for years.  Please comment below.

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As noted last week, I have spent 15 years developing alternatives to failed opioid treatment for chronic intractable pain and writing about that on these pages since April 2009. But opioids must be available as last resort.

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FACT:

  • Opioids killed almost 18,000 Americans in 2014 – prescription opioids, not street drugs.

  • 40 million American millions with severe pain, millions not thousands

  • 100 million with chronic pain.

  • CDC will imminently, radically cut everyone’s opioid dose

  • Health insurers will oblige, and incidentally show increased profit to shareholders

  • Suicide increases with untreated pain

  • Death rates for “whites ages 25 to 34 was five times its level in 1999”

  • This age group has more injuries from work and play that can lead to disability, job loss

  • Insurance is unaffordable or not purchased by many young adults

  • My own colleagues cannot afford high deductibles – prescriptions are now counted in deductibles, now unaffordable

  • Can you afford $20,000 per month for your opioid or is cheap heroin more affordable? Can you afford your usual drugs on Medicare once you are in the “donut hole.” Can you afford $28 per day, $840 per month for gout, when colchicine was 12 cents a day a couple years ago?

    • Do insurance denials increase liklihood of cheaper alternatives such as heroin or illegal marijuana resulting in death by drug dealer?

    • Do exhorbitant costs of opioids lead insurers to deny your medication?

  • Insurers have refused to pay for abuse-deterrent and tamper-resistant formulations of opioids

  •  Insurers have refused to pay for proven, widely accepted, nonopioid analgesics:

    • Lyrica

    • Horizant

    • Gralise

    • Cymbalta

    • Does it help the DEA and NIH and universities to teach those as nonopioid alternatives when they are not covered and not affordable the rest of your life?

    • Insurers deny every known compounded analgesic though low cost and effective, even for Tricare’s disabled veterans, even 5% lidocaine ointment for nerve pain, dextromethorphan, oxytocin, low dose naltrexone – Stanford published research on naltrexone years ago and now doing research on it again for CRPS, many many others

    • Insurers deny proven analgesics that are used by armed forces, university hospitals, select doctors, for life threatening pain: ketamine

    • Insurers deny off-label analgesics that may work better than opioids, e.g. memantine, an Alzheimers drug – can relieve intractable nerve pain (French publication on CRPS/RSD pain)

    • Insurers deny medications that reduce side effects of opioids, e.g. nonaddicting modafinil popular with students, to increase alertness when opioids cause drowsiness that may cause injury, death – gosh 10 years ago!

    • Is drowsiness the cause of some of those 18,000 opioid deaths?

  • Health insurers have refused coverage for treatments such as P.T., psychotherapy for coping skills, blocks.

  • Insurers deny medications that relieve the withering side effects of opioid withdrawal, making it impossible for many to taper off, e.g. Adderall, Wellbutrin (dopamine)

  • Cannabis, a nonopioid, classified by US Congress as Schedule I, illegal federally for human use, illegal to take on a plane or cross state/national borders, found on meteorites, made by sponges and some of the earliest living species on the planet, used for thousands of years for pain, while cocaine and methamphetamine are classified as Schedule II for prescription purposes.

  • Opioids, even vicodin, require monthly doctor visits, costs, monthly for sixty years

  • Why whites dying of opioids? People of color are denied prescription opioids. Stark data published for decades.

  • Heroin is an opioid, cheap and available; its “unAmerican” – used in England for pain, used thousands of years for pain

  • Untreated pain is one reason people turn to heroin, affordable is another

  • Violence and drinking and taking drugs can begin with chronic pain and job loss, not always the other way around, chicken egg

  • Opioids cost pennies to make, patient’s cost is $20,000 per month for Rx. Insurers paid what the market would bear… in the old days. Who is trapped in the middle of this fight for shareholder profit?

    • How many of us would take 2 or 4 extra pain pills when pain spikes to extreme for days?

    • If you are disabled, can you afford insurance or expensive prescription drugs?

  • “Poverty and stress, for example, are risk factors for misuse of prescription narcotics,” Dr. Hayward said.

  • When you are not getting enough sleep and rest, working too many hours overtime or 3 jobs, inflammation and pain spikes

  • Misuse of opioids in > 33% (perhaps 48%?) of cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in high resource settings when insurance was better, published 1990’s.

  • Cancer pain – usually time limited. Intractable chronic pain – forever.
    .How many jobs will be lost and how many suicides when CDC imminently imposes strict cuts in opioids?

  •  DEA recently requires every pain patient taking opioids, including those with cancer, to be diagnosed “Opioid Dependent” — not only addicts – the same diagnosis for pain patients includes addicts. The term “addiction” has been equated to dependence by most psychiatrist over the past 30 years. It may be interesting to see what criteria are used to define “addiction” if any, in DSM V. Some important members acknowledge that the addition of dependence into addiction in DSM-III was a mistake….the DSM-V criteria will get rid of “abuse”, and will include craving. it will also apparently eliminate the legal/criminal criteria. DSM comments are extracted from here, with many good arguments on this epidemic, such as: “The US is leading the way in eradicating pain, but in doing so has created an unwanted byproduct: painkiller addiction.”
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    What would you want if you had intense chronic pain?

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    “For too many, and especially for too many women,” she said, “they are not in stable relationships, they don’t have jobs, they have children they can’t feed and clothe, and they have no support network.”

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    “It’s not medical care, it’s life,” she said. “There are people whose lives are so hard they break.”

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Opioids kill – or is it untreated pain?

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Pain kills, a maleficent force.

No one can help you. Only you have the tools to do it

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Alarms went off for me on radical opioid cuts in October and I posted when

DEA suddenly held conferences across the nation on sharply cutting opioid doses.

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How many of us especially seniors and male persons refuse to learn or use coping skills that

reduce pain without medication?

How many of us refuse to diet and lose weight to reduce pain and/or disability?

Politicians are sued if they tax sales of sugar loaded soft drinks.

One single can of soda per day exceeds acceptable sugar limits for entire day.

Snacks need to say much much time it takes to burn off fat –

quarter of large pizza 449 calories, walk off 1 hr 23 min;

large coke 140 calories, walk off 30 minutes.

Foods can be anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory.

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Obesity is pro-inflammatory.

So is lack of sleep.

People who sleep with animals in their bed and their bedroom, I’m talking to you.

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Yes, pain is in your mind.

Chronic back pain is no longer in the back, it’s in the brain, the pain matrix.

It’s behavior, not just pills. Pain is an emotional and psychosocial  and spiritual experience.

Work on it! Constantly.

Lord forbid we should teach stress reduction and meditation in grade school

and improve school lunches before kids start looking for heroin for pain.

Yes, kids have chronic pain, are sleep deprived, often obese.

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Isn’t this all un-American?

Injuries, pain, habits, pace activities, learn to avoid and treat pain – start young.

Taxpayers end up paying for ignorance and disability.

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I will soon be posting published research that documents health insurers have refused to pay for nonopioid treatment and how health care policy aimed at all people with chronic pain leads to suicide when drastic cuts are made to opioid doses – Washington State we are looking at you. Florida you’ve made headlines and 60 Minutes TV specials years ago.

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Do please comment below if your health insurer has refused medication, physical therapy, psycho-therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, stress reduction, for chronic pain.

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How many of you have been denied social security disability by doctors who don’t know how to diagnose RSD, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome? Let me know. I will pass on that data to researchers collecting information on untreated pain.

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I have written many times on these pages, and more often than ever these past years as insurers cut back more and more. This will rapidly get worse. We need your data.

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Please send in your stories. You are not alone.

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So many issues. Steven Passik, PhD, was interview by Lynn Webster, MD – emphasis in bold is mine. Dr. Passik pioneered in management of chronic pain and pain in addicts. He has read some of Dr. Webster’s book. “You’re calling, the need for love and connection and all those things in the book, I’ve been – what’s largely lacking is outright, at times animosity towards people with pain and I think there’s a lot of projections sometimes because the therapy – the stigmatized disease – treated in stigmatized people with stigmatized drugs and interventions and so, it’s like a hat trick of stigma.  I’ve been to my share of pain conferences lately that people are really talking about, “Okay, well there’s come a realization that opioid-only, drug-only therapy, is really not going to work to the best majority of this population.  It doesn’t [mean] that opioids should be ignored and we’ll get into that later, but that they’re going to work in isolation and should never been expected to.  And then they start advocating things that are a lot like supportive and cognitive behavioral therapy and to be practiced basically by the primary care physician or the pain doctor.  And the idea that, to me that’s in a way comical because as a psychologist myself, we’re dealing with the system wherein cognitive behavioral therapists can’t even get paid to do cognitive behavioral therapy.  And so, I think something’s got to give, and I think one of the main obstacle is that – and this really gets into the next question as well but I’ll come back to that more specifically – but when people have a set of whatever chronic condition that involves psychiatric motivational, lifestyle, spiritual as well as nociceptive elements, and we put a premium only on what you do to people, prescribed to people, put in people, take out of people, and then that’s only going to relegate the other kinds of treatment or the other kinds of ways in which a caring physician and treatment team would spend time with the patient to the very poorly reimbursed category.  You’ll always going to have a problem with people being treated with the kind of respect that should go along with treating that kind of an illness and it’s not unique even to chronic pain.  I’ve seen treatment scenarios with people who are taking care of people with pancreatic cancer, have an afternoon clinic that has 45 people in it.  I mean how you – something’s got to give in our healthcare systems and I do think that patients are going to have to stand up and say, “I don’t want to be on a conveyor belt.  I want to spend some time and make a connection with the people that are taking care of me and it’s not just about the piece paper in my hands, for a prescription or that I walk out the door with.”

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Clematis Blue.

 The New York Times article further says:

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…This is the smallest proportional and absolute gap in mortality between blacks and whites at these ages for more than a century,” Dr. Skinner said. If the past decade’s trends continue, even without any further progress in AIDS mortality, rates for blacks and whites will be equal in nine years, he said….

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…Not many young people die of any cause. In 2014, there were about 29,000 deaths out of a population of about 25 million whites in the 25-to-34 age group. That number had steadily increased since 2004, rising by about 5,500 — about 24 percent — while the population of the group as a whole rose only 5 percent. In 2004, there were 2,888 deaths from overdoses in that group; in 2014, the number totaled 7,558….

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…For young non-Hispanic whites, the death rate from accidental poisoning — which is mostly drug overdoses — rose to 30 per 100,000 from six over the years 1999 to 2014, and the suicide rate rose to 19.5 per 100,000 from 15, the Times analysis found….

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…For non-Hispanic whites ages 35 to 44, the accidental poisoning rate rose to 29.9 from 9.6 in that period. And for non-Hispanic whites ages 45 to 54 — the group studied by Dr. Case and Dr. Deaton — the poisoning rate rose to 29.9 per 100,000 from 6.7 and the suicide rate rose to 26 per 100,000 from 16, the Times analysis found….

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…Eileen Crimmins, a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, said the causes of death in these younger people were largely social — “violence and drinking and taking drugs.” Her research shows that social problems are concentrated in the lower education group.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

It is not a substitute for medical advice,

diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

Relevant comments are welcome.

If any questions, please call the office to schedule an appointment.

This site is not email for personal questions.

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For My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Being Positive


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I don’t know how the Great Recession may be affecting your mood, but for those with chronic pain, it is often difficult to nurture and maintain a positive attitude.  At times when we need the most help, we may be most reluctant to appreciate the benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but that’s how we get help to reorder our thoughts in positive ways that are healing.

A Randomized Trial of a Cognitive-Bahavior Intervention

Compared to information giving and educational approaches, the risk for developing a long-term disability was lowered nine-fold for the cognitive-behavior intervention group. The cognitive-behavior group also demonstrated a significant decrease in physician and physical therapy use as compared with two groups receiving information, in which such use increased. These findings underscore the significance of early interventions that specifically aim to prevent chronic problems.

More recent research is reported by London’s syndication, The Independent, that tells us how much our attitude is harming ourselves.  Don’t forget, it harms everyone you love and constricts their lives too.  But the right frame of mind can lower your pain and other health risks.

PAIN

People showing dispositional optimism may be better able to cope with pain and need less medication. A study at Michigan State University on cancer patients shows that those who were more optimistic tended to report less severe pain. A study at the University of Alabama showed that patients who were optimistic used less medication for pain relief. “More optimistic adolescents are better able to match their medication use to their pain severity. Future research should examine how other psycho-social factors might influence pain medication use in adolescents and adults, and clinicians should take into account psychosocial factors when working with pain populations.”

CANCER

Women who are happy and optimistic may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. The research also show that adverse life events, such as loss of a loved one or divorce , can increase the risk. Results from the study at Ben Gurion University in Israel show that exposure to more than one adverse life event was associated with a 60 per cent increased risk of disease, while happy and optimistic women were 25 per cent less likely to have the disease. “A general feeling of happiness and optimism seems to play a protective role,” say the researchers. “The relationship between happiness and health should be examined in future studies and possible relevant preventive initiatives should be developed,” say the researchers.

MORTALITY

A review of research into the association between positive wellbeing and mortality shows a signifciant link. The University College London analysis of 35 studies showed that positive psychological wellbeing was associated with an 18 per cent reduced mortality in healthy people and a 24 per cent lower risk in sick people. “Positive feelings – emotional well-being, positive mood, joy, happiness, vigour, energy – and life satisfaction, hopefulness, optimism, sense of humour, were associated with reduced mortality. Results suggest that positive psychological wellbeing has a favourable effect on survival in both healthy and diseased populations.

HEART DISEASE

The positive-minded have a 55 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease, according to the results of a study which followed 500 men aged 54 to 84 for 15 years. “Our results demonstrate a strong and consistent association between dispositional optimism and lower risk of cardiovascular mortality,” says the researchers from The Netherlands Institute of Mental Health, Delft. Just how low optimism may lead to cardiovascular death, is, say the authors, an intriguing, but unanswered question. One possible mechanism, they say, is that optimism is related to better coping behaviour. Another study at the University of Pittsburgh, and based on 200 women diagnosed with thickening of the arteries, showed that over a 15-year period, the disease progressed more slowly in those women classed as optimists. Other research has shown that optimists have a lower risk of rehospitalisation after coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

The article also covers the field of research as it applies to blood pressure, longevity, infections, even the common cold……..

Practice makes perfect.  Take time out to give yourself some love.  Doctors too.

And read Diana’s blog to see how the addition of 3 kittens have added so much to her family’s mood.  Even if you can’t have a pet, you can still enjoy a friend’s.

For My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

Vitamins and Herbs – Risks and Benefits


Most doctors have little if any training in vitamins and supplements

except as they relate to their specialty.

My field of neurology concerns itself with metabolic and nutritional diseases more than most areas of expertise, and I have an interest in several vitamins because of research related to major causes of mortality in the United States.

During the period I taught at a cancer center, I was concerned that research protocols may be misleading as these supplements were not accounted for, however since that time in the mid 90’s, I’m glad that public interest has pushed this field into the fore.  Major cancer centers now have active research in Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CAM) because there are risks and benefits, and some have significant herb-drug interactions as discussed below.

Check your vitamins and supplements for toxicity

Because of the growing science on toxicity, usefulness, and drug interactions, if you use vitamins, review each one carefully with your physician and with the websites listed in the column on your right. Some “vitamins” are simply brand names that have over 20 different vitamins, minerals and various ingredients.  This means you must review each one for current research benefits and risks.

At special risk for vitamin deficiencies are those who have highly restricted diets, abdominal resection, intestinal conditions, colitis, Celiac Disease, gastric bypass, HIV, or the elderly.

Pregnant women have special needs that are essential not only for their own health but to reduce the risk of neurological defects in the fetus.  It is essential in their case to work closely with their obstetrician, especially if morning sickness prevents them from taking their daily supplement.

Resources

One of the best resources I have found is Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Herbs and Botanicals, also linked on the column at right.  Their website is updated frequently with an excellent review of the literature.  It is hosted by a senior physician who has specialized in the field for decades and is actively involved in research at their center as well as NIH.

MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Complementary/Integrative Medicine Education Resources website andColumbia University’s Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine are two others, but there are other resources on the web and books that are excellent.

Recipe for Rum Soaked Salmon with Apple Ginger Puree is found here.

VITAMINS & SUPPLEMENTS

Vitamin D has become a major research topic in recent years.  It may play a more important role than any listed below.   I have written separately on it and its controversy in greater detail.  Please refer to the last post by scrolling down.

Fish Oil

Omega 3 Fish Oils are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for health yet cannot be made by the body.  Unless you eat several servings per week of fatty fish or wild salmon, not farmed salmon, it is one of the most important supplements that any adult of any age can take.  They are needed for building cell membranes in the brain but our body does not make them.   Fish oil helps your lipid profile by reducing triglycerides as much as 45%.  It reduces platelet clotting, lowers risk of heart attack and cardiac arrhythmia, and is an important anti-inflammatory reducing pain for many particularly those with arthritis.  One of thebest references on Omega 3 Fatty Acids is by  Dr. Frank Sacks, Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health.   He mentions high doses “are used to treat depression. New studies are identifying potential benefits for a wide range of conditions including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.”

One high quality fish oil, Lovaza, has been approved by the FDA and is prescription only.  Fish oil and cod liver oil available over the counter should be checked for adequate dosages of EPA and DHA that will vary with your needs as determined by your lipid profile, and should be purified to remove cholesterol, dioxin, PCB’s and other pesticides.

Co-Enzyme Q10 is also called CoQ10.  CoQ10 is present in every cell of the body which is why it is also called ubiquinone.  It is important in the electron transport chain to produce intracellular energy.

Statins deplete CoQ10. Vitaline’s CoQ10 product has been used in NIH funded trials for cardiovascular, neurological and brain disorders. Two mitochondrial disorders have been shown to benefit from Co-Q10: migraine and Parkinsons Disease.

My preferred manufacturer is Vitaline because of their research with NIH which requires that they validate and verify dosages.  Their website discusses other advantages and gives guidance on dosages that have shown benefit for various conditions. They offer a discount of 25% if you request scheduled delivery every 3 months.  Use the code code DEF25.  Their product is in the form of wafers that are about the size of a quarter and are very easy to break into 2 or 4 with your hands.

Vitamin B supplements in the elderly may help reduce the risk of dementia and B12 deficiency may result in neurological conditions such as peripheral neuropathy, dementia, hematologic and psychiatric disorders, Subacute Combined Degeneration of spinal cord & brain, increased fracture risk, and may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.  A good B complex vitamin is not likely to harm and may benefit.    The best source of all is food:  leafy green vegetables, beans and peas.

Thiamine (Vitamin B1) in high doses of 300 mg per day may reduce kidney disease in type 2 diabetes and may prevent early diabetic cardiomyopathy (heart disease).  As many as 70% to 90% of people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, are thiamine deficient.  The research is still a little early to draw firm conclusions.  It is being done by Charity Diabetes UK which finds that thiamine works by helping protect cells against the harmful effects of the high blood sugar levels.”

Vitamin A is associated with a 45% risk of hip fracture.  There are four major adverse effects of high levels: birth defects, liver abnormalities, reduced bone mineral density that may result in osteoporosis, and central nervous system disorders.

Vitamin E may actually increase mortality and there are significant risks to its use including increased risk of some cancers.  Several studies were reviewed by one of the foremost science writers, Jane Brody, in the New York Times on March 23, 2009.  It does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and there is no evidence that it slows the progression of macular degeneration.  In thePhysicians’ Health Study II it has been shown to actually increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke since it decreases the clotting tendency of blood.

Vitamin C was recently shown to markedly increase the growth of cancers. It’s healthy for them too.  It blunts the effect of cancer drugs by as much as 30 to 70% depending upon the drug tested.

Zinc may prevent the absorption of copper which is necessary for the brain and spinal cord thus resulting in progressive neurological conditions.  Herb-drug interaction reduces the bioavailability of some antibiotics, tetracycline and fluoroquinolones.  Intake of 100-300 mg/day may result in chronic toxicity including copper deficiency, depressed immune function, headache, chills, fever, and fatigue.  It concentrates in the prostate and consumption of more than 100 mg per day may increase risk of prostate cancer.

It may be useful for tinnitus and for short term use to reduce symptoms of the common cold when used topically or in lozenges

HERBS & BOTANICALS

Don’t forget seeds, beans and whole grains that help digestion and keep the system moving!

This is a very brief summary of a few of the more commonly used herbs.  Please refer to Memorial Sloan Kettering Herbs and Botanicals website for detailed information on risks and benefits.

Arnica – a topical anti-inflammatory may help sprains and osteoarthritis.

Aloe Vera – apply immediately after sunburn or burning the skin to prevent blister formation

Chamomile – calming sedative, may use for intestinal colic or gas

Cat’s Claw – anti-inflammatory activity may be caused by the inhibition of TNF-alpha production.  It may be useful for refractory oral ulcers of unknown etiology in persons with HIV/AIDS that have not responded to other known remedies.

Echinacea may shorten the duration of common cold, useful in sinusitis, and respiratory infections.  Because of the lack of standardization of various products, I recommend a high quality organic liquid product by HerbPharm. Avoid use in autoimmune conditions, Multiple Sclerosis, HIV/AIDS.  “Echinacea was shown to stimulate phagocytosis, enhance mobility of leukocytes, stimulate TNF and interleukin 1 secretion from macrophages and lymphocytes, and improve respiratory activity… both in vitro and in vivo.”

Goldenseal is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial with activity against pathogens such enterotoxigenic E. coli and V. cholera that may be useful for bacterial sinusitis and respiratory infections.   Warning it may prolong the QTc interval in persons with heart disease or those on methadone and it is contraindicated in persons with hypertension.  A high quality organic liquid product is made by HerbPharm.

Medicinal Marijuana is a vast subject. I would be happy to schedule time to discuss its medical use with you. Refer here for some of the known research and patient information.

Red Yeast Rice, a naturally occurring statin, the same as Lovastatin, often used in China.   Make sure your doctor knows this and monitors liver function.  Statins may cause severe muscle and joint pain that may potentially lead to rhabdomyolysis (sudden death of muscles), kidney failure, vasculitis, lupus-like syndrome, and many other symptoms, however most people tolerate them without side effects and they have dramatically reduced the incidence of heart attacks and stroke.  They may also reduce the risk of dementia including Alzheimer’s type dementia.

Turmuric (Curcumin) – may alleviate irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.  There is a suggestion of improved cognitive performance from epidemiology studies but studies show no benefit for Alzheimer’s Disease.  Avoid use if you have gallstones.  It may inhibit the action of some chemotherapy drugs, such as used for breast cancer, but may be beneficial for certain cancers and other chemotherapy drugs.

Wheat grass– a natural source of vitamins and minerals (Chlorophyll, Vitamins A, C, E, K and B-complex, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium,  Selenium,  Amino acids); may have antioxidant effects.

Willow Bark – contains salicin, the precursor of aspirin.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

To Find My Home Page, click here:  

Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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Vitamin D – A Steroid Hormone, Anti-inflammatory


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The Sunshine Vitamin Controversy

What should normal values  be for calcium homeostasis?

My attention was drawn to Vitamin D several years ago when a review appeared in the journal Neurology, published by the Academy of Neurology, that linked low levels of Vitamin D to Multiple Sclerosis.  The article was unusual for its length and the breadth of research cited over several decades.  More recently, a Johns Hopkins article published “the most conclusive evidence to date” that Low Vitamin D Levels Pose Large Threat to Health.

New publications on Vitamin D seem to appear every week with the focus on levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, also written as 25(OH)D. Its half life in serum is ~ 10 days to 3 weeks.

The biologically active form 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, written as 1,25(OH)D²,  is made in the kidneys and has a much shorter serum half-life of ~ 4-6 hours, thus making it less useful as a serum marker for measuring.

Sources & Metabolism: Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that’s absorbed in the small intestine from  foods such as egg yolks, fatty fish, fish liver oils, fortified milk, margarine, and cereals.  Bile salts are required for absorption.  Sunlight stimulates the skin to synthesize vitamin D, but exposure of hands and face as little as 15 minutes may not be sufficient and it is not as effective for everyone.  It won’t work in winter months, it won’t work for the aged, for those who have pigmented skin, and it won’t work for those who cover their skin.

Vitamin D Metabolism - click to enlarge

Vitamin D Metabolism

The Controversy –  How Do We Determine Normal Values?

Surprisingly, in a well designed multicenter study of healthy young Hawaiians in their 20’s who were exposed to at least 29 hours of sun per week, 51% were found to have vitamin D deficiency using the usual cut off of 30 ng/ml for normal.  This study from 2007 found the mean concentration of 31.6 ng/ml, and the highest of 62 ng/ml.  It raises the question whether

“it seems prudent to use this value [60 ng/ml] as an upper limit when prescribing vitamin D supplementation,”

rather than the generally published normal range of 30 to 80 ng/ml or even 100 ng/ml quoted in some labs.  This study is important in discussing the controversial question of what normal values should be for calcium homeostasis and reviews several possible explanations for inadequate production of D3 including genetic differences.

They note the highest reported values in “Nebraska outdoor workers… were between 81 and 84 ng/ml” but the assay system differed compared to theirs and results in a higher value.   Reviewing this study that was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism has allowed me just now to readjust my own patient practice.

Laboratory Testing:  results can differ from one laboratory to another.  My hospital sends specimens to ARUP for testing, whereas Quest has acknowledged errors in laboratory testing and problems with standardization as reported by the New York Times here.

Function:  It is important for absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the small intestine, for bone health, osteoporosis, risk of falls, certain cancers(colon, breast, prostate), and possibly 6 to 7 years of longevity.  Deficiency of vitamin D is associated with suboptimal health and possibly increased pain; it is linked to infections, gum disease, hypertension, diabetes, coronary disease, neurological diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease though it may not be causal. Its receptor is found all over the body including the brain.

I recommend this review by one of the best web resources at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Herbs & Botanicals.

They quote a reference showing it reduces postmenopausal weight gain and “In adults with impaired fasting blood glucose, giving calcium and vitamin D reduced increases in plasma glucose and insulin resistance….”

It is the only vitamin that is a steroid hormone, and my interest increased on learning that it functions as an anti-inflammatory.  But as I tested blood levels for 25(OH) vitamin D and parathyroid hormone (PTH), I discovered more than 90% of my patients had vitamin D deficiency and a few had hyperparathyroidism.  There are four parathyroid glands next to the thyroid, and for some reason doctors have rarely tested their hormone levels.

***Persons with hyperparathyroidism should NOT take calcium or vitamin D.

It may lead to kidney stones and bone pain:  stones, bones and groans.***

Evidence for Optimizing Vitamin D Concentrations

On the other hand, if vitamin D is low, there is some evidence that replacement with vitamin D3 so that blood levels are in the high normal range, may help pain.  That is, it may raise the pain threshold and possibly have other benefits for health and longevity. It is desirable to avoid toxic levels of D as it causes hypercalcemia with depression, drowsiness, weakness, headache, polydipsia,  bone loss, and metastatic calcifications of many organs, soft tissues and blood vessels.  The generally quoted range of normal for 25(OH) vitamin D is 30 to 80, that varies with the lab.

great-western-divide-wp1

Doesn’t that photo of the Great Western Divide make you want to get outside into the sun?

Estimation of optimal serum concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D for multiple health outcomes was reviewed by Heike Bischoff-Ferrari et al, in 2006,  though it has been superseded by much additional work since then.

To quote from their article:

This review summarizes the evidence for optimal serum  25(OH)D concentrations. The endpoint selection for this review was based the strongest evidence to date—ie, that from RCTs [randomized controlled trials], consistent evidence from prospective and cross-sectional epidemiologic studies, and strong mechanistic evidence or dose response relations.  BMD [bone mineral density], fracture prevention, lower-extremity function, falls, oral health, and colorectal cancer met these criteria. Weaker evidence exists of a beneficial effect of vitamin D on other diseases, including multiple sclerosis (15), tuberculosis (16), insulin resistance (17, 18), cancers other than colorectal (19 –22), osteoarthritis (23, 24), and hypertension (25–27), but these diseases are not considered here.

They did not review pain studies.  I would add that “weaker” evidence merely means that it must be confirmed by more studies, not that it excludes those conditions.  There is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in the country, and the incidence is very high in pain clinics as reported in several studies.

A new multi-center epidemiology study  “Demographic Differences and Trends of Vitamin D Insufficiency in the US Population, 1988-2004”  by Ginde, et al, in 2006,  “demonstrate a marked decrease in serum 25(OH)D levels from the 1988-1994 to the 2001-2004 NHANES data collections.”  And like others before them, they point out:

“Current recommendations for vitamin D supplementation are inadequate to address the growing epidemic of vitamin D insufficiency.”

Summary:

Make sure your doctor checks both your 25(OH)Vitamin D and parathyroid hormone level (PTH) – not thyroid – to determine if you have hyperparathyroidism or if you have normal or low vitamin D.  That will determine if you need replacement or if you should stop using calcium and D as it will cause kidney stones and calcium deposits on your bones leading to pain.

If vitamin D levels are low it may result in increased physical pain and may cause or aggravate many medical conditions.

If PTH levels are high indicating hyperparathyroidism it will cause new painful conditions.

Intake does vary with the patient, the season, the age, but the recommended daily allowance may perhaps be double what it is now.  It is unclear when the federal government will adjust that dosage.   As always, your physician’s recommendation will be based upon blood levels of 25(OH)D and PTH.

Do not make changes in your dosage without careful evaluation.

Could this possibly be one of the most important areas of research this century?

The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and

is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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