Pain is the sensation of physical or emotional discomfort. Everyone feels it sometimes, but for those suffering from IBD or IBS, the pain is persistent. New research explores the cause of IBD and IBS-related pain and offers promising alternatives for helping the pain “go away”.
What Causes Pain in IBS?
In a recent journal article, published in JCI Insight, researchers examined how nerves in the gut trigger chronic pain in IBS.
Researchers used agonists (activating compounds) for the itch receptors in mice models. They found that activating the receptors bring about an itchy feeling similar to what occurs on the skin. So essentially IBS patients are living with a gut “itch”.
Directly targeting the receptors may effectively treat chronic pain and discomfort in IBS. Researchers hope from this information can be used to create a treatment medication .
Pain Medication: Know the Risks
Currently, there’s not a cure for IBS or IBD. So to help manage the pain, pain relievers such as opioids are frequently prescribed. However, there’s a lack of evidence that opioids can help in the long term and the risk for opioid addiction is high.
Common prescription opioid medications include:
-Oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin)
-Morphine (Kadian and Avinza)
Opioids can help some people feel very relaxed and produce a high, which is why they’re sometimes used for non medical-reasons. This makes them highly addictive. Overdoses and death is common in the street drug forms such as heroin.
Opioid overuse and abuse have created a crisis. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 130 people in the US die each day because of opioid overdose .
Other negative symptoms of long-term use range from constipation to nausea. If dependency occurs, withdrawals can include drug cravings, anxiety, insomnia, abdominal pain, and tremors .
Opioid pain killers can be very helpful in disease management but before starting them, it’s important to know the risks. Discuss these concerns with your physician and work together to create a plan to prevent addiction.
Alternative Pain Treatments
There are many alternative treatments for pain, however not all of them work and some can be risky. It’s important to research treatments and discuss them with a doctor before giving them a try.
A type of complementary medicine in which small needles are inserted into the skin at specific points along the lines of energy (meridians) has gained a lot of popularity. Acupuncture is becoming mainstream as a treatment for pain reduction.
How it works is not completely understood but it’s thought to release pain-numbing chemicals in the body or block pain signals coming from the nerves .
Scientific research shows that acupuncture decreases disease activity and inflammation via an increase of vagal activity in IBD. It’s shown to be beneficial in regulating bacteria, intestinal barrier strength and function, depression, anxiety, and pain .
Regular physical activity has proven benefits for people with different pain-related conditions. It can also give an extra mood and energy boost.
For chronic pain, specific guidelines are lacking but frequent and moderate movement is preferable to sedentary behavior . Its best to work with your doctor or physical therapist and find the right type of exercise for you. There’s also good evidence that yoga and light stretching can help improve chronic pain .
CBD is non-psychoactive portion of the cannabis plant. CBD has been shown to provide many of the same benefits of THC but without any of the mind-altering effects associated with THC.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation commissioned a review of clinical, scientific, and regulatory information on the role of cannabis in managing IBD.
Currently, there’s no definitive evidence that shows CBD products can control inflammation. However, the use of cannabis has been associated with improvements in nausea, abdominal pain, and appetite.
Since CBD is an unregulated supplement, it’s essential to research the quality of the product, the state or country’s laws, and to check with a doctor before giving it a try.
The gut is linked with the brain. Studies show that depression and pain influence one another. Chronic pain can cause or worsen depression and depression and lower pain tolerance.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on helping learn how thoughts can change feelings and behaviors. IBD symptoms have been shown to decrease after CBT programs.
Reducing stress is crucial for pain management. Relaxation therapy, such as deep breathing, guided imagery, and music therapy can help manage symptoms.
Mindfulness helps improve concentration, enhance the ability to feel relaxed, improve self-esteem, and bring about a reduction in pain sensations. There’s been quite a bit of inconsistency around mindfulness-based therapies for IBS but several clinical trials have shown promising results in decreasing gut pain .
One way to reduce stress is through Niksen, the Dutch concept of doing nothing.
Foods or Supplements
PNAS journal featured a new discovery of a fungus among us which could be an unexpected answer to the opioid crisis.
Researchers found an unknown species of the fungus, Penicillium. This species contains a set of amino acids (protein building blocks) called tetrapeptides. These have a unique structure that emulates the shape of endorphins (natural chemical messengers that help deliver pain relief).
Tetrapeptides have the potential to cause fewer side effects than regular opioids while offering effective pain relief. Although more tests are required until the new pain killer could become commercially available, the structure of the molecule is one scientists haven’t ever seen before, potentially offering positive outcomes for pain .
Certain foods and supplements may help reduce pain by reducing inflammation. Treat supplements like you would a medication, always check with a doctor before you starting them, especially if you’re taking other medications.
Learn more about anti-inflammatory foods here: Ulcerative Colitis inflammation and how to prevent it.
Having regular conversations and getting support from a chatbot coach like Nori will help you discover and change lifestyle factors that help reduce your pain.
This article has been written by Lisa Booth, registered dietitian and nutritionist, and co-founder of Nori Health. Content is based on her professional knowledge, and our collection of 100+ scientific research study papers.