Let’s face it… chronic neck pain, especially when its severe and lasts for months or even years, ruins your life. Feelings of depression, anxiousness, hopelessness, frustration and just wanting to give up happen all too often.
So what do most people due? They reach for the nearest fix, which are often a class of drugs called NSAIDs. These are drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. They work well if used sparingly… usually not more than several days in a row. We discuss the in-depth details of these drugs here. Briefly, these drugs work by inhibiting the formation of prostaglandins – which are fat-based compounds that regulate the amount of inflammation. Prostaglandins are made by the body in response to trauma, stress or disease in both chronic and acute conditions. When inflammation is reduced, pain is eliminated.
So, what’s wrong with taking NSAIDs? They delay healing by cutting down on blood flow to the painful spot. Also, they have numerous side effects including stomach damage, kidney damage, liver damage and heightened pain levels when used excessively.
But there’s an alternative treatment for chronic neck pain with virtually no side effects. What is that, you ask? Fish Oil!
HOW DO FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS WORK?
Fish oil supplements are naturally rich in long-chain omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The two most abundant are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega 3 fatty acids are natural anti-inflammatories and help reduce pain. EPA is actually more efficient at reducing inflammation by reducing prostaglandin formation. It acts on two major enzyme systems used for its synthesis: the LOX and COX enzymes. Technically, inhibition of these two enzymes reduces the production of prostaglandin E2 and Leukotriene B4 – both of which instigate the inflammatory response and cause pain. Fish oils also inhibit the production of interleukin-1 Beta and tumor necrosis factor alpha – which are cytokines (inflammatory chemicals) that cause additional inflammation.
Ok now… enough of the technical stuff!
EVIDENCE THAT FISH OIL PILLS CONTROL PAIN
A study done in 2004 (Maroon) used 250 patients who were not good candidates for surgery. They used fish oil supplements to control chronic neck and shoulder pain. The majority (78%) took 1200 mg/day and the rest took 2400 mg/day. After 75 days on the fish oil, 59% of these patients were able to discontinue the use of NSAIDs… 60% reported less pain… and 88% said they would continue to take fish oil pills as a method for pain management and relief. Most importantly – there were no side effects reported with the fish oil supplements… making it an appealing alternative to NSAIDs.
FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS AND SOURCES – WHICH ARE BEST?
Excellent sources of EPA and DHA include cold-water fatty fish like sardines, anchovies, salmon and herring. Farm-raised fish should be avoided (most salmon in stores is farm-raised) since they are fed synthetic food often laced with toxins. Wild-caught fish is what you want… but it’s expensive. I recently bought a two pound bag of frozen wild-caught cod in Costco for about $ 17.
If cost is an issue, supplements offer all the benefits of eating fish at a more reasonable cost. The supplement should clearly show the source of the fish oil and should have information available on their screening processes and quality control testing.
Unfortunately, fish can can concentrate heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium from polluted waters… so paying for quality products is very important for safety’s sake.
Some people may consider fish oil capsules superior as they are usually made from gelatin – but evidence supporting the use of gelatin (and collagen) for connective tissue disease and joint pain is somewhat lacking. Even if gelatin was effective for chronic neck pain from arthritis, the amount in the capsule shell is so small that it is insignificant.
HOW TO STORE FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS
The container should be kept away from heat and light so as to reduce the risk of oxidation. Keep in a cool place as heat may cause fish oil capsules to stick together. Once opened, it is a good idea to keep fish oil liquid or capsules in the refrigerator to preserve its nutritional value and slow down rancidity. A good fish oil supplement will often contain a small amount of vitamin E… which acts as an antioxidant to prevent the oil from becoming rancid. Some liquid fish oils (like cod liver oil) may contain flavoring in an attempt to make the oil more palatable. Check the labels as sometimes this involves added sugar – which clearly is not beneficial to your health. There are many quality supplements around which are naturally flavored.
IT’S IMPORTANT HOW YOUR FISH OIL IS MADE!
When our grandmothers made their children take cod liver oil… it was a time when producers didn’t have as many contaminants to worry about. The fish oil was boiled in a still and separated from harder to boil materials like waxes, mercury and other pollutants that had different boiling points. The process was crude – but it did the trick.
Today, many different processes exist. The most preferred method is called “triple phase molecular distillation”, which is much gentler. The fish oil is placed under a vacuum and the Omega-3’s and pollutants like PCBs and mercury boil off at extremely low temperatures… molecule by molecule. The EPA and DHA Omega-3s are separated from toxins. The resulting product is then converted back to triglyceride form (a costly process) making the fish oil more stable and less likely to degrade – while improving the bioavailability of the product. Companies using this process will gladly share this information.
Avoid fish oil produced via the synthetic ethyl ester process which is cheaper and easier. It uses ethanol (alcohol) in the distillation process to produce a higher concentration of EPA and DHA. Ethanol contains free radicals that make the fish oil unstable – even though the oil may be more concentrated and contain a higher amount of Omega-3s. Left in this form as ethyl ester, it is less bioavailable than the natural form of triglycerides
TRY THIS: A quick home test will show what kind of fish oil you have. Pour some of your fish oil into a styrofoam cup. If the oil eats through the cup in 30 minutes or less, you probably have fish oil with ethanol content. Also, if the container does not say natural triglyceride or TG from the fish oil, it is likely the ethyl ester form
MAJOR FISH OIL BENEFITS
As well as reducing inflammation, fish oils also have a blood-thinning effect… with concomitant reductions in the risk of heart attacks, strokes and thrombosis. The EPA and DHA have also been found to benefit brain function, mood, fight depression and improve cognitive performance. Children and adolescents may take fish oil supplements as the Omega-3s are critical to proper brain development. Athletes often use fish oil to relieve post-workout stress and strains by improving their circulation… possibly preventing muscle breakdown, aid fat loss and improve immune function.
As just mentioned, the blood-thinning effect of fish oils can be beneficial to a patient who is due to have neck surgery or who is on medications to thin the blood… such as Warfarin/Coumadin, Aspirin, Ginkgo Biloba and Garlic. Care must be used to avoid over-thinning the blood and causing bleeding problems.
Taking fish oil keeps inflammation at bay and is highly effective. It may help break the body’s inflammation cascade cycle – giving the body a chance to heal – and perhaps reduce inflammation and pain long-term without the need for medication. Dosages vary depending on the individual’s circumstances and should be discussed with your healthcare practitioner. Unfortunately, the intervertebral discs in the neck have poor circulation… so it can take time for nutrients from fish oil to reach them and reduce pain. Where chronic neck pain is due to systemic inflammation… such as fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis, the impact on improving neck pain can be much faster.
PS: We are offering a FREE “Chronic Neck Pain Survival Guide” Book for a limited time. It has tips, tricks and pain hacks to get fast and permanent relief.
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