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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Nutritional strategies for beating chronic pain and fatigue

The most common health complaints I come across are a group of related conditions including chronic fatigue, cold limbs, aching muscles and joints. Underactive thyroid function is widespread and it has recently been reported that around 40% of New Zealand women report low sex drive (men are probably no better off, going by Viagra sales!). With an ageing population, this is a growth area!

While there is much that can be done to fire a body up and to relieve pain with physical exercise and massage, these are wasted efforts if the body chemistry is unhealthy. Exercise is the baking of the cake. Baking without first gathering all the ingredients (Top quality - of course!) will result in an unpalatable product. A malnourished body is weak and tired and anything more than gentle exercise will only make matters worse.

The most exciting and challenging area is trying to detect the nutritional metabolic switches that need to be thrown to fire up a person's internal furnaces and to help bake a strong body and lively mind. We are talking about firing up tiny cellular furnaces that may be currently running on little more than the pilot light. These switches vary from one person to another and may be a group of amino acids, enzymes, minerals or a particular vitamin or two.

What I first studied and learned in exercise physiology in the early 1970's still applies to today. The physiology of the human body has not changed in a thousand years and won't in another thousand. However; what has happened since 1970 is the physiologists have burrowed deeper and deeper into the chemistry of life. For example; we have known for ages that we break down muscle protein during intense or exhausting exercise. What we now know much more about is which amino acids in those proteins are most damaged during exercise and most needed for muscle repair.

While this research has been mostly focussed on the physiology of athletic performance, I am excited about applying this burgeoning knowledge to my ordinary every day clients, who are simply tired, aching and who simply crave for the good old days when physical and mental energies were so much higher. There are four nutritional products that show promise for restoring energy and vitality and let me talk about these: Kordel's Coenzyme Q10, Balance Carnitine, Balance Beta-Alanine and Alpha Linoleic Acid and other Omega 3 fatty acids found in products like Waihi Bush Flax Oil.

Coenzyme Q10 is required by mitochondria (the power plants of the cells) to produce ATP (the cellular energy molecule). Every muscle, nerve, heart, immune and brain cell requires coenzyme Q10 to survive and maintain the health of the body. Levels of Q10 tend to drop with age and low levels at any age may cause excess fatigue. In a study published earlier this month, seventeen healthy volunteers were randomised to receive coenzyme Q10 at 100 mg or 300 mg daily or placebo for eight days. The participants were then asked to engage in certain physical tasks. It was found that the group receiving 300 mg of coenzyme Q10 daily performed better and, in addition, had subjectively less fatigue compared to the placebo group.

Balance L-Carnitine has an important role in fat burning and exercise performance and the metabolism of fat for energy depends on it absorption, converison to fatty acids and glycerols. By promoting the transport and metabolism of fatty acids through the inner mitochondrial membrane, where fat is converted to energy, L-Carnitine can assist aerobic performance, anaerobic capacity and may improve power output and stamina in athletes. So much for athletes; I am more interested in the possible benefits for people off the street!

In a study published this month, 96 elderly people between the ages of 71 to 88 were supplemented with carnitine. At the end of the testing, those given this carnitine had a significant decrease in physical fatigue and mental fatigue along with significant improvement in cognitive functioning compared to placebo.

Balance Beta Alanine is an Amino acid with exciting possibilities. It acts as an intracellular buffer to offset acid production in the muscle to help delay muscle fatigue and speed recovery. This is proving very effective with clients who suffer fatique associated with fluid and acid buildup within tissues, such as about the shoulders.

Finally, there are the delicious organic Waihi Bush flax oils which have numerous health benefits including improving eczema, reducing inflammation, thinning sticky blood and improving concentration. Athlete or not; in combination with modalities like exercise, massage and adjustments to diet, these four nutrients can bring about relief from pain and renewed vigour for life.

A warning:
Please do not be lulled into thinking that these substances are the panacea for all ills. Each individual is different and there may be many factors at play, such as low iron levels (very common in women). These nutritional supplements are just some of the growing list tools in the health toolbox available to natural health advisers.

  1. Mizuno K, Tanaka M, Nozaki S, Mizuma H, Ataka S, Tahara T, Sugino T, Shirai T, Kajimoto Y, Kuratsune H, Kajimoto O, Watanabe Y, Antifatigue effects of coenzyme Q10 during physical fatigue, Nutrition, Published online ahead of print 13 February 2008, doi:10.1016/j.nut.2007.12.007/
  2. Malaguarnera M, Gargante MP, Cristaldi E, Colonna V, Messano M, Koverech A, Neri S, Vacante M, Cammalleri L, Motta M, Acetyl l-carnitine (ALC) treatment in elderly patients with fatigue, Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Volume 46, Issue 2, Pages 181-190, March 2008.

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