kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Chronic pain affects up to 30% of the adult population and 11% to 38% of the childhood and adolescent population.  Chronic pain causes decreased participation in recreational activities, difficulty maintaining social contacts, work and school absence, decreased health related quality of life, and increased health care utilization.

Not so long ago, most doctors advised people with chronic pain to rest and avoid activity.

Evidence shows that inactivity tends to reinforce “pain sensitivity pathways”, said Daniel Belavy, a physiotherapy professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Germany. Studies show exercise often reduces feelings of pain immediately afterward and raises pain thresholds.

6 Ways Regular Exercise Affects Chronic Pain

  1. It decreases pain.
  2. It improves energy level and reduces fatigue.
  3. It uplifts mood and lessens feelings of depression.
  4. It enhances joint health.
  5. It increases overall day-to-day functionality.
  6. It helps to control weight (when combined with a healthy diet).

Pursuing even the least demanding movement may seem unfathomable when pain makes you miserable and fatigued, but movement is good medicine. Although you may not feel the energy or motivation to exercise, the right kind of activity is the very thing that can enhance your pain tolerance and return more functionality to your life. Initially, exercising may be difficult and cause some discomfort, but it should never be so strenuous that it is harmful.

If you experience pain regularly, the question is where to start.

Ask yourself how do you currently view exercise? Do you see it as something that is only for “healthy” people? Do you see it as something you only do when your body is pain-free? Do you see it as this “solution” to chronic pain that scientific research suggests, but doesn’t seem to be a reality for you?

There are a lot of factors that go into our view of exercise:

  • What we have been told by those we trust (e.g. you are broken, damaged, in need of being fixed)
  • Our past experiences with exercise
  • Our limiting views on our capabilities due to the pain we experience
  • Our lack of confidence in exercising “right” or “safely”

Each of these is very real for most people with chronic pain. And, any of these factors can deflate any confidence we might have in our bodies.

“Exercise is like art.” says William Richards, Founder of Fitness 4 Back Pain. “It’s something you will mess up and then sometimes get right all at the same time. You need to understand that is ok. If you approach it with the right mindset regardless of how you feel, what operation you have had, or diagnosis you have been given, the freedom and confidence in your body will be yours for the taking.”

A 2020 analysis concluded that yoga generally improves physical function, quality of life and pain for many people with “knee osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, neck pain, headaches, and low back pain”.

If your pain is worse two hours after finishing exercise than it was before starting it is “an indication that you have overdone it and should scale back next time,” said Kirsten Ambrose of the University of North Carolina’s Thurston Arthritis Research Center.

Unlike other things in our lives – such as work and daily responsibilities – exercise can almost always be done on our terms and in our way. When you’re at work, things like stress, fatigue and work satisfaction are all at play, which affect the way we feel. Unfortunately, not all of us have the ability to quit our jobs if it causes us stress, so we often feel stuck. This feeling can seem like never-ending fuel for chronic pain symptoms.

When using exercise as a tool to work towards more confidence in your body, YOU set the standard. Which means you can come and go as you please, and do as much or as little as you want.

For people with chronic pain, unrealistic standards and pressure to hit certain exercise goals, expectations and achievements can actually have a counterproductive effect. When navigating the brain-body connection, we need to feel safe and “in-control.” Being afraid will keep you from finding your “sweet spot”. Don’t think about what you used to be able to do; do what feels best for today’s body.

The stress of persistent pain quickly takes a toll on the body; muscles tighten and become stiff, making even the simplest tasks difficult. Our tendency to stop moving when we hurt is a protective human reflex, but it deconditions muscles and perpetuates pain. The more you hurt, the less you move, the less you are able to accomplish. A sedentary lifestyle increases pain and makes for poor overall health. Regular physical activity, however, works against pain and reduces your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases.

Start over with your definition of exercise. This might mean doing exercise differently than you used to but a new outlook on exercise will get you up and moving.

  • 5-10 minute fast paced walk 1-2x a day
  • 30 minutes in the yard (cutting the grass, pulling weeds, working a garden, shoveling)
  • Breathing classes to improve the way you breathe and control your breathing during stressful situations
  • Learning to improve the way you move and use your body – how you lift things, bend, twist, stand and sit
  • Trying a couple of sets of wall pushups and assisted bodyweight squats
  • Clean the house with music playing
  • Dance a little

These are starting points that open up our mind’s view on exercise and allow us to do more in the long run.

Redefine what exercise is to you and be willing to cut yourself some slack. Be okay with your “workouts” not necessarily starting in the gym or looking like what fitness articles define as a “workout.”

Moringa

Moringa leaves are a “super food”. They come from the moringa oleifera tree or “the miracle tree.” Their roots can grow in a variety of soils, including depleted soils. Because they are drought-resistant and can grow without rain water, moringa trees do particularly well in harsh and dry climates like India and Africa.

Like most superfoods, moringa leaves are packed with antioxidants. Moringa has an ORAC value of 157,000. That’s 6 times the antioxidants of goji berries!  Wild blueberries have an ORAC value of 9,621.

(ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It’s a lab test that attempts to quantify the “total antioxidant capacity” of a food by placing a sample of the food in a test tube, along with certain molecules that generate free radical activity and certain other molecules that are vulnerable to oxidation. After a while, they measure how well the sample protected the vulnerable molecules from oxidation by the free radicals. The less free radical damage there is, the higher the antioxidant capacity of the test substance.)

Moringa Oleifera, also known as the Drumstick Tree, is a subtropical tree native to southern Asia and parts of Africa. It is cultivated for its seed pods, which are used in traditional herbal medicine.

Interestingly, while the tree is cultivated in some areas, others consider it a particularly aggressive invasive species. It grows quickly, can reach 30-40 feet in height, and produces thousands of flowers. The fruit of the tree, long, thin pods that resemble overly large green beans, are frequently used in India as a vegetable prepared in curries. The leaves of the tree are used in cooking in broth-based soups, as garnishes, or in salads. The seeds, harvested from inside the pods, are a bitter snack commonly found in Nigeria.

The moringa leaves can also be harvested in just 6-8 weeks after planting and it only takes 6-8 weeks for the leaves to grow back. Moringa is a distant relative to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage.

Moringa leaves are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals. One cup of fresh, chopped leaves contains:

  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Vitamin B6: 19% of the RDA
  • Vitamin C: 12% of the RDA
  • Iron: 11% of the RDA
  • Riboflavin (B2): 11% of the RDA
  • Vitamin A (from beta-carotene): 9% of the RDA
  • Magnesium: 8% of the RDA

In Western countries, the dried leaves are sold as dietary supplements, either in powder or capsule form.

Several antioxidant plant compounds have been found in the leaves of Moringa oleifera. A 2014 study published in “Journal of Food Science and Technology” found that consuming 1½ teaspoons of moringa powder every day for 3 months significantly increased antioxidant levels in the blood.

The antioxidants in moringa leaves have been shown to prevent oxidative damage and protect against oxidative damage as well as free radicals. In addition to vitamin C and beta-carotene, these include:

  • Quercetin: This powerful antioxidant may help lower blood pressure.
  • Chlorogenic acid: Also found in high amounts in coffee, chlorogenic acid may help moderate blood sugar levels by slowing down the release of glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream after a meal.

One study in women found that taking 1.5 teaspoons of moringa leaf powder every day for three months significantly increased blood antioxidant levels. Another study in 30 women showed that taking 1.5 teaspoons of moringa leaf powder every day for three months reduced fasting blood sugar levels by 13.5%, on average. Another small study in six people with diabetes found that adding 50 grams of moringa leaves to a meal reduced the rise in blood sugar by 212%. Scientists believe these effects are caused by plant compounds such as isothiocyanates.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection or injury. It’s an essential protective mechanism but may become a major health issue if it continues over a long period of time. Sustained inflammation is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease and cancer. Scientists believe that isothiocyanates are the main anti-inflammatory compounds in moringa leaves, pods and seeds.

Peter Havel, a professor of nutrition and molecular biosciences at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, has tested moringa on rats. His studies saw a 5 month delay in developing diabetes. For humans, that could mean a delay of 10-15 years.

Moringa may have some benefits for diabetes, but it can also interfere with diabetes medications. In particular, if you’re on sitagliptin as a prescription, consult your doctor before taking Moringa Juice.

Moringa is also not recommended for pregnant mothers. The bark of Moringa in particular can cause contractions of the uterus, which has been used to induce abortion. While Moringa juice typically does not include the bark of the tree as an ingredient, it’s better to be on the safe side.

How to Buy

High quality moringa has an earthy taste that’s slightly spicy and sharp. It’s also bitter.

The majority of what we get in the West is moringa leaves. You can sometimes find these available as fresh leaves in specialty stores. Occasionally, you may also be able to find other parts of the tree available for sale. Most of the time, however, what you find in stores is preserved or dried preparations of moringa.

The first requirement is that the moringa has to be organic. Then, evaluate the color (moringa oxidizes easily).To tell if you have a high quality moringa powder it will be a light green in color; lower quality moringa will have a color similar to pea soup.

Most moringa levels and powders you can find in stores are tested for pesticide residue, bacteria and mold (this is usually where a lot of moringa will fail and not make it to your co-op’s shelves) and heavy metals.

 

How to Store

Moringa powder should be stored in a cool, dry space away from humidity and light. Light can destroy nutrients in the powder, and humidity can make it mildew or mold. When stored properly, the powder can last for two or more years

Moringa leaves are often dried and ground up into a powder, and that powder is what you often find in packets on store shelves in the west. While you can get juice, the powder is often just as beneficial. It is more versatile to use in recipes or as a supplement.

How to Cook

Every part of the moringa tree is edible – leaves, pods, seeds, flowers, even its root. However, it’s most commonly found in powdered form.

Moringa tastes somewhat like matcha or another very green product. That is, it’s very grassy and earthy in its natural form. When mixed with juices like acai and goji, it takes on a sweeter flavor with some tartness.

Moringa powder is more often mixed into smoothies.  Try flax seed, maca and tahini with in a cup of your favorite non-dairy milk with a heaping tablespoon of moringa powder.

If you find fresh leaves, chop and mix into guacamole.

Moringa Oatmeal Recipe

The Nutty Scoop

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups gluten-free rolled oats
  • 5 cups almond milk
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tsp moringa powder
  • 1/3 cup pistachios, chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried mulberries (cranberries, cherries or raisins will work)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds, optional

Instructions

  1. In a medium sauce pan, add the rolled oats, milk, vanilla extract and maple syrup.
  2. Cook the mixture over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until some of the milk has been absorbed and the oats have softened, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat off and add the moringa powder and the remaining ingredients. Stir and serve.

*If you like a thinner consistency, add more milk to the oatmeal. You can refrigerate leftover oatmeal in a sealed container for up to 5 days.

Resources

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