What causes CRPS? This is probably one of the most burning questions among patients who suffer from CRPS. I have found that patients have come to expect a very succinct answer to this question. They are looking for that one abnormal genetic fingerprint, that one explanation (it is an autoimmune condition! It is a brain abnormality!) that will finally explain it all. The reasoning, of course, is that once they find the cause, they can find a cure.
The logic with this thinking is clear and understandable. You have a health problem that is dominating your life, and you need a solution. The error in this way of thinking is that most diseases or conditions do not simply have one single, simple cause. The body is not simple, it is incredibly complex. CRPS is no exception. In my opinion, what leads to the development of CRPS is much like a perfect storm. A whole bunch of unfortunate circumstances combine to give rise to this monstrous disease. While it is complicated, it is by no means impossible to unravel. It is my true belief that in order to understand CRPS and find any long term successful treatment, you must first have a clear understanding of why you got sick. In order to understand how your body got into trouble, you must understand how the body works. Most patients today have been indoctrinated by current modern mechanistic thinking when it comes to health. Please allow me to explain.
Mechanistic vs. Vitalistic approaches
To Symptom Treating And Healing CRPS
The mechanistic view
This view, which dominates health care in the United States and most of the world today, tends to ignore the cause of the illness or condition. Its focus is primarily symptom-based. Think of your body as a car. It is made up of parts. When your car won’t start one morning, it is taken or towed to the mechanic, where the part or parts most likely causing the specific problem are examined and replaced if necessary. The alternator may be broken, but the rest of the car still works. Therefore, the alternator is fixed or replaced. This is how mechanistic health care works. The body is viewed as a machine where one part has nothing to do with the other, and organs and systems may be tested and treated independently of other organs and symptoms. I hesitate to even call this model “health care.” It is focused mainly on “disease care” and, more specifically, on emergency care.
What do I mean by this? In traditional health care today, ‘preventative’ care is virtually non-existent, and what is passed off as such truly should be labeled as early detection instead. For example, once a year, most women past a certain age are urged to undergo breast exams, mammograms, and pelvic exams, all geared to detect cancer or other problems early. The same rings true for men and prostrate exams. The body is typically ignored—except for periodically being tested and examined for problems by your doctor—until a sign or symptom of malfunction rears its ugly head. At this point, you make an appointment to see your doctor and the symptom is examined, diagnosed, and managed. The focus of all treatments seems to be symptom-oriented: isolate the broken or malfunctioning body part or organ guided by symptoms, fix it or numb it with surgery or medications, and/or remove the offending part(s).
The philosophy is a simple one: if there is pain, numb it. If the patient is not sleeping at night, force their body to sleep at night by drugging it. If the patient has pain somewhere, give them painkillers. If they appear to also suffer from, let’s say, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the relationship between these two sets of symptoms is seldom examined and tends to be treated separately. The patient will be given a thorough exam and probably go through some tests, and in the end, a different doctor will most likely manage the IBS with different medications. Doctors specialize in their unique fields and communication between doctors leaves much to be desired. In addition, we are bombarded with ads for designer medications for every condition under the sun. Have you heard these words lately while watching your favorite show? “Ask your doctor about…” The message is clear: manage every symptom. Squash it, numb it, interrupt it, silence it, or cut it out.
If the mechanistic way of doing things worked, it is obvious that the United States would be full of healthy people. We have some of the best hospitals, the best doctors, and more pharmaceutical companies than you can throw a rock at. A good example of this is the great American tradition of direct-to-consumer advertising, where drugs are marketed directly to the public. You know the ads. It typically goes like this: attractive actors, celebrities, and cartoons (ever seen the bee that is voiced by Antonio Banderas?) ask you if you suffer from a list of symptoms. You do? Well, presto! They have the answer in the form of some drug. This is followed by members of the public being urged to “ask their doctor” about the drug by name, finally followed by a long list of side effects rambled off very rapidly, resembling a witch’s book of spells. (Bleeding from the nose?
Drug companies like Pfizer spend around six billion dollars a year on this type of marketing. The nation’s health care tab is on a fast track to hit approximately $4.6 trillion in 2020, accounting for about $1 of every $5 in the economy8. Our brains have a tendency to skip over complicated statements that contain large numbers. However, make sure that you understand that this holds vast complications for all of us. In theory, if everyone in the US should become even 50% healthier overnight, our economy would literally collapse. There is big money in disease. This is not a conspiracy theory, it is a fact.
The largest profits do not come from healthy people or dead people, but from the chronically ill. Most medical research today is funded by the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry is much like your local drug dealer on the corner, only, much, much more powerful. The pharmaceutical industry is incredibly powerful because it is backed by so much money. Between 1998 and 2015, more money (about 3.2 billion) was spent on lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry than any other. Coming in second (and lagging behind by about one billion) is the insurance industry. Drug companies make laws and medical research is not driven by compassion nor a desire to find a cure for diseases and conditions. It is driven by money. There is no money in the cure. We must stop being naïve and realize that the only one who really, truly care about you becoming healthy, is you and those you love. The buck stops with you.
Let’s get back to the mechanistic approach. Are Americans healthier because of it? Not exactly. A new report done in 2013 prepared by a panel of doctors, epidemiologists, and other researchers at the request of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, found a “strikingly consistent and pervasive” pattern of poorer health of Americans at all stages of life. In fact, Americans’ health ranked below that of sixteen other developed nations. We may live longer than we used to, but what is the quality of those extended lives? As you can attest, living with chronic daily pain is really not a picnic. It is agony.
The vitalistic view
The vitalistic viewpoint takes a very different approach. The body is seen as more than the sum of its parts. It is understood that the body is a masterful, intelligent system where every part affects every other part. It is studied in terms of its dynamic connections with its environment. It boils down to: fix the whole, including its environment, and the parts will take care of themselves.
When we study the body by looking at smaller and smaller parts, we may find certain organs or systems that are not working properly. For example, a patient may suffer from diabetes if the pancreas isn’t producing insulin. However, the cause of the pancreas not producing insulin is rarely addressed. When a giant corporation finds itself in hot water for some reason, blame is usually not laid at the feet of each individual worker all the way down to the mailroom and cleaning staff. Rather, the top management of the company is scrutinized first, together with its policies. In much the same way, it makes more sense to examine a malfunctioning body from the top down. View the body as a corporation where the brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system (CNS); that is the CEO.
Your Amazing Body
I often ask patients whether they appreciate how incredibly intelligent their bodies are. This is often met with scorn and annoyance by those with less-than-stellar health. People who suffer from CRPS often have a sense that their bodies have betrayed them in some way. They feel as if they can’t trust their bodies, since those very bodies have let them down. It is a source of pain and it keeps them from doing the things they love, which is understandable. But let’s step back for a moment and look at this differently. The body of a patient who suffers from CRPS is under immense ongoing stress. It doesn’t have the life-giving energy available to it that normal people’s have. Each cell is functioning under stress. Yet it chugs on like the little engine that could. It is essential that you regain a sense of love and respect for this amazing living organism that allows you to live another day, as this is part of the recovery process.
Do you think your body isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s look at the some of the things this body of yours can do. Your body was designed to survive (sometimes horrific) injuries even if a large part of your internal organs was removed. The human body may appear fragile, but it’s possible to survive even with the removal of the stomach, the spleen, 75 percent of the liver, 80 percent of the intestines, one kidney, one lung, and virtually every organ from the pelvic and groin area. You might not feel too great, but the missing organs wouldn’t kill you.
Your body is innately intelligent. It does many, many things at once. If I asked you to consciously and accurately monitor your blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar levels, and temperature for ten minutes, it would be impossible to do so without the help of some serious technology. Yet your body does this and more every millisecond of every day and night without your having to give it any thought. We can think of the human body as an organized collection of infinitely intelligent cells. Each cell is like an elaborate biochemical computer. It has its own power-management and information-processing structures. It continuously communicates with its neighbors and the environment.
Each cell is an individual organism. Under certain conditions it may even be capable of living outside of the body. Most cells have a complete copy of the body’s genetic information and are theoretically capable of recreating the whole human body. The magnitude of information-processing activity inside the human body is amazing. The cell reproduction processes require terabytes of genetic information to be copied every second within the body. And the protein formation and other functions in cells can be several orders of magnitude more information-intensive. The power consumption of a single cell corresponds to about 107 chemical reactions per second.
The smartest scientist in the world cannot create life from scratch, or a hair from nothing. Your body serves you well. You may be thinking that while all this information is nifty, it does not explain why your body somehow became messed up and now has you feeling like dog poop every day. Nor does it explain why it’s not repairing itself already. This is a valid point! As one of my patients once so eloquently put it: “awesome body my behind Dr. K!” I understood her frustration just like I understand yours. There has to be a reason why this supposedly amazing, self-healing and self-regulating body of yours has gone on the fritz. Let’s look at why this happens.
That Overused Word: Stress
My dad, who is one of my greatest mentors and has been a chiropractor for forty-one years, likes to tell his patients that their stress will end the day the lid on their coffin is closed. What he means by this is that stress is an unavoidable part of human existence. We can no more avoid stress than we can avoid breathing. However, once you understand that it is not stress itself that makes us sick, it may bring you some peace and comfort. Who wants to be a victim of stress? Wouldn’t you rather be the one in control? The good news is that you are in control.
We usually think of stress as all bad, but that is not necessarily true. Let’s look at what stress actually is. The official definition of stress in medicine is: “the result produced when a structure, system, or organism is acted upon by a stressor; when stress occurs in quantities that the system cannot handle, it produces pathological changes.” In layperson’s terms, stress technically is any change that requires your body to change in order to process it. If you follow this logic, even eating a banana can cause the body stress. If you didn’t swallow it and it became stuck in your throat, it could suffocate you, resulting in your untimely demise. In addition, if your body could not digest and eliminate it, it would make you very sick. Although we typically associate stress with an emotional upset, there are actually three kinds of stress that affect your health: physical, chemical, and emotional stress.
Physical stress comes from the world outside of your body. A car accident is an excellent example of a physical stress that may contribute to a patient’s developing CRPS. Patients will often tell me that although they had a car accident, it was insignificant and could not have caused significant injuries to their necks because they (or the car that hit them) were driving really slowly when it happened and there was little damage to their vehicles. Sometimes they think it’s not worth mentioning during their history since it happened a long time ago. Please note that the force of the impact or the time that has gone by since the injury often has no effect on the extent of the injury.
One researcher has shown that when a thirty-five-hundred–pound car traveling at ten miles an hour strikes the rear of another car, it may transmit to this car a force of twenty-five tons. The person in the car that is struck continues to move forward while their head, being hinged at the neck, snaps backward. The average head weighs about eight pounds, and the cervical vertebrae (the bones of the neck) are very delicate; the force pushing the head backward is even greater than you might believe since the base of the neck acts as a fulcrum and the leverage is applied near the top of the head.
Therefore, the head snaps back with the equivalent of several tons of force without any support, since the muscle control of the neck is caught off guard. The end result, with the neck in acute hyperextension, is that the nerve root (where the nerve exits the spinal cord) is caught in a pincer between the superior and inferior facets (the special posterior joints of the spine).9 Car accidents are not the only culprits. The cervical spine may be injured in a number of different ways: falls, birth injuries, long-forgotten childhood injuries, sports injuries, or any injuries that caused you to suffer a concussion or cervical spine (neck) injury.
Another way patients may be injured is through general anesthesia. When the muscles that normally hold the bones of the neck in a safe position are paralyzed by the anesthesia, it is easy for the neck to be injured, especially if the neck is bent back in order for the breathing tube to be inserted in the patient’s throat. Injuries to the neck are so prevalent in patients who suffer from CRPS that we will devote more space to the neck and nervous system elsewhere in this book.
Other examples of physical injuries include injuries to the cranial nerves (the nerves that control your senses, like hearing, sight, and smell). I have a patient (let’s call her Bonnie) who was doing very well after her third month of treatment. Her big goal after recovery was to go to Florida on a vacation with a girlfriend. After a trip to an amusement park where she went on some of the spinning rides, she suffered severe nausea and dizziness for a month after returning home. The cranial nerves dealing with her balance had been injured. Such injuries can also be caused by excessive visual or auditory stimulation. (Interestingly enough, she underwent several needless, grueling tests ordered by her MDs targeting her digestive system before she finally happened to mention to me one day that her nausea had started immediately following the ride at the amusement park.)
The body was designed to heal after injuries. However, sometimes the body is already under stress at the time of a physical injury, making it harder to recover afterward. Think how much easier it is for a string to snap if it is pulled very taut. For example, let’s say that you are going through a divorce. One night you are particularly upset. You are driving home after an emotionally wrenching day that ended with a nasty phone call from your soon-to-be ex, and then to top it all off, you are hit from behind by another car. The fact that you were under emotional stress at the time of the accident, causing your body to be tense, will make it much more likely that you will be injured by that car accident and make it more difficult to recover.
During a traumatic event, the nervous system goes into survival mode (exciting or turning on the sympathetic nervous system) and sometimes has difficulty reverting back into its normal, relaxed mode again (controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system). If your nervous system is stuck in survival mode, stress hormones such as cortisol are constantly released, causing an increase in blood pressure and blood sugar, which can in turn reduce the immune system’s ability to heal. Physical symptoms start to manifest when the body is in constant distress. If you add a physical injury on top of these conditions, the body now enters a danger zone where healing does not occur as easily as it should.
We are blessed with free choice. Every day, we get to choose the things we eat and drink. Your body responds to every single thing you put into it, whether you swallow it, inject it, rub it on your skin, or inhale it. After it enters our bodies, the part of us that gets to choose, however, is no longer in control. Now it is up to your body to process what you just put into it. Did it add to your health, or take away from it? Food will either enhance your health or take away from it.
Medications can add tremendous stress to the already stressed body of a CRPS patient. It is very important for every CRPS patient who is taking a lot of medications to support their liver and kidneys with detoxification and nutritional supplements.
Another bad habit that many people in chronic pain cling to is smoking. You’d have to live under a rock to not know that smoking is bad for you. It is especially detrimental to those who suffer from CRPS because it decreases oxygen to the brain and increases neurological injury. Alcohol and nicotine add to your toxic chemical load. It should go without saying that these vices are especially detrimental to patients who already suffer from CRPS. Please note that even secondhand smoke, or smoke clinging to the clothes of someone next to you, will affect your brain oxygen levels.
In my experience, it is much harder for a patient to recover from any condition, CRPS included, if they refuse to give up smoking. In addition to putting a tremendous stress on the lungs and decreasing oxygen to the brain, smoking will add toxins like heavy metals to your system that will interfere with your healing. A good example of this is cadmium. Cadmium is an extremely toxic metal commonly found in cigarettes that is very easily absorbed by the lungs. Cadmium may cause osteoporosis, arthritis, kidney pain, and a host of other unpleasant symptoms.
When a smoker enters care, I am decidedly more apprehensive of their recovery than with normal patients, unless the patient is able to undergo the difficult process of quitting smoking. Adding to your toxic load will not help you to feel better or to live a longer, better life. However, we understand that daily pain will sometimes cause people to make poor choices in health. It is very difficult to stop a bad habit that is nevertheless comforting if you are in pain. Judging, we are not. However, you will show your body tremendous love and support if you can stop these bad habits. If necessary, get professional help. I have found that hypnosis is especially helpful in kicking toxic habits, as it addresses not only the physical but also the emotional and powerful subconscious addiction.
Diet Sugars: Just Go For The Sugar If You Must
I wanted to address diet drinks and sugar separately. Most notably, I want to mention aspartame. Aspartame is the technical name for the brand names Spoonful, NutraSweet, Equal, and Equal-Measure. It was discovered by accident in the sixties when James Schlatter, a chemist, was testing an ulcer drug. Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious, including seizures and death.
Aspartame is found in almost every single brand of gum, something that patients who suffer from CRPS are particularly fond of in my experience. It is also found in diet sodas and drinks and in many other foods, including some children’s vitamins. Recently, the EPA found aspartame to be a potentially dangerous chemical along with BPA (BisphenolA), which you’ve no doubt heard a lot about in the news lately. BPA is the harmful chemical that is often released by plastic cups, toys, and containers, especially when heated up. Most parents now know that their baby’s bottle should be BPA-free. However, have you heard about aspartame being bad for you in mainstream media lately? Not so much.
What is aspartame made of?
Aspartame is made of three components: 50 percent phenylalanine, 40 percent aspartic acid, and 10 percent methanol (wood alcohol). In the body, methanol breaks down into formaldehyde (embalming fluid) and formic acid. While going through school and doing human dissection, formaldehyde was one of the smells that clung to me and my classmates in a stinky chemical fog that seemed to repel the public. After a while, it is almost impossible to remove the smell from your skin. It is used to preserve cadavers and acts as a preservative inside of the body. Today, our bodies are exposed to so many preservatives that they are actually taking much longer to decay after death. Gross, right? While it used to take a body about eight years to crumble into dust (hence “dust to dust”), it can now take forty years or longer! Maybe it’s just me, but I find this fact particularly creepy.
Aspartic Acid (40 Percent Of Aspartame)
Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, a professor of neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi, published a book thoroughly describing the damage caused by the ingestion of too much aspartic acid. He makes use of almost five hundred scientific references to show how excess free amino acids such as aspartic acid and glutamic acid do damage to the human body. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is the Sodium Salt of Glutamic Acid or Glutamate. Found in our food supply, it is causing serious chronic neurological disorders and a ton of other unwanted symptoms, such as numbness, vertigo, and seizures.
How Aspartate (And Glutamate) Cause Damage
Aspartame releases aspartate during digestion. Aspartate and glutamate (MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate) act as neurotransmitters (think of them as chemical taxis) in the brain by facilitating the transmission of information from neuron to neuron. Too much aspartate or glutamate in the brain kills certain neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage that can be caused by excessive aspartate and glutamate is why they are referred to as “excitotoxins.” They “excite” or stimulate the neural cells to death. My colleagues and I have observed that few things will injure the nervous system as rapidly and completely as aspartame.
Splenda is another culprit. It is marketed in such a savvy way that you would swear it’s made by Mother Nature herself. It is often included in products labeled as “all-natural.” However, Splenda is chlorinated sugar and is anything but natural. There have been no long-term human studies on the safety of Splenda; however, several issues have been raised about Splenda. According to a study from Duke University, Splenda “suppresses beneficial bacteria and directly affects the expression of the transporter isozymes that are known to interfere with the bioavailability of drugs and nutrients. Furthermore, these effects occur at Splenda doses that contain sucralose levels that are approved by the FDA for use in the food supply.”10
A great natural alternative is the sweetener stevia, which is derived from a plant. Stevia was first discovered in 1500 and widely used for hundreds of years by American Indians. In the early ’70s, as problems with other sweeteners emerged, Japan started widely using stevia. Today, it accounts for 40 percent of all sweetened products produced in Japan. Numerous studies in the United States and Europe found stevia to be safe and even beneficial. Your local health-food store should carry this sweetener in its natural form (I recommend the KAL brand). If you chew on a stevia plant leaf, you will find that it is naturally sweet. A great rule of thumb is that the more humans interfere with food, the worse it is for you.
A large number of personal care and cosmetic products, including deodorants, lotions, makeup, and even baby shampoos, contain chemicals that are linked to cancer, learning disabilities, birth defects, asthma, and other health problems. The average woman today uses about a dozen personal care products daily, containing more than one hundred and twenty chemicals. I like to tell my patients that if you can’t eat it, you should not put it on your skin. We forget that the skin is not an impenetrable covering surrounding our bodies, but also a living, breathing organ rich with blood supply that serves as a portal of entry straight into the body.
If you suffer from CRPS, I suggest you take extra care to protect your body from toxic chemicals such as lead (still contained in many lipsticks), phthalates (industrial chemicals contained in almost every cosmetic and personal care product and that have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system), sulfates, heavy metals, and countless other harmful chemicals. A great resource that I recommend to my patients is the Environmental Working group’s “skin deep” website (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep).
EWG’s Skin Deep database gives you practical solutions to protect yourself and your family from everyday exposure to chemicals. It was launched in 2004 to create online safety profiles for cosmetics and personal care products. Their aim is to fill in where industry and government leave off. Using this website, you can look up the safety and ingredients of most of the products that you use, and the effects the chemicals contained in these products have on the human body.
That being said, I don’t recommend that you obsess about the thousands of chemicals you can’t avoid. Even babies in utero have been shown to be exposed to harmful chemicals. It is impossible to completely avoid our toxic environment. However, educate yourself on the products that you use daily and make better choices where you can. For example, instead of buying only organic produce, look up the “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables and try to buy these only if they are certified organically grown.
It is a good rule of thumb to detoxify the whole body at least quarterly. This can be done in many ways. I like the Isagenix nine-day detoxification, and a good quality ionic footbath (not all are created equal). I also like doing this through eating a very pure diet.
Although we often blame emotional stress on the actions of people around us as well as the ups and downs of life in general, it is actually the one stress completely in our power to control. Emotional stress is nothing more than feelings that don’t feel good, originating from our thoughts. Every person has a unique filter through which they experience the world. Whether we experience something as pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad, happy or sad has much to do with our upbringing, our ethical values, and that which we hold dear. I had a mentor who used to tell his patients something I will never forget: “You can spit in my face, but you cannot make me mad.” We can’t control the actions of others. However, we can control the feelings their actions cause us to feel.
Close your eyes and “feel” your thoughts for a second. Every thought, if we focus on our bodies, tends to be accompanied by an actual physical sensation; these sensations are generally distinctly pleasant or unpleasant. Close your eyes and focus on a thought. Now pay attention to the physical sensation that thought generates in your body. Is there a nice warm feeling in your chest, about where you imagine your heart is located, or do you have an unpleasant feeling in the pit in your stomach? Does it feel like your heart is being squeezed with fear and dread or that a heavy weight is resting on your chest? Are you feeling boredom, annoyance, terror, or frustration?
Emotional Stress And How It Affects Your Nervous System
Let’s imagine that your brain is a computer. You have hardware (brain cells, nerves, white matter, gray matter, the spinal cord, and so on), and software (the signals you can’t see, but that you know are there). If you decide to pick up a glass of water, your nerves respond to the decision made by the great CEO, the brain. They pass the command down to the muscles of your arm and fingers. These muscles and tendons contract and relax to move the bones, and, presto! You are holding a glass.
You have a conscious mind and a subconscious mind. The conscious mind resides in the cerebral cortex, which is a thin layer of nerve cells about one eighth of an inch thick that surrounds your brain. The conscious mind is your thinking, judging, and decision-making mind. This is the area we use when we make choices. This area is fed by the five senses (what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel) and by information entering your mind through the cranial nerves discussed elsewhere in this book. When you learn to ride a bike, that information is programmed in the cerebral cortex where you can access it at any time.
Over time, as your body builds muscle memory and the actions of riding a bike or walking become routine, the knowledge is dumped in the area underneath this layer, the cerebrum. Occasionally, these bits of information may not be easily accessible (for example, when you forget someone’s name). For the most part, however, the information in the conscious mind is readily available. Think of it as the thinking mind, or a vast library of information. When you are born, the conscious mind is a blank slate. As we have our first human experiences as babies, this area is programmed. We may learn that the appearance of our mother’s face is shortly followed by comfort and food, and that if we cry, our demands are met. We may also learn useful bits of information. For example: if we touch a hot curling iron or a pan this brings pain, and it should be avoided for the rest of our life.
The subconscious mind is the area that runs our bodies, driven by one singular, razor-sharp goal: survival. It is the lower “animal” part of our brain at the base of our skull. When we are born, this area is already filled with all we need built in for survival. The newborn baby does not need to be taught how to regulate his or her insulin, how to digest milk, or how to breathe. This part cannot think, judge, or reason. It simply responds to what is being programmed into the conscious mind.
Imagine that you are driving along one day and notice a police car with flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. You may become scared. Your subconscious or automatic nervous system will respond by going into survival mode. Your heart rate will go up, your hands may sweat on the steering wheel, and your stomach may pull into a knot. When the police car passes you, you will take a deep breath and laugh about how silly you were. The body usually will take a few minutes to respond, but eventually your heart will slow down, and you may even feel relaxed enough to stop and grab something to eat.
The subconscious mind cannot distinguish between a real threat to your survival and a fake one. It cannot distinguish between the present and the past. Think of a deep emotional wound as a virus in your computer. Even though you visited the website where your computer was infected months ago, the virus will continue to do its annoying thing as if it had been infected today. When your computer was infected does not matter. When very traumatic things happen to us, it is as if we play a CD with a scratch on it over and over. The subconscious mind responds to this traumatic event as a threat to its survival. Remember, to your subconscious mind, the traumatic event and the feelings it caused may as well be a real-life threat, like an angry bear. It is responding perfectly to inappropriate information.
Let’s pretend for a minute that when you were ten years old, your abusive alcoholic father hit your mother. Unfortunately, you witnessed this event. Your subconscious mind responded to the intense fear the situation created as if your life were being threatened. It is still responding to this memory with the typical tools of survival. You are scared, your blood pressure is elevated, you can’t eat, your muscles are tense and ready to fight. Only…there is no abusive father, simply the memory of him, churning destructively and unnoticed in the subconscious mind.
Your subconscious mind is responding to this memory as if it is a present danger. It cannot distinguish between present and past. Like the virus in your computer, it is ever-present, all the time, as if on a loop. To your subconscious mind, this is still happening right now. It is causing your digestive system to shut down with your stomach in knots, your heart to pound with anxiety, and your blood pressure to be elevated.
Since you are not consciously aware of this memory very much alive in the subconscious, wreaking havoc upon your body, these symptoms make no sense. They seem out of place and will usually eventually cause you to seek medical help. If you were to tell your doctor that you are scared and anxious all the time, you can’t sleep, and your stomach hurts when you eat, he or she would most probably prescribe anti-anxiety medications, sleeping medications, or antidepressants and refer you to a specialist for your digestive problems.
You are now chemically masking your physiological response to this buried memory. See the problem with this approach? The automatic (or autonomic) nervous system is extremely important. However, just know that there are upper cervical (neck) injuries that may cause your body to respond with the same fight-or-flight response, stuck in an endless loop.
Once called shell shock, PTSD is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. PTSD is a lasting result of a traumatic experience that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or an accident, war, or natural disaster. Patients who suffered sexual or physical abuse suffer from a high burden of stress upon their nervous systems and bodies, and are much more likely to develop chronic conditions such as CRPS.
Most people who experience a traumatic event will have reactions that may include shock, anger, nervousness, fear, and even guilt. These reactions are common, and for most people they go away over time. However, for a person with PTSD, these feelings continue and may even increase, becoming so strong that they keep the person from living a normal, happy life. People with PTSD have symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as they did before the event occurred.
How Do We Change Our Response To Stress
When I explain the effect emotional stress may have on their bodies to my patients, I almost always get this question: How does one avoid the bad things in life that seem to happen to all of us sooner or later? Remember, it is not what happens to us that makes us physically sick; it is our feelings about these things that get our bodies stuck. So, are you supposed to stop feeling then? Just flip that handy-dandy “emotions off” switch in the back of your head? We are all human, after all. Although your emotions are 100 percent under your control, it is difficult to leave behind a lifetime of programming. When someone dies, we miss them. It makes us sad. When another driver is rude to us on the road, we get angry. How do we change the way we naturally respond to stress…with feeling? How do you friggin’ neutralize negative feelings?
Step 1: Make The Link
Understanding that feelings can make you physically sick is the first step. The founder of chiropractic, Dr. D.D. Palmer, used to say, “Be very careful who you rent the upstairs to.” When you learn to watch your thoughts, based on the feelings you are feeling, you can begin to correct them. Awareness is the first step to healthier thinking. Most people just feel what they feel with abandon, with little thought of the consequence that those intense emotions may have upon their health. Every feeling has an effect upon your body; it can be a good effect or a bad effect.
Step 2: Quit Acting Like An Ostrich
As adults, we deal with stress in various ways. One popular way is to simply ‘put it behind us’, meaning, we bury it. However, as my good friend doctor David Pascal always says: “Burying stress is like burying toxic waste in your backyard. It always surfaces sooner or later.’ You have to acknowledge your feelings. As children, we are often taught that big boys and girls don’t cry. It is implied that it is better to “suck it up,” to keep our chins up, and to get over it. However, when you suppress an emotion, it will be expressed as a physical symptom. It will implode. Think of expressing your emotions as a pressure valve. It will keep your feelings from becoming toxic.
I am not necessarily advocating that you confront people who have upset you to their face; although this may be appropriate in some cases, it may also cause you too much anxiety. I, for one, despise confrontation. It reminds me of a funny joke here in the South: “I don’t talk badly about people to their face. No, ma’am. My mamma raised me right. I do it behind their backs.” I would rather drive needles through my skin with a hammer than confront people face to face. If you are like me and you would rather stuff your emotions down, I feel your pain. However, this is not a healthy way to live.
You have to learn to at least own your feelings. “When you said X to me, it made me feel Y. I understand that you did not necessarily mean to make me feel Y. These are just my feelings, which I am owning and taking responsibility for.” Another great way of expressing your feelings is merely saying them out loud, even if no one else is around to hear you. I like to do this while I am driving or in the shower; that cuts down on the chances of other people thinking I have lost my marbles because I’m talking to myself. The mere act of saying something out loud counts as a healthy expression. Think of it being said out loud with emotion as a release of negative energy from your body. Another solution is to write a letter or e-mail, even if you never send it. Many people find journaling helpful.
Step 3: Neutralize The Acid
Think back to your chemistry class in high school. How do you neutralize an acidic solution? You simply add an alkaline substance or solution. Think of your negative feelings as acid. It is corrosive and will eat away at you and your health unless neutralized. Whenever you find your thoughts about a memory to cause a negative emotion, mentally examine it until you can find some good in what happened.
Sometimes the only good you can find is the lesson you learned from that experience. Your lesson may be to not repeat that mistake, or to learn from the unpleasant feeling and vow to do better in the future, or maybe not to do unto others as has been done to you. Find at least one good thing in every unpleasant experience. It has to be there, by the law of polarity. Bad cannot exist without some good. The silver lining is there; just look for it.
My dad once had a patient whose husband was killed in front of her during a robbery. She asked him what good there was in that. His answer? She was not killed. That may seem like a small thing, but it was a significant blessing amid that tragedy. While this is an extreme example, you get my drift. Find the nugget of good and acknowledge it. Of course, it is best to do this right away. Try not to spend months or years working through negative things that could be handled immediately. Even if it feels like you are just going through the motions, it is still incredibly effective. A little bit of positivity goes a very long way.
Step 4: Selfishly Forgive Others
The last step is forgiveness. People sometimes resist this step, since it feels as if they are condoning what was done to them by forgiving it. “It was not OK. I will not imply it was OK by forgiving them.” Choose to look at it differently, however. Forgiveness is actually a very empowering action that will speed up your healing. It does not imply that you condone what was done to you. It simply means that you are choosing to let go. It is a very peaceful action, bringing you great return upon the investment of energy it takes to forgive. After all, what are you really letting go of? Anger. Grief. Resentment. Why would you choose to hang on to these negative emotions? Hatred is an acid that destroys its own container. Picture your hands opening and letting go of sharp broken you were tightly holding on to, causing you pain. Just let go. Let it fall to the ground.
Forgiveness must be heartfelt, and more than just words spoken. While it takes a strong person to say “sorry,” it takes an even stronger person to forgive. Forgiveness can be instant, or a gentle slow eroding of negative emotions as you keep focusing on any positives that came from the experience. Forgive the person, not the act. You will be healthier for it. You will be freer. Cut the ties that bind you with the most powerful sword in the world: forgiveness. Nothing binds you to a fellow human being more snugly than hatred.
Step 5: Forgive Yourself
I have noticed that my patients are hardest on themselves. We sometimes find it much easier to forgive others than ourselves. We somehow feel that if only we can beat ourselves up hard enough, we can go back in time and undo our bad decisions. Not marry that jerk. Not say hurtful things. Not take that dead-end job. Finish school. Never start smoking. Not have our hearts broken by people who should never have had the power to do so in the first place. Our lists of regrets are usually long and tough to admit. Yet we never let ourselves forget our own mistakes.
Please understand, we can only forgive others to the extent to which we can forgive ourselves. Do you understand how profound this is? The harder we are on ourselves, the harder we are on those around us and those we love. Be extra kind to yourself. Imagine yourself to be a student, moving through life’s various classes. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we fall down. A mistake is only a lesson waiting to be learned. Be as kind to you as you are to your most beloved friend or pet. Messing up is part of being human.
Lying In Wait: The Makings Of A Monster
While stress (physical, emotional and/or chemical) cause all disease, it is my belief that CRPS is not the result of one single event or stress, but rather more like a complicated puzzle, made up of different parts. Stress only affects you adversely physically if you cannot adapt to it. People who suffer from CRPS became overwhelmed to the point that their bodies could not adjust or respond to stress, and CRPS was the unlucky result.
What then made your body so uniquely vulnerable to stress? While not every factor apply to every patient, a few general ones do apply in the majority of cases. Let us discuss those:
The MTHFR Gene Mutation
You may or may not have ever heard of something called the MTHFR gene mutation. Inside your body, on a daily basis, countless metabolic and chemical cycles and processes take place every day right under your nose. Please stick with me, as this can get a little complicated even for those of us who love chemistry. You may not be aware of it, but your body is masterfully clever and complicated. MTHFR (Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) is an enzyme in the methyl cycle. During this cycle, a single molecule (known as the methyl donor) transfers a methyl group, consisting of three hydrogen atoms and one carbon atom to another molecule.
This causes the second molecule to become methylated, which is an essential process responsible for the production of something called Glutathione. Glutathione is also known as the master detoxifier and is known as the most powerful antioxidant inside our bodies. Glutathione is like the best maid in the world, cleaning up our toxic messes inside. It passes through each of our cells, dutifully collecting toxins and heavy metals in order to purge them from our body. Therefore, Glutathione is responsible for the health and well-being of every single cell in your body.
What is the purpose of the methyl cycle? It is responsible for repairing damaged cells. When our cells are damaged by stress, free radicals or toxins, the methyl cycle inserts the new methyl group into the protein cell, where it goes to work to repair the damage. DNA cells are particularly dependent upon the methylation cycle to function properly, as it heavily influences the transformation of DNA information of the old DNA cells to the new DNA cells. Methylation is also responsible for neutralizing damaging homocysteine amino acids by turning them into methionine. The level of homocysteine in our body directly relates to our biological age. High levels will increase your chances of strokes, neurologic malfunction, heart disease, dementia, birth defects, high cholesterol, and many other conditions9.
MTHFR is a common genetic variant that causes this key enzyme to function at a lower than normal rate. In fact, a 2003 genetic study called the Human Genome Project was completed, surprisingly showing that a lot of people worldwide (some say as high as 60% of the population) are affected by this mutation. There are over fifty known variants of this gene, however, the two most common ones are called C677T (most commonly associated with heart attack and stroke) and A1298(most commonly associated with a variety of chronic illnesses).
The MTHFR gene malfunction can be either heterozygous (meaning you have one affected gene and one normal gene, and that your enzyme activity will be about 60% normal) or homozygous (meaning you have two affected genes and that your enzyme activity could be as low as 10%). The worst-case scenario is 677T/1298C in which you are heterozygous to both anomalies. Many chronic illnesses have been linked to this unlucky anomaly.
Some of the symptoms associated with various forms of the MTHFR gene mutations are depression, anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, Parkinson’s disease, CRPS, Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, heart disease, elevated cholesterol, excessive clotting, glaucoma, frequent miscarriages, stillbirths, preeclampsia, birth defects in fetuses (such as spina bifida or cleft lip), autoimmune disorders, insomnia, and frequent headaches. Suffering from this mutation may put you at higher risk for addictions such as alcoholism and smoking.
In addition, this mutation will make it harder for your body to detoxify itself of various toxins. In fact, my CRPS patients often report that they simply do not tolerate medications or toxins as well as other people do, and that medications affect them very differently than most people. I commonly hear: “Doc, I am that one in a thousand. If something can go wrong, it will go wrong with my body. I always puzzle doctors”. The same is true for alcohol. An inability to detoxify may also lead to thyroid disorders, menstrual disorders, kidney damage, liver damage and cancer.
Although no formal study has ever been performed as of yet to link CRPS and the MTHFR gene mutation, it is my firm belief that such a link does exist. As mentioned previously, there is a significant incidence of CRPS existing within families. In addition, fibromyalgia and CRPS share a significant overlap in both cause and presentation, if not exact symptoms. The link between the MTHFR gene mutation and fibromyalgia has been shown in various studies.
In addition, there is no doubt that CRPS involves an abnormally functioning nervous system. The nervous system has been shown to directly be affected by the MTHFR gene mutation12,13. While a lot of doctors can order a genetic test to screen for the MTHFR gene mutation, it is possible to also do a saliva test at home. One test currently available is 23andme.com. This test will provide you with raw (and somewhat confusing) data. However, there are sites available that will interpret these results for you (for example, GeneticGenie.org or livewello.com).
Sometimes, routine blood testing will show abnormally high levels of folic acid in your body. This may also indicate that you suffer from the MTHFR mutation. The reason for this is that people who suffer from the C677T mutation do not process folic acid into methylfolate well. Supplemental and enriched folic acid foods (such as pastas) should be avoided as elevated folic acid levels have the potential to stimulate pre-existing cancer cells. Active, methylated forms of folic acid are acceptable to take.
It is important that you understand that I am not an advocate of being a victim of your genetic blueprint. While most of us are born with some genetic weaknesses, we are not slaves to these weaknesses. The information above should merely provide us with an action plan of fortifying and protecting our bodies with a specific goal or target in mind. I call this intelligent, proactive planning. As mentioned earlier, please familiarize yourself with the work of Dr. Bruce H. Lipton. His work teaches us that even though our DNA may contain genetic weaknesses, these weaknesses are much like locks, waiting for the right keys. The locks may be out of our control, but most of the keys as well as the unlocking process lie firmly within our control.
The Spero Clinic
Our focus is to help our patients and treat their bodies as a whole regardless of where their pain is located. We find that in order to effectively treat CRPS, we must focus on all aspects of a person’s well-being including their diet. Our treatment methods have helped our patients enter remission after years of debilitating pain from CRPS. Contact The Spero Clinic today.