Saturday, July 6, 2013

Can an Injury Give You a Stomach Ache?

We know that foods you can't tolerate can cause inflammation in parts of the body outside the GI tract. But can inflammation in other parts of the body cause inflammation in the GI tract? I'm starting to think it's possible.

This morning, I was walking my dog when the cause of my recent TMJ problems and headaches struck me: it was from walking my dog. Molly's so strong that she pulled my mother around in a wheelchair when Mom was in rehab a few years ago. I've tried to get her to walk without pulling, to no avail. When she pulls, I have to pull back and it makes me tense my neck and jaw. Molly has her own treadmill, which I bought when I had this problem before, and henceforth she'll just have to stay on it if she wants to walk.

Molly on her treadmill, not the Iditarod. She could have been a contender.
What does this have to do with stomach aches? Lately, my stomach has hurt and nothing seems to digest well. I haven't tried any new foods lately; in fact, I got rid of instant coffee, sweet potatoes and dairy within the past few months and felt better for it. Normally my stomach feels fine, but it wasn't always so.

Back in 2006, I was in a car wreck and sustained a sprained neck and back; a few months later, I developed TMJ pain that was so bad I couldn't sleep. At the time, I was on a high-carb diet (~180g per day) and eating wheat and dairy. After the accident, I needed 20 pills a day. I needed a chiropractor, splint therapy for my TMJ, and pills for acid reflux. Around that time, I was diagnosed with an acute infection of H. pylori; I was making only two antibodies instead of the usual three. I went on medication for acid reflux for the next three years. I was so cranky at work that my boss had a word with me about it. I had a pile of work and a helper with the IQ of a doorknob. I think my system got overwhelmed with inflammation from the carbs, food intolerances, injuries and stress. It was about that time that my diet and exercise program quit working for me and I started gaining weight. However, there were a lot of things going on at the same time, and I was around the age when people start gaining weight, so it's hard to say whether inflammation caused my stomach problems or vice versa. Probably, it was a perfect storm for declining health.

However, my stomach was fine last year in the months after my bike wreck, when I fractured my arm and broke a tooth from my chin hitting the sidewalk. In fact, I shoveled it in with no gastric distress and my TMJ acted up only after oral surgery. Without a doubt, better diet (low-carb and free of the worst irritants) helped, but I've been on pretty much the same diet with my problems of late.

One difference, I think, is chronic and systemic inflammation vs. acute inflammation. After my bike wreck, I bled for a day and my arm swelled, I had some pain (not a lot) over the next month or so, but I was healing and wasn't being re-injured, unlike the continual muscle strain I've had from walking my dog. I was on a low-carb, high-fat, wheat-free diet. I don't think I had chronic, systemic inflammation.

Swelling from a recent injury is acute inflammation. But overtraining or continually eating something you can't tolerate leads to chronic, systemic inflammation. As Mark Sisson puts it,

...what’s the deal with inflammation being linked with all those chronic illnesses – like obesity, heart disease, and depression? How does something normal and helpful go haywire and become implicated in some of the most crushing, tragic diseases of our time?
When inflammation becomes chronic and systemic, when it ceases to be an acute response, when it becomes a constant low-level feature of your physiology that’s always on and always engaged, the big problems arise. The inflammatory response is supposed to be short and to the point. I mean, just look at its responsiveness. Go twist an ankle (don’t, not really) and watch how fast it swells up and gets warm to the touch. It isn’t meant to be on all the time.
And because a big part of inflammation is breaking the tissue down, targeting damaged tissue and invading pathogens, before building it back up, the inflammatory response has the potential to damage the body. That’s why it’s normally a tightly regulated system, because we don’t want it getting out of hand and targeting healthy tissue. But if it’s on all the time, regulation becomes a lot harder.(1)

Can system inflammation cause stomach distress? Phinney & Volek mention the possible effect of free radicals on the GI tract from overtraining:

[Reactive oxygen species or ROS] (aka oxygen free radicals) are highly reactive molecules produced by mitochondria that damage tissue proteins and membrane polyunsaturated fats....ROS are tightly linked to inflammation and aging...we have preliminary evidence that prolonged intense training (even in highly trained athletes) can overwhelm system anti-oxidant defenses and degrade membrane essential fatty acid content. This in turn could explain both impaired immune function and loss of gastro-intestinal integrity commonly observed after prolonged exercise.(2)

This article(3) suggests that repeated, but not acute, stress aggravates inflammation.

Today, after not letting Molly drag me along on the walk, and taking some DGL pills for my stomach, my stomach, neck and jaw feel better. Dark chocolate also settles my stomach.

1. "What is Inflammation?" by Mark Sisson. January 5, 2012.
2. The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney. 2012, Beyond Obesity. Page 44. 3. "Repeated, but not acute, stress suppresses inflammatory plasma extravasation." PNAS 1999 96 (25) 14629-14634; doi:10.1073/pnas.96.25.14629


FredT said...

Have you tried a "halti" collar for Molly? It cuts the tendency to pull a bit.

Lori Miller said...

Yup. I couldn't walk her without one.

tess said...

:-) yes, when my shoulder is acting up i have to hand Spenser's leash to J.... years ago when i had TWO pullers, it was murder! give Molly a pat from me, and tell her to be nicer to her Mummy. ;-)

Lori Miller said...

Thanks, Tess. I wish I could walk her--we both enjoy it and people like to pet her when we're out and about.