It seems almost like a reflex to reach for the bottle of Ibuprofen or Advil every time we have an ache or pain, but how often have you stopped to reconsider what your body might actually be trying to communicate to you?
Pain can actually be seen as proof of our immune system at work. In order to fight off infection and properly heal, the body must first inflame to fight off the infection before it can anti-inflame and begin repairing the tissue again for normal function.
To understand how pain really works, we must first understand Prostaglandins and their formation and role in the body. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances which occur in nearly all tissue and fluid throughout the body. They are essential in helping to maintain homeostasis, as they are the communicators which allow nutrients in and out of cells. Inflammation and pain occur when the essential fatty acid, arachadonic acid, is stripped from the cell membrane and converted into Prostaglandin-2 (PG2) through a system of enzymatic actions. Through this process, PG2 repairs and begins the healing process which is often accompanied by symptoms of pain. Once the area has inflamed and fought off the damage, PG2 is then counteracted by the other two Prostaglandins, PG1 and PG3, which are anti-inflammatories. Through these actions, we see the importance of inflammation and it's role in the healing process.
Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, NSAIDS and steroids work by blocking this natural process, as they inhibit the conversion of this essential fatty acids into Prostaglandin-2. By suppressing the PG2 pathway, we interfere with our bodies innate defense mechanism and can delay or inhibit the healing process.
Inflammation isn't PG2's only critical role in the body, PG2 also helps in raising body temperature, sensitizing nerves, initiating blood clotting, constricting or dilating blood vessels and producing protective mucous in the stomach. By blocking the production of Prostaglandin through anti-inflammatories, we also block the ability of PG2 to perform these beneficial functions in our healing. The simple act of popping some pills to alleviate pain may seem harmless enough but really it is causing disruption to our bodies ability to properly maintain homeostasis. Learning to be in tune with our body and understanding its proper methods of healing can prove to be of great long-term benefit for our overall health.