Health & Fitness

Lower-back pain meets mindful meditation

BY MICHAEL ROIZEN, M.D., AND MEHMET OZ, M.D.

King Features Syndicate

Q: I hear that meditation can cure my chronic lower-back pain. Is that true? -- Linda P., Easton, Pennsylvania

A: Well, meditation might not be a cure, but in many cases it’s an effective treatment. Like “Batman v Superman,” when you have a super-problem (Henry Cavill’s Superman) and a super-treatment (Ben Affleck’s Batman) determined to make the world a better place, it’s good news.

Chronic lower-back pain is the No. 1 reason for lost workdays in the U.S., and causes more disability globally than any other health problem. It’s also a major reason that folks get opioid pain medicine prescriptions. And we are committed to helping folks avoid the hazards of taking those meds if at all possible.

That’s why we think it’s good news that a study out of the University of Washington on the benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive behavioral therapy for folks with chronic lower back pain is so exciting.

More than 44 percent of the study’s 290 participants (average age 50, 66 percent women) who practiced MBSR and received CBT for six months to manage back pain that they’d had for an average of 7.3 years reported “clinically meaningful improvement,” compared with 27 percent of those treated with “usual care.” The positive results persisted for 52 weeks.

One caveat: We’re not talking about using it as a substitute for medical intervention for back pain that’s the result of an injury or stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal that causes pressure on the spinal cord and nerves). But even for people who have those physical problems, mindful meditation can improve their quality of life.

So if chronic lower-back pain is bothering you, contact the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists for a practitioner near you, and follow the instruction for mindful mediation found at www.sharecare.com. Also consider making a shared medical appointment program for chronic pain.

Q: Recently I’ve been getting a stomachache a few hours after most meals. My brother-in-law says I could be lactose-intolerant, but I’ve been drinking milk for years. Why would I be allergic to milk now? -- Samantha A., Jackson, Mississippi

A: An allergy is very different from an intolerance, and yours is probably an intolerance.

A food allergy is an immune system response, and a food intolerance is a digestive system problem that is usually dose-related. You can develop a food allergy or food intolerance at any age. Lactose intolerance is the most common food intolerance, affecting about 10 percent of Americans. While there are too many variations of these conditions to cover now, here’s our basic advice:

1. You can go to an allergist and get a pin-prick test for IgE antibodies. They indicate if you have a specific allergy (and remember, there are false positives). Get a doctor-supervised, controlled food-challenge test. It’s the safest way to discover a food allergy. That will let you know if an allergy is bothering you.

2. If you don’t think you have a food allergy or if your doc rules it out, you can try an elimination diet. That means you kick several foods off your plate for three weeks or so (generally, dairy products -- milk, butter, yogurt and cheese; eggs; corn; nightshades -- tomatoes, eggplants; gluten and wheat; soy -- tofu, soybeans; and citrus -- fruits and juices). Then reintroduce them one by one. Keep a food diary that records your reactions until you can identify the trigger of your discomfort. For lactose intolerance, avoid all dairy, and carry Lactaid with you. This tablet introduces the enzyme you’re missing that digests lactose, and can help you dodge discomfort if you accidentally eat dairy.

And if you find a specific food to be the problem, the next time you go to your doctor, tell him you eliminated that food and feel really good now. You know what he’ll say? “Well, that was smart.”

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.

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