Diet and exercise is well known to keep your heart healthy, but more and more research is showing that what you eat can directly impact your pain levels. The link between food and pain lies in systemic inflammation, and decreasing your inflammation can help to decrease your pain. By eating more foods with anti-inflammatory properties, and avoiding those that increase it, you can add another tool to your pain management belt.
First, what is systemic inflammation? Throughout the body, there are several inflammatory mediators, which are basically the body’s defensive line when injury or ailment occur. These defensemen can be everywhere…in the joints, in the back, in the gut. When inflammatory markers are activated, they stimulate the perception of pain, to tell you that something is wrong. Whenever and wherever there is pain, chances are, there is also inflammation.
Next, how does food affect inflammation? Free radicals and foreign substances cause oxidative stress, which leads to the activation of the inflammatory mediators. Free radicals come from quick and sharp spikes in blood glucose and lipids (or sugars and fats), or processed foods which the body interprets as a foreign substance. The resulting oxidative stress caused by these foods is similar in process to rust on an old metal bicycle, so the body takes this as an injury that needs to be taken care of. The inflammatory markers are sent to take care of the oxidative stress caused by the free radicals, and systemic inflammation occurs.
What kinds of food increase and decrease inflammation? The culprits for increasing inflammation is processed foods, and added sugar. Fats are not so bad on their own, but when paired with sugar, the combination of the two is even more damaging. These are found in high sugar foods, white breads and pastas, soda, alcohol, and processed meats (hot dogs, bologna, etc.).
As far as foods that can help with inflammation and pain, the keyword here is “antioxidant.” These are found in vitamin and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables. The other trick is to avoid that sharp blood sugar and fat spike. Foods that shorten this spike are those that are high in fiber, like beans and whole grains, or good protein, such as chicken, fish and lean beef.
Overall, taking care of chronic pain requires a multi-faceted approach. Physical therapy, procedures, even surgery are all common tools to treat and manage chronic pain. However, there is one more tool to add to the belt, and that is a pain relieving diet.
Good luck and let’s hear back with how you are doing!
For more information, recipes, and meal planning tools, check out these resources!
Bonakdar, R., Cotter, N. and Rhodes, C. (2019). Nutrition, Inflammation, and Pain. The Pain Practitioner, (November/December 2017), pp.10-12.
Briggs, M., Givens, D., Schmitt, L. and Taylor, C. (2019). Relations of C-reactive protein and obesity to the prevalence and the odds of reporting low back pain.. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23187041 [Accessed 23 Jan. 2019].
Stone, A. and Broderick, J. (2019). Obesity and pain are associated in the United States.. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22262163 [Accessed 23 Jan. 2019].