Food helps us grow, gives us energy and keeps us healthy—if we let it. Yet, with each passing year, obesity becomes more prevalent in the U.S. and diseases related to making poor food choices are on the rise. The Western-style diet may include lots of fried foods, processed foods, refined sugars, red meats and trans fats. These foods tend to promote inflammation, a complex biological response initiated by your immune system to protect against harmful stimuli.
The cascade of biochemical reactions set in motion by inflammation also prime your nervous system for pain sensing and can create changes in your nervous system that can cause the sensation of pain to become exaggerated or pronounced. Simply eating right could help block these pain signals for the 116 million Americans who experience chronic pain
What’s on the menu?
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can be a powerful tool for easing chronic pain symptoms. First, it’s important to reduce or eliminate items from your diet that have been proven to trigger the release of neurotransmitters that may worsen pain sensitivity.
This includes limiting:
- sugar and artificial sweeteners
- avoiding caffeine
- yeast and gluten
- cutting down on carbs and red meat
- eliminating or drastically reducing dairy consumption
- eliminating tobacco and reducing alcohol intake
- avoiding processed and fast foods
- limiting nightshade vegetables—tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and many species of peppers
- swapping out processed vegetable oils like canola and corn oil for omega-3-rich oils like olive oil
There are also certain foods known to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain that you can add to your diet, including:
- Dark, leafy greens: Greens such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard create a state of alkalinity in the body that fights inflammation.
- Walnuts: Walnuts are high in omega-3 fats, which can help fight inflammation and pain.
- Salmon and other deep-sea fish: The omega-3 fatty acids in deep-sea fish can reduce inflammation, plus salmon provides calcitonin, which has been proven to reduce inflammation in joints.
- Cherries: Compounds in cherries called anthocyanins block inflammation and inhibit pain enzymes.
- Acai: These berries are high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are powerful pain fighters.
- Ginger: The spicy root is a natural anti-inflammatory. A recent study showed that ginger can decrease muscle pain by as much as 25 percent.
- Turmeric: This essential curry spice has been used for years in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve pain, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help preserve proper nerve cell function.
- Edamame: Studies had shown that eating ¼ cup of shelled edamame every day for three months can reduce chronic pain.
- Hot Peppers: An ingredient in hot peppers called capsaicin stimulates nerve endings and depletes a chemical in the bloodstream that relays pain signals.
- Flaxseed: Flaxseeds, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, can reduce inflammation and pain.
It’s all about healthy habits
More often than not, people who suffer from chronic pain can lack the energy needed to prepare a healthy, balanced meal—and this can lead to a hard-to-break cycle of poor nutrition and an increase in the severity of the pain they’re already experiencing. Some tips to break this cycle would be to find a comfortable position, either seated or standing, and plan meals around foods that are easy to prepare, such as fish, salad and steamed veggies. You may also want to prepare larger quantities of food and freeze individual portions so you have meals on hand when you need them. When you want a snack, grab something healthy and easy, such as a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, some chopped veggies or a cup of yogurt.
At Pain Management and Injury Relief (PMIR) Medical Center, we understand that a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods is an important part of chronic pain management. To learn more about other options for managing your chronic pain, call PMIR Medical Center at (877) 724-6349 to make an appointment today.