Chronic pain is something that millions of people suffer from. Often, it becomes so debilitating you may feel like a prisoner in your own body. The good news is, you are stronger than your pain, and there are choices that you can make every day to help manage chronic pain. One of the biggest ways to stay on top of your pain is to ensure that you are sticking to a proper diet. A healthy and structured diet is critical to getting pain relief.
To understand how our diet can manage chronic pain, we first must understand how pain works.
According to an article published in the American Journal of Managed Care, pain is best explained and understood in two different categories:
- Nociceptive pain. There is a physical reason you are painful. There is some sort of physical stimulus that is causing you to feel pain. Arthritis or joint pain can cause nociceptive pain.
- Neuropathic pain. There is no current physical reason. Your body feels pain without a painful stimulus, yet you still feel pain. Something is causing you to feel pain through your nervous system. Examples of a condition that causes neuropathic pain is multiple sclerosis (MS), stroke or posttraumatic brain damage.
So, let’s get down to it, how can something as simple as our diet help manage chronic pain?
Chronic pain has major nutritional defects when unmanaged. In a recent study published in 2017, Forrest Tennant MD, explains that chronic pain can cause unstable blood glucose, anorexia, sugar cravings, muscle wasting, weakness and poor mentation. Basically, when you try to manage chronic pain, you can lose your appetite greatly or consume foods high in fat, carbohydrates or sugars that can increase your pain levels even further.
Eating specific foods helps to manage pain through anti-inflammatory action. There are many foods that should be consumed that will provide the nutrients our bodies need to help them control inflammation and provide pain relief.
Whether you are admitting that your diet is far from perfect, or you have never really given much thought to your diet before, perhaps it’s time to take a chance and make a change. This could be the first step to getting the pain-free you back.
Diet Tips to Help Manage Your Pain
Eat More Protein
Protein is found in meats such as beef, pork, lambs, and poultry. Protein is also found in seafood and in foods such as cottage cheese, eggs. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, green beans and lettuce also contain protein. What makes protein so special? Proteins contain amino acids. Amino acids are key to the daily function of our bodies and are the building blocks for pain control. According to Forrest Tennant, MD, amino acids circulate throughout our bodies traveling to locations such as the liver, glandular systems, and brain where they interact in different ways producing pain relief hormones such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Think of protein in our diet as our friendly UPS driver, who works to delivers packages (amino acids) to our door, providing us with amazing and wonderful packages that make us feel good.
Feast on Fruits and Veggies
- Fruits are naturally sweet and offer a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. According to Arthritis Foundation, fruits have been shown to inflammation throughout the body, primarily associated with arthritis. Some fruits that have been shown to contain the highest of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties are tart cherries, watermelon, strawberries, avocados, and grapes.
- Vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables contain amino acids essential for life. As mentioned previously, amino acids are the building blocks for pain control.
PRO TIP: Get a good smoothie recipe that includes fruits and vegetables to get your fruit and veggie servings in.
Get your Omega 3’s
Omega 3’s (omega-3 fatty acids) are a type of “good” fat that our body needs for many important functions—muscle activity, digestion, fertility and cell division and growth. One of the biggest reasons omega-3 fatty acids are recommended for pain management is because of their anti-inflammatory properties. In various studies, fish oils have shown to decrease pain associated with joint stiffness and arthritis, specifically rheumatoid arthritis. Although you can get consume omega-3 fatty acids in the foods you eat, it may be hard to get enough of them to really make a difference in your overall health. You can buy fish oil supplements over the counter that contain all of the omega 3’s you need.
The Not To-Dos
Those who suffer from chronic pain have been shown to crave foods high in sugar. Unfortunately, this only makes pain levels worse. Registered dietician, Angie King-Nosseir, explains in a recently published autoimmune disease article, that over-consumption of sugar causes a sugar rush or sudden burst of energy followed by fatigue and sluggishness. Blood sugars begin to spike and fall, producing inflammatory agents that cause a great deal of inflammation in the body. Sugar also interferes with protein consumption in the body inhibiting the breakdown and absorption of amino acids. It is best to avoid foods that are high in sugars. If you get a sweet tooth, indulge in natural sugars. Try a banana drizzled with peanut butter and honey or enjoy a baked cinnamon apple.
Consume Carbohydrates in Moderation
Carbohydrates (carbs) are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. The overconsumption of carbs has the same effect on your body as do sugars. In no way do you have to give up carbohydrates completely. But moderating your consumption of carbohydrates such as sugary cereals, crackers, cakes, bread products and refined potato products may make a play a vital role in the decrease of inflammation throughout your body.
Steer clear of specific fats and oils.
Today, the American diet is high in fats and oils. Although it is true that some fats are good for you, there are some that are not good for your overall health and contain pro-inflammatory chemicals. As mentioned previously, there are good fats such as the saturated fats in fish and chia seeds contain omega 3’s that contain anti-inflammatory chemicals and are good to consume. However, oils such as vegetable, corn and even sunflower oil contain Omega 6’s that can convince our bodies to produce inflammatory chemicals when over consumed. Foods high in trans fats can also cause an increase in our body’s inflammation. Trans fats are found in your commercial baked goods and fried foods.
Moderation is key in your diet, especially if you want to manage chronic pain. You don’t necessarily have to break down everything you eat, but think about the foods you eat daily and always consider the effects of your diet on your body and it’s pain response.