March 30, 2022
- Nutrients and foods we eat can be of immense help in our pain relief efforts.
- Several spices, various fatty acids and plant compounds may promote relief from pain.
- Conversely, a highly processed diet such as the Standard American Diet can aggravate pain.
Something changed with my body in the last two years. I am often managing or coping with some type of pain. Pain can be so disruptive to our joy and wellbeing. It can compromise our ability to complete the simplest of tasks. Even the thought of brushing our hair, picking up a laundry basket or getting in a car can make us cringe if we are dealing with unmanaged pain. What we eat may not completely resolve all our pain, but it certainly can help.
How can eating help or hurt our ability to manage pain?
Inflammation accompanies pain. Many of the foods we eat can either be considered anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory. Likewise, certain nutrients are critical to help reduce pain associated with migraines and tension headaches.
What are some anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients that can help with pain?
Curcumin, the active ingredient in the seasoning turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Research shows that taking high doses of a curcumin supplement can help individuals suffering from arthritis, reduce their pain-related symptoms. To maximize absorption, choose a supplement that also has piperine (a compound in black pepper). You can also add turmeric (with black pepper) to your diet.
Research shows that ginger regulates inflammatory gene expression. This great golden milk recipe includes both ginger and turmeric: Anti-Inflammatory Golden Milk Recipe | Andrew Weil, M.D. (drweil.com)
Chili peppers also contain a powerful anti-inflammatory agent known as capsaicin. Sprinkle crushed chili peppers on food for an added flavor boost.
Colorful fruits and vegetables are a fantastic way to fight inflammation. Fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, tart cherries and vegetables such as leafy green vegetables provide protective chemicals from plants that reduce inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that we get in our diet. They have anti-inflammatory properties. We need a balance of Omega-3 fats to Omega-6 fats preferably in a 1:1 ratio. The problem is, most Americans get in way too many of Omega-6 fats and not enough of the omega-3 fats. To increase your intake of omega-3 fats try adding more nuts, seeds, and fatty wild-caught fish into your diet. The reason you want to have wild-caught seafood instead of farm-raised seafood is that the farm raised seafood are fed a type of food that makes them higher in omega-6 fats and lower in omega-3 fats. To increase your intake of omega-3 fats try adding ground flaxseed to your morning oatmeal, wild caught canned salmon to your afternoon salad, and sprinkle chopped nuts on your roasted vegetables at dinner.
Finally, Olive oil contains compounds that keep joints protected and less painful. It is best to use olive oil after cooking or at lower cooking temperatures to maintain its benefits.
What are pro-inflammatory foods that may compromise pain management?
The “Standard American Diet” or SAD diet is rich in pro-inflammatory food and nutrients. The SAD diet tends to be high in simple sugars and highly processed, omega-6 fatty acid rich vegetable oils. These foods tend to increase inflammation and pain. Try to decrease intake of high sugar foods such as cookies, candies, and cakes. Refined grains such as white bread, white rice, and white pasta are also pro-inflammatory. Replacing these foods with whole, unprocessed foods is the best strategy.
How do I eat a whole-food, unprocessed diet?
Choose foods that are mostly unpackaged such as fresh fruits and vegetables. If you eat foods from a package, choose items that have the least amount of ingredients and only contain ingredients you can pronounce and with which you are familiar. Be selective by avoiding foods with any artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners. Whenever possible cook your own meals from whole ingredients and skip convenience meals and eating at fast food restaurants which use pro-inflammatory oils. A good type of diet to follow that has a lot of anti-inflammatory properties is the Mediterranean Diet.
What are nutrients and foods that may help with migraine relief?
Magnesium can reduce pain associated with migraines. Pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, beans, lentils, and dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of magnesium. Magnesium may help with pain management in a variety of conditions however the underlying mechanism still needs additional research.
The Bottom Line:
- Food and a variety of nutrients can be a great compliment to your existing pain-management strategies.
- Eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and consider a Mediterranean style diet.
- Incorporate functional seasonings into your diet such as ginger, turmeric combined with black pepper, and chili peppers.
- Eat a variety of nuts, seeds, legumes, and dark leafy green vegetables to boost intake of magnesium.
Nutrition Clinical Practice (2010): Diet and inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov)
Molecules (2016): Capsaicin, Nociception and Pain – PubMed (nih.gov)
Critical Review Food Science and Nutrition: Anti-inflammatory effects of phytochemicals from fruits, vegetables, and food legumes: A review – PubMed (nih.gov)
Food Function (2020): Extra virgin olive oil and related by-products (Olea europaea L.) as natural sources of phenolic compounds for abdominal pain relief in gastrointestinal disorders in rats – PubMed (nih.gov)
European Journal of Pain (2018): Effects of a Standard American Diet and an anti-inflammatory diet in male and female mice – PubMed (nih.gov)
American Heart Association (2022): What is the Mediterranean Diet? | American Heart Association
Nutrients (2020): Magnesium and Pain – PubMed (nih.gov)