At Battle Ground HealthCare clinic, we offer a Chronic Pain Management Class, called “Taking Back My Life” where patients suffering with Chronic Pain conditions learn how to better manage their symptoms and to improve their life. Next to classes on Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Mental Health, we offer nutrition information on a healthy lifestyle that has a positive effect on pain management.
More and more research shows that there is a strong connection between diet and pain. Mostly there is a link between diet and inflammation, which is our body’s response to injury or infection. While this normal immune system response is important for healing, sometimes inflammation can become chronic. Long-term inflammation is linked to several diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease, and it contributes to chronic pain.
Although the exact reason in unclear, it’s believed that certain foods offer protection against inflammation, while other foods might actually encourage inflammation.
Pro-inflammatory foods (contribute to increased inflammation): most processed foods as they are high in unhealthy fats, added sugars, preservatives and refined carbohydrates. Deep-fried foods, pastries, processed cereals, white rice, white potatoes, sugar, white breads and red meat are also pro-inflammatory foods.
Anti- inflammatory foods: these foods have anti-inflammatory or analgesic properties that can help relieve pain. They may include:
- Fish and other foods that contain omega-3 fats, like salmon, tuna, trout as well as soy-based foods, walnuts, pecans and ground flaxseed.
- Antioxidant-rich foods: colorful fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens, avocados, beets and berries. Antioxidants can prevent, delay or repair some types of cell and tissue damage. Antioxidants include vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals, such as vitamin C, E, carotene, lycopene, and flavonoids. A wide variety of other foods are also rich in antioxidants, such as lentils and beans, nuts and seeds, whole grains, green tea and certain spices, such as ginger and turmeric.
Patients who follow a strict vegan or Mediterranean diet have seen a complete turnaround in their pain symptoms, according to pain management specialist William Welches, DO of the Cleveland Clinic. He says getting regular exercise, controlling stress and eating a healthy diet all work together to reduce inflammation and chronic pain.
Practically speaking, there are three basic things to know in order to eat a healthier diet and fight off chronic pain:
- Eat the rainbow: Consume 8-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
- Restrict dairy and simple grains: eat dairy products in limited quantities. When choosing grains, stay away from simple carbohydrates and refined sugar. Opt for whole grains, including barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice and whole wheat.
- Avoid red meat: Eat a more vegetarian type of diet with legumes (beans, lentils) and nuts as the protein source or add fish as your “meat” a couple times per week.
“Nutrition that supports a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods is the key to reducing inflammation and to chronic pain management”, Dr. Welches says. “Although there are no magic foods, putting the right combination of foods into your diet can produce remarkable results.”
Compiled by Anne J. Lamberton DrPH, MPH, RD with the help from the two following articles: “How an anti-inflammatory diet can relieve pain as you age” by Chronic Conditions Team of Cleveland Clinic, 11-6-2015 and “Nutrition and Pain” by Mayo Clinic, art. 20208638, 2017.