Foods for Pain and Inflammation
December 1, 2009 by Dr. Mark Wiley
Pain comes in many forms and from many sources. There are sprains, strains, tears, breaks, fractures, pulls, spasms… you name it. And the sources range from imbalanced activities in daily living, stress, poor posture, muscle imbalances, physical trauma, falls, allergies, mental anguish and… FOOD! One of the secrets to pain-free living is found in a diet based in prevention and reduction of self-induced pain.
Before we delve into the food aspect of pain, let’s first understand the mechanism of inflammation.
The Inflammation Story
Pain is generally felt as a reaction to swelling or inflammation in the body. This efferent signal is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong and in need of change. Inflammation, then, is both a sign and a symptom of pain.
The term "inflammation” generally evokes thoughts of painful joints and muscles, swelling and loss of mobility. While these are the obvious markers of inflammation, research also shows that chronic inflammation, if left untreated, can actually lead to serious diseases including diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and Alzheimer’s!
The amount of inflammation in your body varies and depends on a number of factors—including your activity level, the amount of sleep you get, the degree of stress in your life, and yes… even the food you eat. What you have to realize is that these factors are cumulative; they build up over time. And the more that any or all of these factors become out of control your risk for disease increases.
If you have pain due to inflammation, you may choose to take the traditional medical path, which includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids and even go so far as to have joint-replacement surgery. But none of these “big guns” may be necessary. You should especially avoid long-term use of prescription and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers. These have been proven to cause liver dysfunction, kidney failure, stomach bleeding and ulcers… all causes of additional inflammation.
Sure, inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process. It brings fluid, nutrients, blood, oxygen and healing biochemicals to the injured area. However, if left to linger, inflammation poses greater threat to your health, arrests the healing process and can turn your pain from acute to chronic.
Foods That Cause Inflammation
Food is a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to controlling inflammation. There are dozens of foods that create inflammation in our bodies, and there are dozens of foods that reduce and/or prevent inflammation in our bodies. Consuming the right mix of these throughout the day, weeks and months is essential toward living pain free. And in times of injury or pain suffering, the foods you consume may be what keep the inflammation active well past its usefulness, and send your pain into chronic territory. This is unacceptable.
The typical American diet consists of too much fat, tons of sugar, loads of red meat and a frightening amount of processed foods. Each and every one of these items is shown to increase inflammation and contribute to obesity, which is simply massive inflammation of adipose tissue. By switching to an anti-inflammatory diet consisting of healthy whole foods you can actually decrease inflammation and ease the pain and discomfort associated with it.
Before we dive into the good food list, let’s take a look at the bad food list. Each of these nine categories of bad foods should be avoided if you suffer pain or have inflammation.
Animal Milk Products: Milk, cream, ice cream, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt.
Hydrogenated Oils: Non-dairy creamer, crackers, cookies, chips, snack bars.
Nitrates: Hot dogs, cold cuts, pepperoni, sausage, bacon, liverwurst.
Processed Sugars: Candy, soda, bread, bottled fruit juice, cookies, snack bars.
Night Shade Vegetables: Potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant.
Fast Foods: French fries, onion rings, loaded baked potatoes, fatty burgers, Mexican food, pizza, calzones, strambolis.
Caffeine: Coffee, black tea, soda, chocolate.
Saturated Fats: Marbleized beef, chuck ground beef, deep fried foods, chicken skin.
Processed White Foods: Flour, bread, pasta, sugar, artificial sweeteners.
Surprised? As you can see, most of the items on this list are actually the staple American diet! Is it any wonder Americans are among the most obese and pain suffering peoples in the world? If you look closely at this list and pay attention, you will notice these ingredients are found in just about every snack, frozen dinner, bread and even so-called ‘healthy’ foods. Whatever you do, don’t believe the marketing. Read the labels instead!
Do yourself an easy, no-cost favor: Stop eating foods from the above list if you are in pain!
Merely eliminating these items from your diet will help stop the inflammation cycle when its natural course has been run. By eating these foods you are increasing the longevity of the inflammation, and thus self-inducing your own chronic pain.
Foods That Reduce Inflammation
Now that you know which foods actually cause inflammation or make it worse, let’s look at those foods that can help reduce and even prevent inflammation.
To begin, it is essential to any healthful diet—especially a pain free diet—that you consume as much fresh, organic, whole foods as possible. Eating foods in or as close to their original state is one of the keys to being healthy, preventing self-induced diet-based inflammation and reducing the inflammation you are experiencing as a result of an external problem (posture, physical stress, trauma).
Here is a list of the best foods known to prevent and help reduce inflammation, and thus reduce pain. These should be eaten throughout the day as part of balanced wholesome meals.
Inflammation-Reducing Foods: Wild Atlantic salmon, fresh whole fruits, bright-colored vegetables (except night shades), green or white tea, purified or distilled water, olive oil, lean poultry (skinless), lean beef (filets), nuts, legumes and seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, organic oatmeal (regular, not instant), aromatic spices (turmeric, ginger, cloves, garlic, onion, coriander, ground mustard seed, cayenne pepper).
As you can see, a diet high in fiber and whole foods, low in preservatives and fat and infused with blood-invigorating aromatic spices is the key to diet-based pain relief. But specifically, the above-mentioned foods actually work to reduce pain and inflammation.
—Dr. Mark Wiley