What you eat affects what you feel. How the “Pain Diet” may help you have an awesome New Year!
The holiday season gives us time to reflect on the year and our goals for the year before us. Like many, I pledge to eat healthier and wiser. I’m sure this is true for many of you. As a special bonus, we are going to discuss something that is both healthy and may help you feel better. Did you know that the foods you eat influence your chronic pain? Inspired, in part, by one Pain Scored user’s suggestion, we decided our holiday resolution is to help you with yours! Here is an introduction to the “Pain Diet”.
Just as I asked you to be mindful about your pain and emotions, I’m now going to ask you to reflect on your diet. The Pain Diet involves small changes that, over time, can have have dramatic effects. These dietary changes can reduce pain and inflammation, increase activity and help lose weight. This can create a virtuous cycle that helps you feel better!
Many elements of the Pain diet will be familiar to you. In fact, it is similar to an anti inflammatory diet/Mediterranean diet. This serves as an easy base. The Mediterranean diet is foremost a plant-based diet including lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, moderate consumption of fish, white meat and alcohol (one glass red wine for women, up to two for men) and low consumption of red meat and sugar. The diet is has a high ratio of monounsaturated (olive oil) to saturated fats (“good fat to bad fat”) with total fat accounting for 30–40% of daily energy consumption. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with lower risk of overall mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer. One critical component is avoiding “trans-fats” such as partially hydrogenated oils.
Part of the why the diet helps with pain is because of a reduction in pro-inflammatory hormones, like Insulin, that can trigger frequent hunger, steroid release and inflammation. Chronic inflammation further results when the immune system releases these chemicals too often or at the wrong time. The released chemicals are meant to combat injury and bacterial and viral infections, but when abnormally activated, it may lead to tissue breakdown, destruction, or heart/vascular disease.
We all know that food can trigger inflammation. When its severe, like a peanut allergy, its obvious that there is a reaction. When its mild, you may have no idea. Elimination diets have alerted some people to benefits of avoiding gluten, for example. In fact, even in the absence of a diagnosable gluten allergy (gluten sensitive “enteropathy”), many benefit from avoiding gluten. We are not necessarily telling you to eliminate any foods completely, just cut back. You may learn a lot about yourself in the process.
The benefits of the anti-inflammatory diet may also help prevent the following conditions: allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, gout, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and stroke.
So what is different in the pain diet? Chronic pain can cause excess adrenal secretion of cortisol and catecholamines and that upsets glucose levels in your blood and leads to more insulin release. Cycles of hyper and hypoglycemia (too high and too low) can result in poor dietary choices as you crave sugars and carbohydrates. Some feel that opioids have a direct “sugar desire effect” on opioids.
But this is where there is a lot of controversy and why this is a bit hard to write….. we believe that the combined net effect of pain, inflammation and poor dietary choices leads to weight gain, overeating, insulin resistance and diabetes and more pain. Its a complicated pain and hormonal cycle. Reversing this process can help. We have seen it work for many! Simply increasing your fasting period each day (a longer time before eating breakfast in the morning, and increasing the time until your next meal, and no snacking!) can be a start.
The sum total of these effects can help in a number of ways. We have already talked about ideas like medication and mindfulness, therapy, stress reduction, etc. I’ll now list a number of supplements that can help. Adding these goes beyond the basic anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet to the “Pain Diet”. As we speak, we are looking into dietary supplements that can help, but, as always, natural sources are best.
Dietary Supplements and Additives that may help with Chronic Pain
Ginger- A staple of traditional medicine, this pungent root is probably best known for its anti-nausea, stomach-soothing properties. But ginger can also fight pain, including aching joints from arthritis as well as menstrual cramps. Consuming at least 0.5g of ginger root daily can give pain reduction benefits.
Blueberries- These little juicy gems have lots of phytonutrients that may fight inflammation and lessen pain. If it’s not berry season, frozen blueberries can have the same or even more nutrients than fresh. Other fruits with antioxidants and polyphenols, including strawberries and oranges, can have a similar soothing effect. In addition to reducing inflammation, it may possibly help to improve cognitive function in the elderly (but this is still unclear).
Pumpkin Seeds- Pepitas are a terrific source of magnesium, a mineral that may cut the number of migraines you get. It may also help prevent and treat osteoporosis. But despite what you may have heard, it doesn’t seem to stop leg cramps at night. For more magnesium, add almonds and cashews, dark green leafy vegetables (like spinach and kale), beans, and lentils to your diet.
Magnesium- This mineral is well known to help reduce pain. We use it in surgery frequently to calm pain receptors.
Salmon- Loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, salmon makes just about all of the “good for you” lists. It’s considered heart-healthy and may relieve joint tenderness if you have rheumatoid arthritis. Other varieties of cold-water fish, including tuna, sardines, and mackerel, are good choices, too. Avoid tilapia and catfish, though: Their higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids may promote inflammation. 2-6 servings a week.
Turmeric- The compound in the spice that gives curry its bright orange-yellow color can affect several processes in your body, including inflammation. Studies of people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis who took supplements of curcumin found they could walk better and without the side effects of taking drugs. Black pepper can help your body absorb it, so try a blend of the spices, steeped with ginger and honey into a tea. Curcuminoids only comprise a small part of turmeric. If you want anti-inflammatory effects you need to get 500 to 1,000 milligrams of curcuminoids per day. The common rule of thumb is that there are 200 milligrams of curcumin in one teaspoon of fresh or ground turmeric.
Tart Cherries- In one study, runners who drank tart cherry juice starting 7 days before a race and on race day (12 ounces, twice daily) had significantly less muscle pain than a group who swigged a similar-tasting beverage with no natural juice. It could be from the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in the fruit.
Olive Oil- Feel that peppery tingle in the back of your throat? That’s a compound called oleocanthal, and it may work like ibuprofen. Extra-virgin olive oil also has lubricin, which keeps joints sliding smoothly and protects cartilage from breaking down. It might help people with osteoarthritis. Stick to lower temperatures (less than 410 degrees) when you cook with olive oil so you don’t lose any of its many benefits.
Chili Peppers- Capsaicin, the stuff that gives chilies their heat, is well known for its painkilling properties in creams and patches. Some early research suggests that eating hot peppers, instead of putting them on your skin, may reduce and prevent inflammation, too. The “burn” also tricks your brain into releasing endorphins, which block pain signals.
Mint- Peppermint oil relieves the painful cramps, gas, and bloating that are the hallmarks of irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint tea is a good soother for occasional tummy upset. In early research, Brazilian mint tea (made from the plant Hyptnis crenata) has been particularly effective.
Red Wine- A compound in the skin of red grapes, called resveratrol, may ease inflammation. But don’t drink that whole bottle for your stiff bones yet. (Women, stick to one glass; men can have two.) It is part of the “Mediterranean Diet” which lowers inflammation in the body and contributes to lower rates of rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
The last part of the diet is mood boosting foods. We have already looked at how sugar can cause sugar crashes and cravings, as well as how mindfulness plays a role in pain management.
Folate – deficiency may cause impairment to serotonin and dopamine metabolism and lower mood.
Caffeine – you don’t not have to refrain from all caffeine but reduction and timing are important. Caffeine raises cortisol levels, cortisol levels are naturally highest in the morning, to avoid spikes stop drinking caffeine after 10am. And don’t add sugar or artificial sweeteners (they seem like they are better, but they just increase your “sweet tooth”).
Vitamin D – In the past few years, research has suggested that vitamin D may increase the levels of serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters influencing our mood, and that deficiency may be linked with mood disorders, particularly seasonal affective disorder. In addition, preliminary research suggests that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for depression in older adults. Cheese and egg yolks are good sources of vitamin d. Try to get direct sunlight for at least 20 minutes even in winter.
Selenium – studies show that people with low levels of selenium have increased anxiety, depression, irritability, and tiredness. Just 2 Brazil nuts can give you the recommended daily amount of selenium.