Nutrition is only one aspect of overall health, but it can play an important role in how well your body functions. If you’re suffering from chronic pain, dietary changes — as part of an integrated treatment plan — may help you feel better.
Here’s a look into how nutrition can influence your pain levels, and how you can make choices that help control your pain.
The Link Between Diet & Chronic Pain
The food you eat, as well as the nutrients you may be lacking, can significantly influence pain levels. According to Dr. Fred Tabung, visiting researcher with the Department of Nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the culprit is inflammation. Dr. Tabung says:
A lot of chronic pain is the result of chronic inflammation, and the evidence is quite strong that your diet can contribute to increased systemic inflammation. But your diet is also one of the best ways to reduce it.
While inflammation is the body’s natural way to fight injuries and infection, prolonged inflammation can damage healthy cells, too, including those that make up the joints, muscles, and other tissues.
The immune system may respond to an unhealthy diet similar to how it would respond to an infection, triggering an inflammatory response. It’s also possible that deficiencies in certain nutrients — including zinc, iron, folic acid, selenium, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — could create the same immune system response.
This low-grade, persistent inflammation is believed to be an underlying cause of many sources of chronic pain, including:
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic low back pain
What Can You Eat to Reduce Chronic Pain?
While there’s no single, “cure-all” food that will alleviate chronic pain in everyone, certain dietary approaches can help you get the nutrients your body needs to heal and perform well while also minimizing the factors that can contribute to inflammation.
For instance, the Mediterranean diet has been associated with significant reductions in pain symptoms. In the Mediterranean diet, the following foods are prioritized:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish and poultry (omega-3s found in fatty fish are also believed to reduce inflammation)
- Eggs and dairy (in limited quantities)
- Whole grains
This dietary approach provides many of the micronutrients the immune system needs to perform optimally.
Heavily processed foods, including refined carbohydrates, trans fats, processed meats, and foods with added sugars are avoided or limited, as the ingredients found in these foods are often linked to inflammation.
Does this mean you have to eat only the above ingredients? Absolutely not. In fact, there’s research that suggests adding moderate wine and cheese consumption may help, too.
In general, because no single food can address inflammation, and a variety is needed to promote a healthy immune system, anyone looking to reduce chronic pain through their diet should aim to eat a wide spectrum of nutrient-rich foods. Attempting to “eat the rainbow” each day can help you take in a variety of nutrients, as different color groups have distinct nutritional properties. While it may not eliminate pain altogether, it could be a promising complementary approach to consider.
If you’re seeking a more tailored dietary plan as part of your individualized pain management plan, schedule an appointment by calling 770-929-9033 or reach out to us online.