Diet is a basic means of pain control, one that should be an essential element of everyone’s plan. Good food choices can subdue pain and pain’s side effects: listlessness, fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, and digestive problems. Unhealthful eating, on the other hand, will increase your suffering and need for medication.
If your body is worn down by pain – if you suffer from frequent illness, fatigue, or weakness – fruits and vegetables can act as tonics, strengthening your body with an array of nutrients. Your body will especially appreciate the benefits of phytochemicals, plant substances that bolster the immune system. For the most phytochemical, eat a mix of produce that is richly colored, such as berries, red grapes, leafy greens, carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes, and peaches. By eating these fruits and vegetables, you could even affect pain on the cellular level: Certain substances in deeply colored produce appear to stabilize the cell membranes, making them less likely to produce substance P and other pain-promoting compounds. For pain relief, think green
Do your joints feel hot and tender? Is your chronic pain characterized by a burning quality? Do you suffer from PMS pain? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, the kinds of fats you eat can make the difference between a flare-up and significant relief. That’s because some fats increase inflammation, while others cool it down.
Normally, inflammation is your body’s response to an injury. When inflammation develops in the absence of an injury, it becomes a chronically painful problem. Inflammation pain is a sign that certain hormones in your body, called prostaglandins, are out of balance. Prostaglandins come in two types: One encourages inflammation, while the other inhibits it. Since both kinds are constructed from fatty acids, the kind of prostaglandins that predominate in your body depends to a large extent on the kinds of fats you eat.
Whole grains are a source of many nutrients important for a vital immune system and for pain control, including B-complex vitamins. They are also high in magnesium, which relaxes cramped muscles, and in fiber, which reduces constipation from irritable bowel syndrome or pain medications. By contrast, refined products, especially sweet baked goods, cause terrible flare-ups. Avoiding refined grains may stabilize your nerves and keep them from firing extra or intensified messages of pain. Remember that pain lives in the central nervous system, so the extent to which you can keep it on an even keel is the extent to which you’ll feel better.
The following list includes the foods most often identified in research studies as triggers for migraines, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and fibromyalgia.
Barnard, Neal. Foods That Fight Pain. New York, NY: Harmony Books, 1999.
Tearnan, Blake H. 10 Simple Solutions to Chronic Pain. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2007.
Schneider, Jennifer. Living with Chronic Pain: The Complete Health Guide to the Causes and Treatment of Chronic Pain. Long Island City, NY. Hatherleigh Press, 2004