Food for Thought: Is Your Diet Hindering Your Pain Management?

Pain is a pain! We know that pain can be caused by trauma, such as a fall or a pulled muscle. Many of us also succumb to muscle pain and headaches simply caused or aggravated by dehydration and poor posture. But did you know that pain can also be the result of our diet and lifestyle?[1] Poor diet and lifestyle contribute to oxidative stress, which has been associated with conditions causing inflammation and pain. Inflammation is part of the underlying cause that drives many acute and chronic conditions.[2] By reducing inflammation we can also help to reduce the symptoms of pain. Nutrition can absolutely play a part in reducing inflammation that can lead to pain, which can affect our daily life and prevent us from taking part in the activities that we love. Yes, the simple act of eating the right foods can help reduce your pain. Pain can affect people’s emotional well-being, their relationships with friends and family, and their ability to fully enjoy life. Pain can also negatively affect our sense of self-worth which can lead to poor choices about diet and health, as we feel we are “not worth looking after”. It is easy to see how pain can be a vicious cycle! So, what positive steps can we take today to reduce pain and its impact to help us function optimally so that we live life to the full?

Foods that fuel the fire

As inflammation drives pain a simple strategy is to reduce foods that cause inflammation in the body. Reduce your intake of processed, fried and baked foods such as pies, fried anything, chips and biscuits. Takeaway food can be very high in salt, sugar and unhealthy fats so choose your takeaway wisely. Eat meat in moderation and, if possible, eat grass-fed beef rather than grain-fed and game, such as a kangaroo, for a healthier and less inflammatory fat profile.[3] The NHRMC guidelines for alcohol consumption for healthy men and women are no more than two standard drinks on any one day. Alcohol can increase inflammation in the body so keep alcohol consumption within recommended guidelines.[4] There is also new emerging evidence that gluten may be inflammatory.[5] The biggest special mention goes to sugar in all its forms. They are the petrol on the fire of inflammation.[6] It may be hard to resist desserts, pasta, bread, pastries, chocolate bars, sodas, even fruit juices. Sugar goes by many secret names so look out for any word ending in “ose,” e.g. fructose or sucrose on ingredient labels. Maintaining a healthy weight is important in reducing pain. Excess fat produces more of these inflammatory messengers. Growing evidence suggests that there is a strong relationship between obesity and chronic pain; they co-exist and feed each other.[1]1

Foods that quench the fire

Eat a rainbow of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables. The more varied the colours of the fruit and vegetables and the more varied the types you chose through the seasons, the more varied the antioxidants, nutrients, fibre and the greater the contribution to good health. A diet deficient in fruits and vegetables with excessive meat consumption may make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Fruit and vegetables are full of antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress.[7] Green leafy vegetables such as bok choy, spinach and broccoli are high in calcium, which is great for bone health, and magnesium, which helps reduce muscle tension. Be mindful that your lowest sugar fruits will always be berries, apples and pears. Drink eight glasses of water a day, as dehydration can cause muscle tension and headaches. Dehydration can also cause fatigue which can sometimes cause us to reach for that sugary snack to boost our energy. Do not confuse hunger for thirst. Eat fermented food with live cultures regularly for gut and immune health, such as full fat yoghurt, sauerkraut, miso soup, tempeh and kim chi. Sugar, fats and processed carbohydrates can lead to an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria that can contribute to inflammation.[8],[9] A healthy balance of gut bacteria may even contribute to mood regulation.[10] Prebiotics are foods that promote the growth of good gut bacteria, generally foods that contain fibre. So feed your good gut bacteria with prebiotic foods, which help support healthy gut bacteria for great health.


[11] References [1] De Gregori M, Muscoli C, Schatman ME, Stallone T, Intelligente F, Rondanelli M, et al. Combining pain therapy with lifestyle: the role of personalized nutrition and nutritional supplements according to the SIMPAR Feed Your Destiny approach. Journal of pain research. 2016;9:1179-89. PubMed PMID: 27994480. Pubmed Central PMCID: 5153285. [2] Poljsak B, Milisav I. The neglected significance of "antioxidative stress". Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity. 2012;2012:480895. PubMed PMID: 22655114. Pubmed Central PMCID: 3357598. [3] Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition journal. 2010 Mar 10;9:10. PubMed PMID: 20219103. Pubmed Central PMCID: 2846864. [4] Wang HJ, Zakhari S, Jung MK. Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development. World journal of gastroenterology. 2010 Mar 21;16(11):1304-13. PubMed PMID: 20238396. Pubmed Central PMCID: 2842521. [5] de Punder K, Pruimboom L. The dietary intake of wheat and other cereal grains and their role in inflammation. Nutrients. 2013 Mar 12;5(3):771-87. PubMed PMID: 23482055. Pubmed Central PMCID: 3705319. [6] Aeberli I, Gerber PA, Hochuli M, Kohler S, Haile SR, Gouni-Berthold I, Berthold HK, Spinas GA, Berneis K. Low to moderate sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impairs glucose and lipid metabolism and promotes inflammation in healthy young men: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Aug;94(2):479-85. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.013540. Epub 2011 Jun 15. [7] Lara HH, Alanis-Garza EJ, Estrada Puente MF, Mureyko LL, Alarcon Torres DA, Ixtepan Turrent L. Nutritional approaches to modulate oxidative stress that induce Alzheimer's disease. Nutritional approaches to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Gaceta medica de Mexico. 2015 Mar-Apr;151(2):245-51. PubMed PMID: 25946535. Nutricion que previene el estres oxidativo causante del Alzheimer. Prevencion del Alzheimer. [8] Houghton D, Stewart CJ, Day CP, Trenell M. Gut Microbiota and Lifestyle Interventions in NAFLD. International journal of molecular sciences. 2016 Mar 25;17(4):447. PubMed PMID: 27023533. Pubmed Central PMCID: 4848903. [9] Maslowski KM, Mackay CR. Diet, gut microbiota and immune responses. Nat Immunol. 2011 Jan;12(1):5-9. doi: 10.1038/ni0111-5. [10] Vlainic JV, Suran J, Vlainic T, Vukorep AL. Probiotics as an Adjuvant Therapy in Major Depressive Disorder. Current neuropharmacology. 2016;14(8):952-8. PubMed PMID: 27226112. Pubmed Central PMCID: 5333591. [11]Slavin J. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients 2013, 5, 1417-1435; doi:10.3390/nu5041417.

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