We tend to equate healthy diet with deprivation. This is not always the case. Imagine being able to reduce your pain as a direct result of eating delicious foods that you thought were forbidden.
When patients come to see me in pain, they sometimes have trouble imagining being out of pain and being able to return to their activities. They also don’t realize that the beginning of healing starts in the kitchen.
We can think of the ideal approach to pain relief as a two-pronged approach.
- We want to reduce and eliminate pain caused by issues such as misaligned joints or pinched nerves that create the pain.
- We look at the body’s response to those issues. This is where the diet can help reduce inflammation and pain.
Any trauma or irritation will cause the body to respond with inflammation. This is a healthy response, and your body is healing your acute injury. Swelling will take place, redness, and pain. However, our bodies tend to overreact. The inflammation has run amok. In fact, this can contribute to chronic degenerative diseases that plague our society. Arthritis and autoimmune diseases are all examples of the body overreacting with inflammation.
It stands to reason, then, that anything we can do to reduce inflammation will reduce pain. We are, in fact, turning down the volume knob on the pain by restoring our bodies to balance. This is why anti-inflammatory pain relievers are effective. They interrupt the biochemical pathways of inflammation in the body. Unfortunately, they have side effects and only work temporarily. So how do we work with the body instead of against it?
We can blame our diet for much of the reason that inflammation runs rampant in modern society. We overeat of the bad fats and not enough of the good fats. Many people may be surprised to learn that good fats even exist – given the messages, we have had about how all fat is not healthy and that it tends to clog the arteries.
In fact, saturated fats have recently been vindicated. It turns out the research that linked heart disease to saturated fat was flawed. Heart disease is more closely linked to the higher insulin levels that come from a high carb diet (sugars and bread). To learn more about the flawed study, read this New York Times article.
The latest research is showing that an anti-inflammatory diet will be relatively low in simple carbs, and higher in proteins and fats. The essential distinction to make is between good fats and bad fats. Bad fats are the omega-6 fatty acids. They increase inflammation in the body. These are typically vegetable oils or cooking oils; oils that come from grains (vegetable oil is a misnomer).
Olive oil is an exception and an excellent choice. Good fats are the omega-3 fatty acids. They reduce inflammation. While these can be found in walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds, fish is by far the best source of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that that chronic pain responds best to taking between 2400-7500mg of EPA + DHA. These two are omega-3 fatty acids and are on the fish oil label.
This amount may translate to several teaspoons/day. It is difficult to take enough of the capsules to get the ideal amount of fish oil. On the other hand, if you can only take the capsules, that is better than nothing. When taking the liquid, it should not have a fishy taste. If it does, that means it has gone rancid.
In summary, add these foods to your diet:
- Fish (ideally wild caught as opposed to farmed)
- Grass-fed meats. Why grass fed? When animals graze on natural grasses their fats are composed of more the healthy anti-inflammatory fats. If you want to get a cow fat (like ranchers do), feed them grains. Similarly, if you want to get a human fat, feed them grains.
- Cook with coconut oil (another good saturated fat)
- Use olive oil liberally on salads and such (but not ideal for cooking)
- Ginger and turmeric are two spices that are shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Remember to supercharge your omega-3 fatty acids by supplementing with fish oil. And avoid omega-6 fatty acids which tend to be found in grains, processed foods, and vegetable oils.
The process won’t be as quick as turning down a volume knob. Usually, it takes 4 to 6 weeks to begin to feel significant benefits, but the health benefits will be worth the time and patience.