Chronic Pain: What to Eat and What to Avoid

Chronic Pain

When you are suffering with chronic pain, you feel desperate to find relief. If you’re like the thousands of people I’ve helped, you’re also seeking natural solutions for your pain – something that solves the problem once and for all, so your chronic pain becomes a thing of the past.

When Does Pain Become Chronic Pain?

When your pain persists beyond three months, and has not responded to rest or treatment, it is considered to have become chronic. Why three months? Because every cell or tissue in the body can repair, rejuvenate, and restore itself back to a healthy state within three months or less.

It is currently estimated that chronic pain affects about 1 in 5 people in the U.S. While conventional approaches, mainly prescription and over the counter drugs, may provide (often only temporary) relief, no drug therapy comes without side effects. Drugs to numb your pain only mask the underlying cause.

Is it Possible to Live Pain-Free WITHOUT Medication?

Wouldn’t it be nice (and cost effective) if you could relieve your pain without a visit to the doctor? …And without medication or its nasty side effects?

Ann wanted to celebrate her 50th birthday by hiking a 14er with her daughter. They flew from Houston to Colorado Springs, and on Ann’s actual birthdate, they successfully reached the top of Pike’s Peak, one of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains that exceeds 14,000 feet in elevation. Unfortunately, she ended up with patellar tendonitis. Her knee was visibly swollen, and she had constant, intense pain right under her kneecap.

At first, she tried two weeks of rest, but there was no change. Next, she saw her general practitioner and was given a prescription for Naproxen, an NSAID (I’ll be discussing this class of drugs later in this article). After about 10 days on the medication, the swelling was almost gone and she had no pain.

…But then Ann came to see me six months later because every time she tried to quit the meds, her pain returned. She said her knee never swelled again, but the pain was just as intense as it was the day after the hike. Her doctor just kept refilling the prescription. She wanted an alternative – something natural if possible. Ann was about to discover the power of what was on the end of her fork!

Did You Know That What You Eat (and what you shouldn’t be eating) Has a Dramatic Impact on Your Chronic Pain?

Find out about several powerful anti-inflammatory foods that can put out the fire and quell your pain.

In this article I’ll be covering:

  • What is chronic pain?
  • Why NSAIDs can make your condition worse
  • How inflammation contributes to chronic pain
  • Which foods to include in an anti-inflammatory diet
  • Which foods to avoid

People are seeking natural solutions. The good news is that there are many extremely effective natural remedies – and the best place to start is with what you are feeding your body. Is your diet turning up the heat or putting a damper on the fire? First, let’s define the problem.

Why Does Pain Persist?

In many of the cases of chronic pain I see in my private practice, the original cause (or source of pain) has been resolved. The sprained ankle has healed. The lower back injury has been rehabilitated. The pain, however, persists… And the perception of pain is felt as a REAL, true, experience by the patient.

The perception of pain is a neurological phenomenon. It occurs in the brain, not in the body. When the original source of pain in the body is gone but you still experience pain, one reason is that the pain signals to the brain haven’t been turned off. The nervous system is stuck in a hyper-vigilant mode. Let me share an example…

How Can a Leg That’s Gone Still Cause Pain?

Years ago, I worked with a downhill ski racer in my Colorado practice. Melvin was in his 50s at the time, and his training regime demanded a lot from his body. He felt the acupuncture treatments I provided really helped him recover faster, but his phantom leg pain only improved a small degree. You see, when he was a teenager, he had his leg amputated due to a malignant bone tumor. Prior to his surgery, he had suffered for several months with excruciating bone pain. After the amputation, he continued to experience the pain in the leg that was no longer there. Just as in cases of chronic pain, there was a siren going off in Melvin’s brain, but there was no impending danger – no actual problem.

I’ve been diving into studying the neuroscience of chronic pain and the best ways to treat it… If I knew then what I know now, I believe we may have been able to resolve Melvin’s phantom leg pain. Alas, I had none of this type of training in my medical education. Many healthcare professionals continue to address the body but ignore what’s gone haywire in the brain and the nervous system.

My curiosity and my drive to discover new ways to help more people keeps my internal fire burning (I hope you value lifelong learning as well – your brain craves stimulation as you age). Now I approach patients with chronic pain from this perspective: the cause of the pain lies in BOTH body and the brain. The results I’m seeing are extraordinary!

If you have chronic pain, what can you do today? Begin by supporting your body.

Controlling Inflammation is Always Crucial

Most pain in the body is caused by inflammation. Many of my patients with degenerative arthritis think of their condition as being bone spurs, dried up discs, and narrowed joint space. While this is relatively correct, that’s just what you see on an x-ray. But what you can’t see on an x-ray? Inflammation.

So, if you have degenerative arthritis (also referred to as osteoarthritis), you’ll often feel stiff and achy. You may be surprised, though, to learn that the pain you’re experiencing stems from the involved joints being inflamed and irritated – even in the absence of visible swelling. Reducing systemic inflammation is one of the best ways to relieve your pain.

So, should you take more Advil?

The Nasty Truth About NSAIDS

An NSAID is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug. Some examples are:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)

Because many of them are sold over the counter, they may seem harmless. Frequent use of anti-inflammatories can trigger serious health problems, even if you stick to the recommended dosage – and “frequent” use can be as little as two weeks, according to some experts. Here are some potential risks:

  1. Gastrointestinal Problems: Taking NSAIDS can actually make your pain worse. These drugs can cause leaky gut, a condition where your intestinal lining becomes too permeable. When this occurs, your normally healthy barrier is compromised. Bacteria and toxins can leak into your bloodstream, resulting in chronic, systemic inflammation in your body. Absorption of nutrients is diminished, which impairs the body’s ability to heal its cells and tissues. Many frequent NSAID users end up with bleeding ulcers.
  2. Kidney Problems: An anti-diuretic hormone that retains water and dilutes sodium levels in the kidneys is triggered when you take NSAIDs. This filtration imbalance has the potential to lead to renal failure.
  3. Heart and Brain Problems: NSAIDs dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow. This results in higher blood pressure and increased clotting, which can lead to cardiovascular issues. Long-term use has been linked to strokes and even heart attacks.

When it comes to the use of NSAIDs, my mantra in the clinic is this:

When you’re in pain, it’s NOT due to a deficiency of NSAIDs.

Ann: No Medication and No Pain

Ann knew the medication she had been taking for six months wasn’t ultimately solving anything, so she made dramatic changes in her eating (she also received a series of acupuncture treatments and took a few key supplements that I recommended). After 4 weeks, she was able to quit taking the Naproxen. No pain.

If your body is inflamed, you need to put out the fire. If you have chronic pain (pain that has persisted past 3 months), you now know that it’s possible that the tissues in your body have healed. So, your overly sensitive nervous system needs to be calmed down. I’ll be explaining ways to successfully deal with the problems occurring in the nervous system in future posts, but I still suggest you implement the tips below. Systemic inflammation is very common, and if your brain is inflamed, these foods will aid in calming things down.

Let food be thy medicine. A better alternative to NSAIDs can be found in your kitchen.

Chronic back pain

Anti-Inflammatory Foods:

Cold Water Fatty Fish

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel

Deeply Colored Fruits and Vegetables:

  • Dark Cherries
  • Avocado
  • Beets
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Berries

Additional Fruit:

  • Pineapples are rich in bromelain, an enzyme that can help alleviate soreness and aid musculoskeletal recovery

Herbs and Spices:

  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Rosemary
  • Cayenne Pepper (a nightshade)
  • Garlic

Pro-Inflammatory Foods to Avoid:

  • Sugar in all its forms.
  • Grains: rice, bread, noodles, pasta, biscuits, chips, crackers, and pastries
  • MSG: read labels and ask at restaurants
  • Polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as grape seed, cottonseed, safflower, corn, and sunflower oils
  • Trans-fats: deep fried foods, fast food, commercially baked goods, and those prepared with partially hydrogenated oil, margarine, and/or vegetable shortening
  • Nightshades: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers – these foods are a potential trigger of inflammation for some people. I advise avoiding all nightshades for two weeks to see if your get relief from your pain. If you feel better without them, you may choose to eliminate them from your diet – or you can experiment. Try consuming small amounts infrequently, just one at a time, and see if it bothers you. Keep testing to see what your body tolerates.

My Promise to You: I know you can reduce your pain without drugs or a visit to the doctor. Why can I make this promise? Because every patient of mine, with any kind of pain, ALWAYS reports feeling less pain within a week or two of “cleaning up” their diet.

Your Challenge: For two weeks, try adding several of the anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, and eliminate as many of the pro-inflammatory foods as possible. Become your own science experiment, then let me know what you learn and how your body responds. I’d really love to hear from you!

Please Share

If someone you care about is suffering with chronic pain, please forward this article to them. Tell them that reading this could change their life. Simply having this knowledge can be extremely powerful. Possessing the awareness that chronic pain might not be from anything wrong with the body, but something in the brain that needs rewiring, can actually begin the healing process. I know – I healed my own chronic pain. More on that later…

For more effective, natural ways to relieve your pain, check out Three Simple Ways to Instantly Ease Your Chronic Pain.

Exercise is extremely beneficial in the management of chronic pain as well. Read How to Exercise When Your Joints Ache from Arthritis to learn more.

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