Nutrition & Chronic Pain

Much of the chronic pain we experience is a result of chronic inflammation. There is strong evidence to suggest that your nutritional intake is a significant contributor to increased systemic inflammation. However, modifying your nutrition is also one of the best ways to reduce inflammation.

Think of inflammation as playing a dual role in a movie we call your health. When you’re injured or are inflicted by an infection, the body will signal the immune system to send over white blood cells to the area to address the issue by eliminating the infection. The injury finally heals after a while, or the infection may recede. However, inflammation should and does typically resolve. But there are instances where the immune system is turned on and will refuse to be turned off after the crisis.

The inflammation can damage healthy cells and organs, leading to muscular, joint, and tissue pain. Chronic inflammation also raises the risk of diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and various cancers.


Anti-inflammatory Food Pyramid


The Influence of Diet on Your Immune System

How does your nutrition influence your immune system? What you eat and drink supports the immune system by having it turn off and on when needed. However, a “poor diet” can alter the immune system making it act abnormally, leading to persistent inflammation.

Studies over the years have found that the immune system will react to an unhealthy diet similar to how it responds to an infection. How exactly a healthy diet directly influences the immune system is yet to be fully understood. Though there is evidence to suggest that deficiencies in zinc, iron, selenium, vitamins A, B6, E and C, in addition to folic acid, can affect the functioning of the immune system.

The strongest scientific evidence available suggests that foods rich in a certain group of antioxidants referred to as polyphenols have anti-inflammatory effects which soothe and prevent chronic pain. Generally, these foods include much of what you’ll find in the Mediterranean diet, like dark green leafy vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. In addition, many of these foods are rich in micronutrients, required for the immune system to function optimally.

Some research suggests supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, found in flaxseed oil, olive oil, and fatty fish like mackerel can help reduce if not control inflammation.


The Key Is Variety

The best approach is to remove foods with a pro-inflammatory response and replace them with foods with a good anti-inflammatory response. Not surprisingly, many of the inflammatory foods are processed foods that have low nutritional value. Therefore, drinks like soda and others with high sugar content and/or high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient, white bread, processed meat and white pasta, etc, should be avoided. Even whole wheat bread has a similar reaction in the body as white bread because the grain has been refined to simple carbohydrate. Opting for whole GRAIN bread as opposed to whole WHEAT bread, where you can see the nuts, seeds and grains throughout the bread, will decrease your blood sugar, and decrease inflammation.

Instead, you will want to add foods that have vital nutrients, often ones that your immune system needs to perform optimally. Aim for variety; for instance, you can fill half of your plate with whole grains like whole-grain pasta, brown rice, beans, poultry, and fish. You can then fill the other half with vegetables and a bit of fruit.

Make it a point to cook in healthy oils like olive oils. Avoid using butter or artificial flavors. More importantly, it would help if you made lasting changes to your diet to work long-term. It isn’t a quick fix but instead a slow process making small changes at a time. This approach has the potential to help you manage and arguably prevent inflammation.




The Role of Water In Chronic Pain

Water is an essential nutrient and has consistently been shown to aid in all bodily processes. Some initial research has found that people who don’t drink adequate amounts of water may experience increased pain sensitivity. That said, how water affects chronic pain isn’t entirely understood. Regardless, many studies suggest that drinking water is essential to managing chronic pain.


The dietary reference intake of water for men is around 15.5 cups of water or 3.7 liters a day, and around 11.5 cups or 2.7 liters for women, according to the Institute of Medicine, 2005. Foods consumed throughout the day make up roughly 20% of our water intake theoretically. The remaining 80% is made up of beverages and water.

Age and certain medical conditions may alter how much water the body needs. So, older people will have different fluid needs as compared to children. It is essential to check with your doctor or dietitian to determine how much water you should consume. In general, drinking 3 bottles of water a day is a good start.

One of the easiest indicators of whether or not your body is getting enough water is the color of your urine. Light yellow or mostly colorless urine means that your hydration is on point. Dark yellow or mostly brown urine usually indicates dehydration. However, it is important to note here that certain supplements and medication may also result in darker-colored urine. If you continue or consistently see dark-colored urine, it is essential to check with your doctor. Other indicators of dehydration include fatigue, thirst, and lack of mental alertness.




Supplementation

One of the first things you should do is change your diet. It’s best to get as much of the nutrition, minerals, and vitamins as you can through your diet. That’s why throughout the first part of this article, we focused extensively on making nutritional changes. However, supplementation can be essential, too, especially since it may take time to get your diet in order.

Some of the key vitamins and minerals that can help are Omega-3, B Vitamins/folate, Vitamin D, Magnesium and Calcium, CoQ10.


Vitamin D

A deficiency in vitamin D is often associated with susceptibility to illness and inflammation. Vitamin D was once thought only helpful to maintain bone density in combination with calcium. However, we now know Vitamin D is vital for almost all of the processes in the body. Vitamin D deficiency has been found in people with chronic pain and correcting that deficiency can result in a 25% decrease in pain intensity. . Unfortunately if you are vitamin D deficient, the amount of Vitamin D required to correct it usually needs to be done through supplementation as opposed to sunlight exposure or through food.


Vitamin B12

There is a relationship between chronic pain and B12 deficiency. Some researchers have found that patients complaining of pain that supplement with B12 either with oral supplements or B12 injections later report feeling less pain as well as more energy. The only food source of B12 is in animal protein. It is especially important in people who are vegetarian or vegan to make sure they are supplemented appropriately. The B-vitamins, in general, are essential for good nerve health. B-vitamin function is dependent on the ability to methylate in your cells. If inadequate, supplementation with methylfolate may be required.


Omega-3 Oils

Over the years, there is a great deal of research to substantiate the link between increased omega-3 fatty acids consumption and decreased pain. Omega 3 has been shown to impact the body’s anti-inflammatory pathways located in the brain, influencing headaches. People suffering from chronic conditions like joint discomfort and arthritis will experience less pain and even not require as much NSAID consumption when their diet is rich in omega 3 oils.

Reference link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28965775/


Natural herbs such as spices and teas can also help with the pain. For instance, Kava tea is an excellent natural muscle relaxant. Curcumin in Turmeric has anti-inflammatory qualities; when combined with black pepper, it helps improve absorption. Other items that can be helpful in reducing inflammation include capsaicin, magnesium creams, arnica gel, menthol, boswelia, chondroitin/glucosamine, and ginger.


Conclusion

Statistics report that junk food makes up one-third of what the average American eats; that’s why it isn’t surprising that we’re suffering from depression, obesity, and chronic pain, amongst other health issues, which are all attributed to chronic inflammation. Over the years, there has been mounting evidence showing the importance of nutrition on aspects of health such as inflammation and, consequently, pain. While changing dietary habits is easier said than done, small changes can often yield large dividends for patients suffering from chronic pain.