- Say goodbye to pain
- The Rx: Cherries
- The Rx: Ginger
- The Rx: Cranberry Juice
- The Rx: Salmon, Herring, Sardines
- The Rx: Turmeric
- The Rx: Yogurt
- The Rx: Coffee
- The Rx: Mint
- The Rx: Edamame
- The Rx: Hot Peppers
- 5 Anti-Inflammatory Eats That Will Help Ease Your Pain
- 1. Hot peppers
- 2. Turmeric
- 3. Garlic
- 4. Cherries
- 5. Salmon
- Foods to avoid
- 1. Peanut butter
- 2. Ginger
- 3. Tofu, edamame, and tempeh
- 4. Coffee
- 5. Extra virgin olive oil
- 6. Pineapple
- 7. Cherries
- 8. Wild salmon
- 9. Hot peppers
- 10. Curry powder
- 18 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Eat to Reduce Pain
- Can diet heal chronic pain?
- The foods you eat (and don’t) can determine how well your body fights painful inflammation.
- Top 10 Food Choices You Can Make For Chronic Pain Management
- Top 10 food choices you can make for chronic pain management
- 2. Eat fresh, whole, unprocessed food as much as possible
- 3. Following a healthier diet doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself
- 4. Don’t forget to think about what you drink
- 5. Make healthy swaps for breakfast
- 6. Take another look at lunch
- 7. Redo snack time
- 8. Make better choices at dinner
- 9. Do-over on dessert
- 10. Be kind
- 10 Foods That Help Reduce Joint Pain
- 1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids / Fish Oils
- 2. Nuts and Seeds
- 3. Brassica Vegetables
- 4. Colorful Fruits
- 5. Olive Oil
- 6. Lentils and Beans
- 7. Garlic and Root Vegetables
- 8. Whole Grains
- 9. Bone Broth
- 10. Dark Chocolate
Say goodbye to pain
Chronic pain affects 116 million American adults. That’s more than a third of the US population. And while pain pills reduce suffering, they can be addictive and produce side effects. Worse, they often fail to eliminate the true cause of the pain.
“No matter how well you prescribe medication, chronic sufferers don’t get complete relief,” says James N. Dillard, MD, author of The Chronic Pain Solution. “It’s an enormous problem, and the medical community is doing a bad job solving it.” But there is an alternative, and it’s right in your kitchen. Certain foods ease aches by fighting inflammation, blocking pain signals, and even healing underlying disease.
“Almost always, if we find pharmaceuticals doing the trick, we’ll find a plant doing the same trick—and doing it more safely,” says botanist James A. Duke, PhD, author of The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods. But before you can reap these rewards, you have to quit the junk food that riles up your body’s pain system. The typical Western-style diet is heavy on foods that promote inflammation, including highly processed foods and refined carbs. No fruit, vegetable, or herb by itself can alleviate your pain if you don’t change the pattern of your diet to reduce processed food and increase whole foods.
This may not be easy, says Peter Abaci, MD, medical director of the Bay Area Pain and Wellness Center in Los Gatos, CA. “But if you stay committed to a good nutrition plan, you may be able to say good-bye to pain.” Click through these 10 pain-fighting foods.
Find more all-natural healing foods in Foods That Fight Pain by Dr. Neal Barnard. Pick up your copy today!
The Rx: Cherries
The Target: Arthritis, muscle pain
The Dose: 45 daily
Compounds in cherries called anthocyanins—the same phytonutrients that give cherries their rich ruby hue—are powerful antioxidants that work in two ways to tamp down pain. “They block inflammation and they inhibit pain enzymes, just like aspirin, naproxen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories,” says Muraleedharan Nair, PhD, natural products chemist at Michigan State University’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources. One study in the Journal of Nutrition showed that people who ate a bowl of cherries for breakfast reduced a major marker of inflammation by 25%. Other researchers found less muscle pain in runners who drank 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days before a distance run.
The Rx: Ginger
The Target: Migraines, arthritis, sore muscles
The Dose: ¼ teaspoon daily
This spicy root is a traditional stomach soother, easing seasickness and nausea. It’s believed to work by breaking up intestinal gas and possibly blocking a receptor in the gut that induces vomiting. But there are good reasons to eat ginger even when you’re not doubled over. Another natural aspirin impersonator and anti-inflammatory, it can offer relief from migraines, arthritis pain, and muscle aches.
There are plenty of ways to include ginger in your diet. Add it grated into Asian dishes, smoothies, and juice. Or make ginger tea by placing sliced, peeled gingerroot in boiling water and letting it steep for 15 minutes. For ginger lemonade, combine grated gingerroot, lemon juice, and honey with ice water.
The Rx: Cranberry Juice
The Target: Ulcers
The Dose: 1 cup daily
MORE: The 10 Best Healing Herbs
Ulcers are the result of a pathogen called H. pylori, which attacks the protective lining of the stomach or small intestine. Antibiotics are the usual cure, but you can help prevent ulcers in the first place by drinking cranberry juice, thanks to its ability to block H. pylori from adhering to the stomach lining. One study found that just under a cup a day for 3 weeks eliminated almost 20% of all cases of H. pylori infection—without drugs. But the juice becomes inflammatory when it’s loaded with sugar, so grab a bottle of 100% natural cranberry juice. If it’s too bitter, add water or a natural sweetener such as stevia.
The Rx: Salmon, Herring, Sardines
The Target: Achy back, neck, joints
The Dose: Two to three 3-ounce servings weekly
MORE: 7 Heart-Healthy Fish Recipes
Eating fish low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve back pain. In a healthy back, blood vessels at the edge of spinal disks transport crucial nutrients to those disks. If blood flow is diminished, the disks lose their source of oxygen and other nutrients, and they begin to degenerate, says Neal D. Barnard, MD, author of Foods That Fight Pain.
Omega-3s help by improving blood flow and tamping down inflammation in blood vessels and nerves. But for the full effect, you may need supplements. One study in the journal Surgical Neurology found that taking 1,200 mg or more of EPA and DHA per day could reduce both back and neck pain. And there are added bonuses: “Any amount of fish oil is beneficial for cardiovascular protection and mood elevation,” says Joseph C. Maroon, MD, the study’s lead researcher. A study in the journal Pain found that people are more aware of their discomfort when they’re glum. (An additional bonus: Omega-3s also may reduce brain shrinkage.)
The Rx: Turmeric
The Target: Achy joints, colitis (inflammation of the colon)
The Dose: 1 tablespoon daily
This essential curry spice has been used for years in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve pain and speed up digestion. But researchers like it for another reason: its anti-inflammatory properties, courtesy of a substance called curcumin. “Turmeric can protect the body from tissue destruction and joint inflammation and also preserve good nerve cell function,” Abaci says.
Not a fan of curry? Sprinkle turmeric on salad dressings, soups, cooked grains, and vegetables. Or get an even heftier dose by taking a turmeric supplement. (Make sure the label says it contains 95% curcuminoids.) And note: When you cook with turmeric, use the pepper mill. “Turmeric and black pepper should always go together,” Dillard says. “The piperine in black pepper releases curcumin from the spice.”
The Rx: Yogurt
The Target: IBS
The Dose: One or two 8-ounce containers daily
MORE: Why The Air Force Banned Greek Yogurt
For the roughly 20% of Americans who have irritable bowel syndrome, stomach pain is a given. But help may come in the form of a bug—billions of bugs, actually. Several bacterial strains that are often in yogurt (especially B. infantis and L. acidophilus) reduce pain, inflammation, and bloating, according to a 2010 review. Another study found similar results with B. lactis. But shop smart. Not every yogurt contains probiotics. Look for a brand with “live and active cultures.” Vegans can get their daily dose from probiotic-enriched soy yogurt.
The Rx: Coffee
The Target: Headaches
The Dose: Two 4-ounce cups
MORE: This Is Your Body On Coffee (Infographic)
Coffee isn’t just a morning pick-me-up. It’s good medicine. “Caffeine helps reduce pain by narrowing the dilated blood vessels that develop with headaches,” says Andrew Weil, MD, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. And coffee delivers a one-two punch by reducing pain-promoting compounds and amplifying the effect of other pain relievers too. (But be warned: If you’re a java junkie, too much caffeine can have the opposite effect. When you quit, you can get withdrawal headaches. Coffee works as a headache reliever only if you don’t consume it regularly.)
The Rx: Mint
The Target: IBS, headaches
The Dose: 1 cup of tea daily
Chewing on peppermint can freshen your breath, but there’s another reason you should try the herb. The menthol in peppermint helps prevent muscle spasms, one of the reasons peppermint oil effectively treats irritable bowel syndrome. The oil is also useful for relieving headaches. Rub some on your temples or wrists and breathe in the minty scent.
Botanist James A. Duke, PhD, author of The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods, recommends brewing mint tea for any type of pain. Pour boiling water over peppermint leaves and steep until the tea is as strong as you like. Add wintergreen leaves for an extra pain-fighting boost; a compound in wintergreen called methyl salicylate blocks the enzymes that cause inflammation and pain. “You could call it herbal aspirin,” he says. A final squeeze of lemon will help you extract as many pain-reducing chemicals as possible from the plants.
The Rx: Edamame
The Target: Arthritis
The Dose: ¼ cup daily
MORE: 4 Tools For Sore Muscles
When it comes to culinary fixes for pain, osteoarthritis poses a challenge. Wear and tear on the joints—the kind that leaves cartilage tattered and bones grinding against one another—is not reversible. Still, there’s some hope for relief.
Researchers from Oklahoma State University gave participants either 40 g of soy protein (about ¼ cup of shelled edamame) or milk-based protein for three months. At the study’s end, pain was reduced for those who ate soy protein but not for those in the milk protein group. “I’m talking about tofu, tempeh, other fermented forms of whole soy—not soy protein isolates, which you commonly see in processed snacks,” says James N. Dillard, MD, author of The Chronic Pain Solution. Cooking with tofu is simple as long as you know the basics. Silken tofu is soft and often used in creamy dressings, soups, and desserts; firm tofu is typically cooked like meat—say, marinated and grilled.
The Rx: Hot Peppers
The Target: Arthritis
The Dose: Half a teaspoon of powder daily
MORE: 16 Doctor-Approved Home Remedies
The same peppers that singe your tongue and bring tears to your eyes can take away pain. An ingredient in hot peppers called capsaicin does the trick by stimulating nerve endings and depleting a chemical that relays pain signals. You can buy capsaicin-containing creams at most pharmacies, says Duke, who uses capsaicin to alleviate his own arthritis pain.
Though topical relief is most effective for arthritis, eating hot peppers also yields pain-fighting benefits. Duke adds peppers to soups and sprinkles chili sauce on his food. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. But after handling hot peppers, wash your hands thoroughly. A towel wet with milk cuts the pepper better than water. If you touch your face before that, you’ll understand why capsaicin is the main ingredient in Mace.
5 Anti-Inflammatory Eats That Will Help Ease Your Pain
You may have noticed your pain climbs to a new level after eating certain meals. That’s because food can play a role in aggravating or reducing inflammation.
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response. Infection, wounds, and tissue damage wouldn’t be able to heal without it.
But inflammation also causes a lot of discomfort, pain, redness, swelling, and heat.
Keeping inflammation to a minimum is especially important for people with chronic pain or conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Crohn’s disease, and other autoimmune diseases. In fact, not only does inflammation increase joint stiffness and exacerbate pain for people with RA, but it can also speed the progression of the disease.
Instead of reaching for an anti-inflammatory medication, here are five soothing foods that may reduce inflammation and make your pain more manageable.
1. Hot peppers
Try adding hot peppers to your diet if you have joint pain.
Capsaicin, the compound in peppers that makes your mouth feel hot, has been found to produce an anti-inflammatory effect and potential antioxidant properties.
Hot peppers are also chock-full of vitamins B-6 and C, as well as potassium, fiber, and beta carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A. It’s believed that the red and orange pigments in peppers, called carotenoids, protect against cancer as well.
Hot pepper benefits
- reduces inflammation
- promotes a healthy heart and lungs
- helps balance your metabolism
Try: Spice up your favorite dishes with jalapenos, habaneros, cayenne, serrano, and cherry peppers. Even bell peppers work if you prefer a milder flavor.
Need to know: Hot peppers may cause indigestion, especially if you don’t normally include them in your diet.
Turmeric is that bold, orange-yellow spice that makes curries so colorful (and delicious). But it’s also a great food to incorporate into your diet to reduce inflammation.
“Turmeric has been found as effective in reducing inflammation as some anti-inflammatory medications, thanks to the compound curcumin,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of “Belly Fat for Dummies.”
Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It’s been found to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. It matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the side effects. It does so by blocking the molecule that moves to the cells’ nuclei and activates genes related to inflammation.
- contains antioxidants, which are essential for health
Try: Turmeric is featured heavily in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking. You can also use it in salad dressings, soups, or your own anti-inflammation tonics and smoothies.
Need to know: Turmeric contains oxalate. When consumed in high doses, oxalate may contribute to kidney stones. Also, not all commercial turmeric powders are pure. Some may have additives that aren’t as beneficial.
Garlic isn’t only delicious — it may reduce inflammation from joint pain. That’s thanks to the anti-inflammatory sulfur compounds found in garlic.
Garlic is part of the genus Allium, which is known for its production of organosulfur compounds. When extracted and isolated, these compounds have a broad spectrum of benefits against microbial infections. They also promote heart health, fight cancer, and ease inflammation.
- helps maintain a healthy heart
- contains anticancer properties
Try: Add garlic and herbs to any savory meals, salad dressings, or sauces.
Need to know: Garlic might produce unpleasant breath or body odor, heartburn, or gas.
Cherries have compounds in them known as anthocyanins. These are antioxidants that work to alleviate pain. Research shows that antioxidants in tart cherry juice can reduce pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis.
Cherries are a rich source of polyphenols and vitamin C, both of which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- boosts immunity
- regulates your metabolism
Try: Both tart and sweet cherries are delicious on their own, but you can also try incorporating cherry juice into your diet, which has similar effects.
Need to know: Since cherries contain fiber, eating too many may lead to bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Salmon is chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s interfere with immune cells called leukocytes and enzymes called cytokines, which are both main players in inflammation. The omega-3 fatty acids stop the process before it even starts.
Research also shows that people who eat fish regularly, especially fatty fish like salmon, are less likely to develop RA. Those who already have RA report having reduced joint swelling and pain when they incorporate salmon into their diet.
- high in protein
- contains antioxidants
Try: Use canned salmon in place of tuna when making tuna salad. Baking salmon for a delicious lunch or dinner is essentially fool-proof, too.
Need to know: Fatty acids, while beneficial, do have potential side effects. High doses of omega-3s may lead to digestive issues, increase the risk of bleeding, and may affect blood pressure.
Foods to avoid
It can also help to start eating less of — or eliminating — some foods from your diet that can exacerbate inflammation.
“When you consume more added sugars than the body can process at one time, it increases the release of pro-inflammatory compounds, cytokines, and may elevate the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein,” says Palinski-Wade.
Choosing fibrous, nutrient-dense carbohydrates over refined and processed carbs can have an effect on decreasing inflammation. Opt for lower-sodium foods, too. Excessive sodium in the diet can lead to water retention, which can increase joint pain.
Meagan Drillinger is a travel and wellness writer. Her focus is on making the most out of experiential travel while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Her writing has appeared in Thrillist, Men’s Health, Travel Weekly, and Time Out New York, among others. Visit her blog or Instagram.
Headaches, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other forms of ongoing pain affect an estimated 25 million adults, or 11 percent of the population. If you’re one of them, you don’t have to suffer. Try these ten foods to ease everyday pain, and keep your body healthy and strong.
1. Peanut butter
Is rich in magnesium, which promotes muscle relaxation and has an analgesic effect. Magnesium deficiencies encourage the body to overproduce substance P, a chemical linked with increased feelings of pain. Peanut butter also contains resveratrol, which can ease joint pain in arthritis by reducing inflammation and protecting cartilage.
Try this: combine peanut butter, frozen bananas, and milk for a creamy smoothie; mix peanut butter with coconut milk, ginger, and curry for a fast simmer sauce; stir peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon into cooked oats for a protein-packed breakfast bowl.
Fresh ginger root blocks enzymes that produce inflammatory chemicals and can offer relief from pain. In one study, 63 percent of people with chronic knee pain reported less soreness after taking a ginger extract, and they needed less pain medication.
Try this: grate a whole ginger root, squeeze the juice into a jar, then add sparkling water and sweeten with agave for homemade ginger ale; add ginger root, garlic, and lemongrass stalks to coconut milk, simmer for 20 minutes, and strain for a flavorful soup base; cut ginger into matchsticks and stir fry with shallots, snow peas, carrots, and mushrooms.
3. Tofu, edamame, and tempeh
Are rich in isoflavones, plant components with anti-inflammatory effects. In one study, people with osteoarthritis ate 40 grams of soy protein daily, and after three months, their symptoms were dramatically reduced and they were able to cut their pain medication in half.
Try this: purée silken tofu with garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil for a creamy, Alfredo-like pasta sauce; freeze blocks of tofu, then thaw, squeeze out water, and crumble into bits for a meat-like addition to chili and pasta sauce; mash tofu with mayonnaise, curry powder, minced celery, and onion for a vegan egg salad.
View our Crispy Tofu with Pineapple-Ginger Chutney recipe.
Is known to improve athletic performance, and studies show that it also reduces muscle pain after working out. It also helps relieve pain from migraines and enhances the effect of ibuprofen and other pain relievers.
Try this: add strong-brewed coffee to marinades; mix with chocolate and any kind of milk, then freeze in popsicle molds for grown-up frozen pops; purée with tomatoes, onions, garlic, cocoa powder, and chipotle for a rich, spicy mole.
Studies show that coffee can reduce muscle pain after working out, relieve migraine pain, and enhance the effect of ibuprofen and other common pain relievers.
5. Extra virgin olive oil
Contains an anti-inflammatory compound called oleocanthal, which has actions similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Try this: mix olive oil with softened butter and minced herbs, then refrigerate till firm for a creamy spread; add olive oil and orange zest to yellow cake mix before baking; purée green olives, garlic, rosemary, and olive oil until mostly smooth for a vibrant green spread to use like pesto.
Is rich in an enzyme called bromelain that reduces inflammation and can lessen pain. Studies show that it’s especially helpful in treating pain and swelling after oral surgery.
Try this: purée with coconut milk and mango, then freeze in an ice cream maker; combine diced pineapple with red bell peppers, Serrano peppers, and cilantro for a zesty salsa; slice pineapple crosswise and grill for 3 minutes per side, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Did You Know?
The bromelain in pineapple is concentrated mainly in the stem, although the fruit also contains some of this beneficial compound.
Are high in anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds that reduce inflammation and lessen pain. In one study, runners who drank cherry juice experienced less pain after running. In another study, people who ate 10 ounces of cherries per day had significantly reduced markers of inflammation.
Try this: simmer pitted cherries with balsamic vinegar and honey or agave, and serve over ice cream; add chopped cherries and minced jalapeño peppers to hamburger meat or vegan burger mix, form into patties, and grill; purée cherries with onions, garlic, and chipotle peppers for a simple sweet-and-spicy sauce.
8. Wild salmon
Is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help reduce inflammation and lessen pain. In one study, people with back and neck pain took 2,400 mg of omega-3s along with NSAIDs for two weeks, then dropped down to 1,200 mg of omega-3 fatty acids instead of NSAIDs. At the end of the study, 60 percent of patients reported a reduction in their pain levels, and 59 percent stopped using NSAIDs.
Try this: blend smoked salmon with horseradish, mascarpone cheese, and dill; top salmon filets with tomatoes, shallots, and olives, then wrap in parchment packets and bake; use salmon in tacos served with red cabbage slaw and pineapple salsa.
9. Hot peppers
Are rich in a compound called capsaicin that has long been used topically to relieve arthritis and joint pain. Some studies also suggest that consuming capsaicin can relieve discomfort—the burning sensation prompts the brain to release endorphins, which block pain signals.
Try this: toss whole shishito peppers with olive oil and garlic powder, and grill until tender; purée Fresno and cayenne peppers (seeds removed) with garlic, vinegar, and salt for a fast, fiery homemade hot sauce; mince Serrano peppers with scallions, basil, and cilantro for a spicy pesto.
10. Curry powder
Contains curcumin, a powerful compound that has anti-inflammatory effects and, like ginger, works as a COX-2 inhibitor. Use it with pepper, which contains a compound called piperine that significantly increases the bioavailability of curcumin.
Try this: stir curry powder, ginger powder, and black pepper into softened vanilla ice cream, then refreeze till firm; add curry to scrambled eggs along with chopped tomatoes, onions, and Serrano peppers for a quick Indian anda bhurji; toss cauliflower florets with coconut oil and curry powder, and roast till tender.
18 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Eat to Reduce Pain
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: “Oleocanthal, a Phenolic Derived from Virgin Olive Oil: A Review of the Beneficial Effects on Inflammatory Disease.”
- Biomedical Reports: “Potential role of bromelain in clinical and therapeutic applications.”
- Nutrients: “Quercetin, Inflammation and Immunity.”
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Associations between nut consumption and inflammatory biomarkers.”
- Arthritis Foundation: “Best Nuts and Seeds for Arthritis.”
- USDA: “Dark Green Leafy Vegetables.”
- Frontiers in Immunology: “Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications.”
- Advances in Nutrition: “Effect of Nutritional Status and Dietary Patterns on Human Serum C-Reactive Protein and Interleukin-6 Concentrations.”
- Cardiovascular Drugs and Therapy: “Grape resveratrol increases serum adiponectin and downregulates inflammatory genes in peripheral blood mononuclear cells: a triple-blind, placebo-controlled, one-year clinical trial in patients with stable coronary artery disease.”
- Nutrients: “Grape Consumption Increases Anti-Inflammatory Markers and Upregulates Peripheral Nitric Oxide Synthase in the Absence of Dyslipidemias in Men with Metabolic Syndrome.”
- Hospital Nutrition: “Consumption of Cherries as a Strategy to Attenuate Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage andIn Inflammation in Humans.”
- Journal of Atherosclerosis and and Thrombosis: “Attenuation of meal-induced inflammatory and thrombotic responses in overweight men and women after 6-week daily strawberry (Fragaria) intake. A randomized placebo-controlled trial.”
- Linus Pauling Institute: “Garlic.”
- Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry: “Sulforaphane reduces vascular inflammation in mice and prevents TNF-α-induced monocyte adhesion to primary endothelial cells through interfering with the NF-κB pathway.”
- Journal of Inflammation: “Effect of Sulforaphane on NOD2 via NF-κB: implications for Crohn’s disease.”
- California Agriculture: “Dietary omega-3 fatty acids aid in the modulation of inflammation and metabolic health.”
- Surgical Neurology: “Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain.”
- Journal of Inflammation: “Soy isoflavones avert chronic inflammation-induced bone loss and vascular disease.”
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Soy Food Intake and Circulating Levels of Inflammatory Markers in Chinese Women.”
- Food Chemistry: “Anti-inflammatory effects of five commercially available mushroom species determined in lipopolysaccharide and interferon-γ activated murine macrophages.”
- International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms: “The Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Lion’s Mane Culinary-Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) in a Coculture System of 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and RAW264 Macrophages.”
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “Health benefits of fermented foods.”
- Inflammation: “AV119, a natural sugar from avocado gratissima, modulates the LPS-induced proinflammatory response in human keratinocytes.”
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “Hass avocado composition and potential health effects.”
- Mayo Clinic: “How to use food to help your body fight inflammation.”
- Arthritis Foundation: “The Ultimate Arthritis Diet.”
Can diet heal chronic pain?
The foods you eat (and don’t) can determine how well your body fights painful inflammation.
Published: July, 2018
Image: © autumnhoverter/Getty Images
It’s been said that you are what you eat, and that’s definitely true when it comes to chronic pain.
“A lot of chronic pain is the result of chronic inflammation, and the evidence is quite strong that your diet can contribute to increased systemic inflammation,” says Dr. Fred Tabung, a visiting researcher with the Department of Nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “But your diet is also one of the best ways to reduce it.”
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You may already be taking medicines — either prescription or over-the-counter — to relieve morning stiffness, inflammation and pain in your joints. But many studies show that certain foods, spices and supplements may help in addition to medicines.
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We talked with registered dietitians Kylene Bogden MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN and Liz DeJulius, RDN, LDN about which healthy foods may help ease your joint pain. Here’s their recommendations on what to eat.
The Mediterranean diet
Many studies have found that the Mediterranean diet has various health benefits, some of which seem to overlap those attributed to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
A Mediterranean diet consists of a high level of low-glycemic fruit, vegetables and legumes; a high level of unsaturated fats, especially olive oil, complemented by a modest amount of alcohol, mainly in the form of wine; a moderate to high level of wild fish; and a low level of dairy products and red meat.
A 2015 Michigan study showed correlations between a whole-foods, plant-based diet and significantly improved self-assessed functional status and reduction in pain among adult patients with osteoarthritis, Ms. DeJulius says. A whole-foods, plant-based diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains and is free of refined foods, which follows the Mediterranean approach.
The beneficial effects of fish oils are attributed to their omega-3 fatty acid content. Studies of fish oil consumption show that it has anti-inflammatory benefits and is particularly helpful for joint pain.
Natural sources of fish oil include cold-water fish, such as wild salmon, trout and sardines. Vegan and vegetarian sources included flax seed, chia seeds and organic soybeans.
A 2008 Australian study is one of many that showed fish oil reduced joint pain, increased cardiovascular health and reduced the need for NSAIDs.
“Just one serving of cold-water fish twice a week is enough,” Ms. Bogden says. She recommends a high-quality daily fish oil supplement in addition to consuming natural dietary sources.
“In addition to other vegetables, you should try to eat a half cup of a cruciferous vegetable every day, such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or kale,” Ms. Bogden says. “These are all nutritional powerhouses, chock full of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber.”
In 2005, a team of researchers in Maryland studied the effects of sulphoraphane, an antioxidant compound found in cruciferous vegetables, and found that it blocks an enzyme that causes joint pain and inflammation. In addition to aiding arthritis patients, it may be helpful for athletes who put a lot of pressure on their joints.
Spices and herbs
Turmeric and ginger are spices noted for their anti-inflammatory benefit. Often used in Indian cuisine, turmeric also is used in traditional Asian medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties.
A 2006 Arizona study showed promising research linking turmeric to the prevention of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.
Add turmeric and ginger to smoothies, eggs, or sauces for an anti-inflammatory punch, Ms. DeJulius says.
Green tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and its effects on health is the subject of much research.
A 2008 study in Maryland showed that green tea induced changes in arthritis-related immune responses.
Long-term use of NSAIDs can have adverse effects and cause discomfort; the polyphenolic compounds from green tea possess anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to be an effective complement to nutritional therapy.
Ms. DeJulius recommends choosing organic green tea to reduce the exposure to pesticides.
Ms. Bogden recommends avoiding certain foods if you’re trying to lessen joint pain.
“Sugars and refined grains, including white rice, pasta and white bread, are the worst food culprits when it comes to reducing or relieving joint inflammation,” she says.
Ms. DeJulius recommends limiting daily added sugar to six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men. When using sugar, choose natural sources like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar.
“Red meat such as beef, lamb, pork — anything from an animal with four legs — also will increase inflammation. Another big no-no, for many health reasons, is trans fat or partially hydrogenated oil,” she says.
Ms. DeJulius recommends avoiding omega-6 fatty acids. The American diet is generally higher in omega-6s due to high consumption of processed foods. The extra consumption of omega-6s can promote inflammation. Sources include corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil and vegetable oil. Check the ingredients lists for condiments such as mayonnaise and salad dressing.
If you feel that you’ve cleaned up your diet and are still experiencing food-related joint pain, Ms. DeJulius recommends meeting with a registered dietitian who is proficient in identifying food sensitivities for a personalized approach.
Top 10 Food Choices You Can Make For Chronic Pain Management
With the flood of fad diets and weight loss programs bombarding you from every side, it’s difficult to figure out what you should and shouldn’t eat. It becomes even more complicated when you’ve got one or more medical conditions, such as chronic pain. Before you know it, figuring out mealtimes can become downright stressful. Eating doesn’t have to be a chore, though. Armed with some basic knowledge, you can make nutritional choices for chronic pain management that help you stay at your healthiest, while reducing your pain levels.
Top 10 food choices you can make for chronic pain management
The food pyramid that most of us learned about as kids has now been replaced with the MyPlate guidelines. The food groups are still the same, but the proportions are slightly different. Additionally, the food groups are arranged as though they’re on a plate or place setting, so it’s simple to visualize how much you should each from each food group. Below we talk about important switches you can make at each meal, but for an overall diet task for chronic pain management, try to eat something from each food group with each meal.
Fruits and vegetables
Vegetables ought to take up just over one fourth of your plate. This will help fill you up, which can support weight loss or the maintenance of a healthy weight. In addition, vegetables are packed with different nutrients, so eating a wide variety will provide your body with a lot of different vitamins and minerals. Try to mix up your vegetable intake so that over time, you get as many different nutrients as possible.
Fruit should take up just under a fourth of your plate. When combined, fruits and vegetables should fill half your plate. Again, filling up on fruit instead of high calorie, unhealthy alternatives can support a healthy weight. Fruit is also packed with lots of nutrients. In particular, berries are full of antioxidants, which support a healthy immune system and can even potentially lower chronic pain levels. Eat a big variety of fruit to get a big variety of benefits. When choosing your fruits and vegetables, trying to get a lot of different colors can help you get as many nutrients as possible.
Grains should fill one fourth of your plate. Whole grains, such as barley, oats, brown rice, or wild rice, are unprocessed and still contain everything that makes them healthy. For this reason, try to make sure that at least half the grains you eat are whole. Whole wheat pasta or whole grain breads can also fill this requirement.
Protein should take up the last fourth of your plate. Red meat tends to be higher in fat content, and it’s also been linked to increased inflammation, so it ought to be minimized. Other meats, such as lean poultry or fish, are overall healthier. Additionally, meat-free proteins like beans can be used in place of meat if you really want to cut back on fat while increasing fiber.
Dairy can be a healthy part of a balanced diet. These products contain a lot of nutrients, but they have been linked to a potential increase in pain with some chronic pain conditions, so pay attention to your body (this is true for any changes you make for chronic pain management). If your pain increases every time you add a dairy product to your meal, consider choosing something like dairy free milks and products (soy or almond are popular), or simply going without.
2. Eat fresh, whole, unprocessed food as much as possible
Highly processed foods usually have most of their nutrients removed. Unfortunately, they also usually have other things added, such as sodium, sugars, or unhealthy fats. Before eating foods like pre-packaged snacks or frozen meals, look for an alternative. For example, instead of frozen breaded chicken tenders, check the meat section for raw chicken breast tenders that you can bake them yourself. It won’t take much longer to cook, and the end result will taste better and be much healthier.
Processed meals or foods are often so high in sodium that switching to fresh, unprocessed foods might leave you thinking your new meals are a bit bland. This will change over time as you adjust to a new, low-sodium diet, but you can also explore the spice section to give your food a punch of flavor. Some spices, such as ginger and turmeric, might even be able to help your chronic pain management.
3. Following a healthier diet doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself
If you’re craving a scoop of ice cream or an order of fries from your favorite fast food place, don’t deny yourself so strictly that you get frustrated, throw in the towel, and go on a binge, completely wrecking your chronic pain management plan. Instead, allow yourself a small, controlled indulgence once in a while.
You can also look for healthier alternatives that still hit the spot when you’re craving your favorite guilty pleasures. When you’re craving a sweet at the end of the day, have a bowl of fruit. To make it extra special, you can add a little whipped cream to sliced peaches or a light drizzle of chocolate to fresh strawberries.
To satisfy your craving for fries, try cutting a potato into wedges, tossing them in olive oil with one or two of your favorite spices, and baking them. If you’re craving potato chips, look into products like Pampered Chef’s “Make Your Own Chips Set” that allow you to quickly make your own chips without adding any grease, fat, or salt.
Also keep in mind that not all fats are bad. The fats found in fish and nuts are very good for you in moderation. In fact, these healthy fats may even help you reduce your chronic pain. We discuss even more healthy swaps you can make later in this post.
4. Don’t forget to think about what you drink
Drinks that contain alcohol and caffeine may exacerbate pain. Some medications may also negatively interact with alcohol, so always talk about this with your doctor while creating your chronic pain management plan. Pay attention to your body’s reaction if you do have alcohol or caffeine. If you notice more headaches after your morning coffee or worse aches after your beer with dinner, consider skipping it.
Additionally, check the label before grabbing a soft drink. Regular sodas are full of sugar with no real nutritional value. Artificial sweeteners, like those found in diet sodas, can often exacerbate pain. Some sports drinks have added sodium. To avoid any unwanted additives in your drink, consider switching to plain water or herbal tea. You can add a squeeze of lemon juice if you need a kick of flavor, or you can even try out water bottles that allow you to infuse real fruit for flavor.
5. Make healthy swaps for breakfast
Instead of: Frozen egg, sausage, and cheese breakfast sandwich
Try: Egg and veggie omelet
The breakfast sandwich may taste delicious, but freezer-stored, pre-prepared food is often heavily processed and stuffed with unhealthy sodium. And while sausage is not the worst thing to eat, it consists of red meat, which tends to cause inflammation and exacerbate chronic pain symptoms.
If you’d like to eat red meat, consider saving it for later in the day and reserving breakfast as a meatless meal.
Instead of the sandwich, try an omelet with your choice of veggies served with a slice of whole-grain bread or side of fruit.
For a long time, eggs had a bad reputation because they were linked to high cholesterol. However, most of the studies supporting that idea included foods that were also high in saturated fat, according to Medical News Today. Subsequent research has showed that eggs are likely neutral on blood cholesterol levels because they’re not high in saturated fat. Eggs also happen to be an excellent source of protein.
While you might not eat eggs every day, eating them several times a week provides numerous health benefits for chronic pain management, including nutrients for a resilient immune system, excellent eyesight, and strong muscles. Amplify the nutritional benefit of the already-healthy egg by adding in tomatoes and spinach, or any other vegetable you desire.
Instead of: Cereal
Cereals may taste good, but they’re often packed with sugar. Even those boasting heart-healthy benefits or whole-grain ingredients often contain unhealthy and heavily processed additives.
So skip the cereal and try heart-healthy oatmeal. Oats are also anti-inflammatory, an important factor for chronic pain management. The grocer’s aisle is full of oatmeal packets with tempting-sounding flavor combinations, but these are also frequently full of sugar. The healthiest versions are the raw oats you buy and prepare yourself.
Feel free to add in fruit of your choice, like apples or bananas, nuts, and a little honey for sweetener.
6. Take another look at lunch
Instead of: Fast food hamburger
Try: Turkey and cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread
Sandwiches are a fast, easy, and healthy way to eat a satisfying lunch. If you like meat, try eating sliced turkey, which is among the healthier lunchmeats. Try to purchase low-sodium cuts that aren’t filled with salt and other preservatives. As a general rule, the smoother and shiner a piece of meat is, the more processing it has gone through and the fewer health benefits it offers.
Increase the health benefits of the sandwich by layering on lettuce, onion, tomato, and perhaps even a few sprouts. Opt for mustard, which is low in fat, as opposed to mayonnaise. For a treat, you might even add avocado, which offers an abundance of health benefits despite its high (unsaturated) fat content. Skip the cheese if you wish, but one slice is fine for most people. When choosing bread, purchase loafs without high-fructose corn syrup.
If you aren’t a turkey fan, try a sandwich with just veggies. Lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, and sprouts topped with a slice of cheese and avocado makes a tasty and satisfying meal.
7. Redo snack time
Instead of: Chips
Try: Trail mix
If you’re craving something salty and crunchy, you may start salivating at the idea of potato chips melting in your mouth. But the hard-to-resist snack is notoriously unhealthy, with each slice of processed potato smothered in unhealthy oils and high in fat and calories.
Instead, try trail mix if you’re putting together a chronic pain management plan. Your best bet is to make your own because store-bought mixes often come with chocolate- or yogurt-covered goodies that may taste good but aren’t much healthier than the chips you so dutifully left on the shelf.
Visit the bulk foods section of your local supermarket and stock up on walnuts, almonds, raisins, and other delicious items. Once home, mix them together and keep on hand for an easy, healthy snack. If you buy dried fruit, try to find options without added sugar.
As a note of caution, nuts are high in fat, so try to keep the portions small. However, the fat is mostly the heart-healthy, unsaturated type, which means nuts are filling and satisfying. Nuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids that fight inflammation, promote heart health, and may reduce chronic pain, according to the University of Maryland.
8. Make better choices at dinner
Instead of: Enchiladas
Try: Freshly made burrito bowls
Take inspiration from Chipotle and create your own easy, delicious, and inexpensive burrito bowl at home.
First, cook up some brown rice. Then, in a separate pot, stir-fry veggies like onion, corn, tomato, peppers (if you’re okay with nightshade vegetables), zucchini, and broccoli in olive oil. Add delicious spices like red pepper flakes, garlic, chili powder, and pepper. Enjoy the vegetables on a bed of rice, along with chopped lettuce and any other toppings you’d like, as long as they’re healthy and not processed!
Instead of: Fried chicken
Try: Roasted chicken and vegetables
Nothing says comfort like fried chicken and mashed potatoes, but when you’re living with chronic pain, every choice counts. Fight pain at the dinner table by roasting your favorite meat instead of frying it. Add taste with spices like thyme or rosemary.
On the side, serve sweet potatoes cooked in olive oil and garlic and your favorite vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, or green beans. Look to spices like lemon, garlic, and rosemary to add flavor.
9. Do-over on dessert
Instead of: Cake
Try: Peanut butter, banana, and chocolate smoothie
Smoothies taste incredibly yummy and, when made at home, you control what goes in them, making this dessert a healthy chronic pain management choice, too.
To make this smoothie, combine in a blender almond milk, a frozen banana, and a tablespoon each of peanut butter and raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder. Blend until smooth at your desired consistency, adding more almond milk as needed.
10. Be kind
Lastly, don’t go from fast food three times a day to a brand new diet overnight. Altering your eating habits for chronic pain management takes time and effort, so make the changes gradually. It also requires some kindness and forgiveness to yourself when you inevitably make choices that aren’t exactly in line with the “perfect” diet plan.
So, start small. Switch out your vending-machine snacks for fresh fruit or vegetables first. Then choose a meal, such as breakfast, to make healthier. Allow a week or two for each new change to become habit before adding another new change. Changing diet habits requires a small initial effort that becomes easier if you introduce them slowly and as you develop a repertoire of healthy meals to choose from.
What food choices have you made after being diagnosed with chronic pain? Which ones help most with your chronic pain management?
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10 Foods That Help Reduce Joint Pain
Your everyday routine can have a big impact on the health and longevity of your joints. For example, choosing foods that build bone density, strengthen connective tissue and reduce inflammation can help you prevent injuries and preserve your joints for a long, active life.
We often see patients who are curious about making lifestyle changes to reduce joint pain. Yet our orthopaedic doctors recognize that it’s hard to change everything at once. Therefore, taking a look at your diet is a great place to start.
Here’s our take on 10 foods that may help reduce pain and increase mobility in the joints:
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids / Fish Oils
Cold-water fish are a terrific source of Omega-3s fatty acids, which are essential nutrients for human health. These important nutrients are also sometimes referred to as polyunsaturated fatty acids. Not only are they proven to reduce inflammatory proteins in the body, but they also improve brain function and lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.
Omega-3 can be found in cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon, trout, halibut and sardines. Taking a daily fish oil supplement is another way to absorb Omega-3s.
2. Nuts and Seeds
There’s good news for the vegans and vegetarians among us. Omega-3s can also be found in a variety of nuts and seeds. A small daily portion of walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds or pine nuts can help reduce inflammation in the joints and connective tissue.
3. Brassica Vegetables
What are those, you might ask. Also known as cruciferous vegetables, brassicas are commonly associated with the mustard and cabbage family. Leafy greens like mustard greens, arugula, kale and purple cabbage are in the brassica family. Several other popular (and tasty!) vegetables make the list, including broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts.
This particular subset of the vegetable population has been known to block an enzyme that causes swelling in the joints. Plus, they’re chocked full of fiber, vitamins and nutrients for overall health and well-being.
4. Colorful Fruits
Fruits sometimes get a bad rap because of their high sugar content, but many are excellent antioxidants. Just like with vegetables, certain fruits are more effective than others in reducing inflammation in the body.
We’re particularly partial to blueberries, which are high in anthocyanins – one of the most powerful flavonoids. These help “turn off” inflammatory responses in the body.
Apples are another fiber-rich, anti-inflammatory fruit, and they deliver added benefits for gut health.
Pineapple is also on our short list for its bromelain content, a nutrient that has shown to reduce joint pain caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. However, most of the bromelain is found in the stem and core of the pineapple, so blend the core into a smoothie to get the maximum benefit.
And finally, tomatoes (yes, they’re a fruit). Tomatoes contain the powerful antioxidant, lycopene. Cooked tomatoes are even more lycopene-rich than uncooked ones. Be sure to consume the skin to get the greatest benefit.
5. Olive Oil
Toss out your vegetable oil, sunflower oil and peanut oil – all of which can increase inflammation. Instead, opt for a few tablespoons of olive oil for cooking and making salad dressings. Better yet, go with the extra virgin variety that is less processed. Often associated with a Mediterranean diet, olive oil is an unsaturated “healthy” fat. And guess what … it’s another source of Omega-3!
6. Lentils and Beans
Beans and lentils are known for their health benefits. They’re an excellent source of protein, fiber and essential minerals. They also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Black beans, lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans and soybeans are all great sources of anthocyanins – that magical flavonoid that reduces inflammation.
7. Garlic and Root Vegetables
Garlic, onions, ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties. Various studies have shown that these pungent root vegetables can be useful in treating symptoms of arthritis and other joint pain. Incorporate these vegetables into meals for added flavor. Plus, they’re all available in a supplement.
8. Whole Grains
Research suggests that proteins found in refined grains (such as white bread, white rice and regular pasta) may trigger an inflammatory response in the body. However, high-fiber whole grains help produce fatty acids that are thought to counteract inflammation. Therefore, stick with the whole grains.
The Arthritis Foundation provides a detailed list of grains that are recommended for arthritis suffers – including whole wheat, whole oats, barley and rye. For more information, see Best Grains for Arthritis.
9. Bone Broth
Glucosamine, chondroitin and amino acids are well documented to help maintain healthy joints, while calcium is essential for bone density. Bone broth contains all of these. The gelatin-like substance that comes from cooking bones mimics collagen that occurs naturally in our joints, tendons and ligaments. Whether or not bone broth can actually stimulate regrowth of cartilage is a fiercely debated topic in the medical filed. But taken regularly as an oral supplement, it has been known to reduce joint pain and increase function for people with arthritis.
Bone broth can be consumed as a hot broth or used in recipes as a cooking base or sauce. Get tips on bone broth preparation from these dietitians.
10. Dark Chocolate
Now we’re talking! Indeed, chocolate has anti-inflammatory properties. Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, contains antioxidants that can counteract genetic predisposition to insulin resistance and inflammation. The higher the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate, the higher its anti-inflammatory effect.
But remember, chocolate can be high in sugar and fat, so enjoy it in moderation. If you’re going to indulge, choose chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa.
So there you have it – our 10 picks for foods that help reduce joint pain and inflammation. Of course, there are some DON’Ts when it comes to eating for joint health. Pay careful attention to the effects of foods that can be linked to inflammation:
- Limit refined grains like pasta, rice and white bread.
- Keep salt to a minimum. Salt causes fluid retention, which is associated with tissue swelling. Additionally, the Arthritis Foundation reports that limiting salt intake can reduce calcium loss, thereby reducing osteoporosis and fracture risk.
- Steer clear of processed foods whenever possible.
Stay tuned to our blog for more prevention tips from Cary Orthopaedics, a top orthopaedic practice in the Triangle.