Pain is rampant in our society, and there are food rules for pain. To be more specific, inflammation is actually what is rampant and ultimately behind most chronic pain. Chronic inflammatory processes are linked to many well-known health conditions, many considered serious. We can all think of someone we know who suffering from pain and/or discomfort. In fact, there is a good chance you know someone suffering from a condition ending with the suffix ‘itis’ which by definition, literally means inflammation.
Some common examples are; arthritis, gastritis, tendonitis, colitis, iritis, costochondritis, etc. There are also many other conditions that cause tremendous pain and suffering – fibromyalgia namely one. In fact, there are over 100 chronic conditions that are linked to chronic inflammation, many of which causing direct pain.
With more people today looking to find answers rather than merely putting on the proverbial ‘band-aid’, many are looking towards a functional medicine model that aims to uncover the root cause of illness. As many of my patients know, one of my favorite sayings is “Garbage in equals garbage out”. This is pertinent to how we treat our bodies today – and it starts with the foods we eat!! Below are my Top 7 Food Rules for those living in pain, and those interested in reducing inflammation in their body for better health:
1. Get Rid of the Gluten (& Gliadin!)
This may not be a surprise to many of you, but gluten continues to plague many people who are dealing with chronic pain (and other chronic conditions). I am always amazed of the amount and VARIETY of conditions that I see in my practice that are either caused by or aggravated by gluten. Grains that contain the most gluten and gliadin proteins are; barley, rye, wheat, triticale, spelt, and oat. In fact, due to recent research showing that almost all grains have some degree of either gluten or gliadin, it is my opinion that many suffering from chronic pain will benefit going off grains entirely. I know going gluten free has become almost ‘trendy’ in some circles, but this does not always mean healthy either. Be careful to avoid gluten free products that include common ingredients corn and sugar. These will make your gluten free bread taste much better, but can still keep you feeling sick and sore.
2. Avoid Nightshade Vegetables
Many who suffer with arthritis or an arthritis related disease such as lupus, rheumatism, and other musculoskeletal pain disorders, have found that consuming foods from the nightshade family is in fact adversely affecting their health. This family of vegetables includes; tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, and eggplants – healthy foods, right? For some, these foods trigger a significant inflammatory response that can spike arthritis and pain. Nightshades can increase certain pain promoting molecules known as alkaloids, and when removed from the diet can make a LARGE difference for many.
3. Balance your Omegas
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and a variety of fish, have been touted as an all-star nutrient, and one of the most researched substances on the planet. In fact, when last checked there have been over 18,000 studies done on omega 3’s. To put this in perspective, there are no drugs that have these many studies done, ever. These fatty acids can keep inflammation in check by keeping pro-inflammatory molecules (such as interleukins and eicosanoids) in check. A 2006 survey of arthritis patients found that daily fish oil supplements reduced pain symptoms in 60% of the patients. Quality of fish oil is critical, as many poor quality fish oils contain impurities and toxins. Be careful about supplements containing omega 6’s. While we do need omega 6 oils for optimal health, the standard American diet (SAD) contains large amounts of omega 6’s already. An imbalanced ratio (ideal is 1:1) between omega 3’s and omega 6’s are linked to higher rates of inflammation, and most North Americans eating a typical western diet do not have a 1:1 ration, and can actually be as high as 1:50 (omega 3:6’s)
4. Cut out Dairy
Some degree of dairy sensitivity & lactose intolerance affects about 70% of adults worldwide. As a result many fibromyalgia patients have trouble digesting dairy products leading to increased inflammatory molecules in their body. In a 1998 study, researchers tested whether blood samples taken from 40 fibromyalgia patients reacted to substances found in various foods; the blood of 25% of the subjects demonstrated an immune response to dairy products. If you must eat dairy, the less pasteurized dairy the better!
5. Avoid Food Additives
Food additives are synthetic chemicals – things that were never meant to be consumed by anything or anyone. One of the most common – Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – often causes trouble for pain patients. MSG–a high-sodium flavor enhancer often added to fast food, Chinese food, and processed packaged foods–is a an excitatory neurotransmitter that may stimulate pain receptors. A 2007 animal study in the journal Pain suggested that increases in glutamate in muscles may contribute to pain sensitivity. Rule of thumb when reading the ingredients list for additives; if you can’t pronounce it – steer clear!!
6. Dump the Junk
The National Fibromyalgia Research Association recommends limiting or eliminating refined sugar, caffeine, fried foods, and highly processed foods–in other words, most fast food, candy, and vending-machine products. In addition to contributing to inflammation (often linked to chronic disease such as heart disease and cancer), these foods may irritate muscles, disrupt sleep, compromise the immune system, and cause weight gain.
7. Get Tested for Hidden Food Sensitivities
One of the most important yet misunderstood steps in addressing chronic pain, is the discussion of underlying food sensitivities. Known as a delayed allergy, these reactions are identified by an IgG, IgA or an IgM antibody reaction. These are very different than the true (immediate) allergy, defined by an IgE reaction. While both types of allergies can be measured by blood markers, a delayed reaction is much tougher to identify on your own as a reaction can take up to 3 weeks for symptoms to surface. These typically include issues with digestion, mood, skin, lungs, weight gain, and of course muscle and joint pain. Gluten, dairy, corn and soy are some of the more common food sensitivities, however I have seen almost all types of foods be reactive. As always, it depends on each person’s unique genetic and biochemical makeup. There are simple blood tests that can be run to determine hidden food sensitivities, which can be very helpful for those suffering from pain.