It’s no secret that your diet and nutrition can have a significant impact on your overall health, but you may not consider your diet when it comes to pain management. We spoke to two pain management specialists to understand nutrition’s impact on our pain response and how it affects various systems in our body.
When inflammation occurs, chemicals from your white blood cells are released to protect your body. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, something is attacking us and we need to take action!” Pain is a byproduct of that response. That’s why you commonly hear to ice an injury, take aspirin or ibuprofen, and to rest the affected limb — it’s all aimed at stopping and controlling inflammation so your body can begin the healing process.
But did you know food can have anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory properties?
“All kinds of pain arise from inflammation in the body, so when we have an anti-inflammatory diet we can prevent and manage pain,” says Norin Ukani, a Texas Center for Joint Replacement certified family nurse practitioner who focuses on pain management and pre- and post-surgical care.
A few years ago, Tom Brady’s diet came into focus when it was revealed that he stays away from all nightshades (vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers and white potatoes), as well as processed foods and any soy- GMO-, or gluten-containing foods because of their inflammatory properties.
Brady’s strict diet, which is a combination of many diets such as the alkaline, Mediterranean and anti-inflammatory diets, has been both applauded and snubbed for being impossible for the average person to follow. Ukani adds that while his diet works best for him, it’s definitely not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ plan for everyone.
“Through extensive research and blood tests, Tom Brady has found that his body does not work well with nightshade vegetables, so he avoids them to maintain maximum performance,” she says. “If you are healthy and have no sensitivities to nightshades, you don’t need to eliminate them from your diet because they are rich in nutrients with many health benefits. However, if you have autoimmune diseases or are sensitive to nightshade vegetables, then stay away from them.”
Other common food sensitivities that can contribute to inflammation and pain include:
- Wheat, Gluten
- Grains and Legumes
- Dairy (casein, whey)
If you have a suspicion that a food sensitivity may be contributing to your pain, Ukani says your physician can order a food sensitivity test to measure the inflammation in your body. A nutritionist can then help guide your diet by the process of elimination.
Other than identifying food sensitivities that may contribute to your inflammation and pain, it’s important to focus on proper nutrition so your bones and muscles are strong enough to support your body and perform other functions.
As a general rule, Ukani recommends the following guidelines to help decrease inflammation and pain through diet:
- Eat the Rainbow — Eat vegetables and fruits with all different colors, because they top the list as powerhouses of nutrition. Try to get at least three different colors on your plate for every meal.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet — Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats with omega-3s-walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, etc. lean proteins-salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, etc. and plenty of water. Also, add herbs and spices, turmeric, black pepper, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, etc. Ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Limit or eliminate simple carbohydrates — White bread, white flour, white rice, etc. and added sugar and red meat.
- Eliminate processed foods — boxed meals, fried foods, cookies, etc.
In addition, Jennifer Donnelly-Straach, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Spine Team Texas, a Texas Health Physicians Group Practice, recommends avoiding alcohol because of its capacity to negatively affect mood and worsen pain.
While exercise isn’t directly related to diet, together, diet and exercise can help alleviate inflammation in the body by improving strength and retraining muscle groups that have become weak due to a decrease in activity, as well as the added benefit of weight loss, which will put less pressure on your joints.
Many things contribute to pain and inflammation — some of which you may not even consider. That’s why it’s important to consider a multidisciplinary approach when it comes to pain management.
“In our Bridge Program, nutrition is extremely important. However, we also focus on the significance of physical therapy and exercise for a strong core and spine support to help manage pain,” says Donnelly-Straach. “Exercise releases endorphins which can help to improve mood, and exercise is essential in helping to maintain a healthy body and weight. Some form of weight training is also important to help load the bones, which in turn may help prevent osteoporosis. Our program also utilizes a mental health professional to help us identify personality traits and psychosocial issues that can affect our patients’ abilities to manage pain and lose weight.”
Chronic pain doesn’t have to be something you merely ‘put up with’ day by day, nor does it have to be a one-way street when it comes to treatment. With a multidisciplinary approach that focuses on your entire body and a team of physicians and knowledgeable specialists working with you every step of the way, you can tackle pain comfortably.
If you are dealing with pain, Texas Health Pain Relief & Wellness Center can help navigate you to a better understanding and management of your pain. Visit TexasHealthPainRelief.com for more information.