Ease your aches with these tasty foods…
It’s no joke to say that pain really hurts us—because it makes us less productive, less happy and less able to spring back from other conditions. And it leads millions of Americans to a steady intake of dangerous and, in many cases, counterproductive drugs, such as powerful painkillers, antidepressants and narcotics.
Chronic pain (that which lasts for longer than six months) can occur anywhere in the body—in the muscles…joints…head…stomach…bladder…and so on. And though some people find it hard to believe, there are more Americans affected by pain—whether it is from arthritis, headaches, nerve damage or some other condition—than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.
What’s the answer? Fortunately, there are a variety of highly effective, evidence-based ways to turn your diet into a pain-fighting machine.
HEAL YOUR DIGESTIVE TRACT
Pain anywhere in the body is almost always accompanied, and made worse, by inflammation. The inflammatory response, which includes the release of pain-causing chemicals, can persist in the body for decades, even when you don’t have redness or other visible signs.
Common cause: A damaged mucosa in the innermost lining of the intestines. The damage can be caused by food sensitivities…a poor diet with too much sugar or processed foods…or a bacterial imbalance, among many other factors. A weakened mucosal lining can allow toxic molecules to enter the body, where they then trigger persistent inflammation.
If you suffer from chronic pain—particularly pain that’s accompanied by intermittent bouts of constipation and/or diarrhea—your first step should be to heal the damaged intestinal tissue. To do this…
• Eat a variety of fermented foods. They are rich in probiotics, which will help the mucosa heal. Most people know that live-culture yogurt is a good source of probiotics…but yogurt alone doesn’t supply enough. You can and should get more probiotics by eating one or more daily servings of fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kimchi (Asian pickled cabbage).
Because highly processed fermented foods—such as canned sauerkraut—will not give you the live probiotics you need, select a product that requires refrigeration even in the grocery store. You also can take a probiotic supplement, which is especially important for people who take antibiotics or who don’t eat many fermented foods.
• Cut way back on sugar. A high- or even moderate-sugar diet, which includes the “simple sugars” in refined carbohydrates such as bread and other baked goods as well as white rice, many breakfast cereals and most juices, increases levels of cytokines, immune cells that cause inflammation.
• Limit red meat. Red meat, especially the organic, grass-fed kind, does have valuable nutrients and can be part of a healthy diet. But eaten in excess (more than three ounces daily), red meat increases inflammation. If you eat more than the amount above, cut back. At least half of each meal should be foods grown in the ground—such as vegetables, nuts and seeds. One-quarter should be whole grains, and the rest should be protein, which doesn’t always mean animal protein. Other good protein sources include lentils, beans and tempeh.
EAT OTHER FOODS THAT TURN OFF THE FIRE
Avoiding inflammatory foods is only half the equation—the other half, if you want to reduce pain, is to eat foods that can reduce the inflammation in your body.
If you are expecting an exotic recommendation here, sorry—because what you really need to eat to reduce inflammation in your body is lots and lots of vegetables—raw, steamed, sautéed, baked or roasted. Vegetables contain cellulose, a type of fiber that binds to fats and some inflammatory substances and carries them out of the body in the stools. The antioxidants in vegetables, such as the lycopene in tomatoes and the indole-3-carbinol in crucifers such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, further reduce inflammation.
This part of your pain-reduction strategy is pretty simple, really: There is not a vegetable on the planet that will worsen your pain…and most of them, if not all, will help reduce your pain. For easy, general dietary guidelines, just follow the well-known, traditional Mediterranean-style diet, which includes lots of vegetables, fish (fish oil is anti-inflammatory), small amounts of red meat and olive oil.
Helpful: It’s good to avoid sweets, but make an exception for an ounce or two of dark chocolate daily. Chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa is very high in antioxidants. It reduces inflammation, improves brain circulation and lowers blood pressure, according to research. And because it’s a sweet treat, it will make it easier for you to say “no” to the nasty stuff like cake, cookies and ice cream.
DON’T FORGET SPICES
Turmeric and ginger are great spices for pain relief and can replace salty and sugary flavor enhancers. Ginger tea is a delicious pain fighter. Also, garlic and onions are high in sulphur, which helps in healing.
Even though some people can stop a migraine by drinking a cup of coffee when their symptoms first start, too much coffee (the amount varies from person to person) can have a negative effect on other types of pain. It increases the body’s output of adrenaline, the stress hormone, as well as inflammation. It also masks fatigue, so you’re more likely to push yourself too hard.
Dr. Tick recommends: Do not drink more than one or two cups of coffee daily. I love coffee, but I limit myself to that amount…and I give it up for about a week once every three months. This stops me from getting addicted. Reducing coffee gradually over several days also helps prevent a caffeine-withdrawal headache.