Foods can influence our perception of pain by acting through a number of mechanisms. They can:
- reduce damage at the site of an injury
- cool an inflammatory response
- provide analgesia on pain nerves
- work within the brain to reduce sensitivity
The nature of your pain will affect the approach taken. For example:
Arthritis – the aim would be to prevent further joint damage as well as relieving pain
Shingles or neuropathic pain – the aim would be to fix a problem with the nerves
Cancer pain or chest pain – choose foods to affect the disease process
Chronic backache – the aim is to get rid of the pain.
There are four basic steps to consider when using food and drink to fight pain.
Remove pain exacerbating foods
Individuals can be intolerant or allergic to certain foods which may be causing their pain. For example foods from the belladonna or nightshade family are often culprits in arthritic type pain. These include potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers.
Other foods to limit are those high in saturated fats, including red meats, dairy products, processed foods, refined sugars and caffeine. Sometimes it can be worth having a food intolerance test to see if there are any particular foods which are upsetting your body.
Eat Natural Pain Killing Foods
A low fat, low protein, complex carbohydrate diet has helped many patients to get rid of their pain. A general recommendation is a varied organic, whole-food diet based on fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses with small amounts of fish and lean meat.
Particular nutrients which can fight pain include:
Vitamin B1 – found in almonds, whole grain oats, beans and nuts. B1 is good for neuropathic pain and headaches.
Vitamin B3 – a useful anti-arthritic supplement. Found in meats, fish, wheat, rice, broad beans.
Vitamin B6 – useful when reducing pain killing medication, and also as anti-inflammatory. Found in beans, brussels sprouts, lentils, rice and whole wheat.
Vitamin C – this is a natural pain shield. Found in fresh fruit and vegetables.
Vitamin E – this compound works with the body’s natural painkillers (endorphins) to boost their effectiveness and is also a potent anti-oxidant. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and avocados, broccoli and sweet potato.
Selenium – helps to control free radical damage and inflammation, both of which can cause pain. Together with Vitamin E, Selenium works to reduce chronic muscle pain, stiffness and aching. Found in wholegrains, fish and poultry, nuts and some fruits and vegetables depending upon where the food was grown.
Magnesium – another natural painkiller, particularly when used with Vitamins B6 and C. Found in wholefoods.
Increase your fat intake
There are some types of fat which help to reduce pain, namely the omega-3 fatty acids. These have a general anti-inflammatory effect. Omega 3 fats are particularly effective for arthritis.
Three fatty acids found in oily fish and other foods have special value in fighting pain.
GLA, DHA and EPA are obtained from fish and also from the seed of the evening primrose, blackcurrant seed oil and borage oil. The body uses GLA, DHA and EPA to manufacture prostaglandins which help to reduce inflammation and pain.
Sources of essential fatty acids include oily fish (herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines), sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds.
Drink plenty of water; up to 75% of the population are chronically dehydrated. Dehydration can slow our metabolism, cause daytime fatigue and be responsible for back and joint pain. As a minimum you should be drinking 1- 2 litres of filtered or mineral water daily.
Green tea contains a lot of beneficial, anti-inflammatory compounds. Reducing inflammation often helps to reduce pain. Green tea is also a good source of antioxidants, that helps the body resist disease, especially painful degenerative illnesses that are associated with aging.
Ginger tea helps to relieve chronic pain by reducing inflammation and by lowering the level of natural pain causing compounds in the body.