Are you in pain?
“Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food”- Greek physician Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine
What we eat has powerful effects on our bodies. In fact, food is one of the most valuable tools for maintaining inflammation balance. Some types of foods are pro-inflammatory, and other types are anti-inflammatory. With every meal, we have the option of increasing inflammation or decreasing inflammation and therefore increasing or decreasing the amount of pain in our lives.
Once we are aware whether a food increases or decreases inflammation in the body, we can make informed choices as to which foods to eat more of and which foods to avoid. This is important for acute pain but is especially important for chronic pain and chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation begins at the end of your fork!
Avoid these pro-inflammatory foods:
Red meat, dairy (milk, cheese, ice cream), poultry
Transfats (margarine, shortening)
Refined carbohydrates, processed foods (cookies, chips, white bread, cakes, donuts, etc)
Soda, fruit juice, simple sugars
Omega-6 oils (refined vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, and soybean oils)
“Nightshade” vegetables (white potato, tomato, egg plant)- these contain a chemical alkaloid (solanine) which can increase pain in some people
Artificial sweeteners, MSG
Also be aware that insulin exaggerates inflammation so when you eat sugar or foods which easily break down into sugar (white bread, white rice, pasta, simple starches, simple carbohydrates, alcohol), you are raising your insulin levels and promoting inflammation.
Eat more of these anti-inflammatory foods:
Salmon, trout, cod
Walnuts, almonds, hemp seeds, flax seeds- contain high content of omega 3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation
Kale, seaweeds, sea vegetables- also contain high omega-3 content
Organic fruits and vegetables (except nightshades)
Complex carbohydrates (whole wheat bread, hemp bread, etc)
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is very pro-inflammatory. A Japanese-style diet is typically very anti-inflammatory. One option: eat miso soup, steamed veggies, fresh seafood, brown rice, and seaweed. You can also add veggies, nuts, eggs, and fruits with the peels intact for snacks. Other options include the Mediterranean diet, the Ornish diet, as well as well balanced vegetarian and vegan diets.
Specific foods and supplements which have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects include:
Turmeric- a yellow spice used in Indian curries, turmeric is well known for it’s powerful anti-inflammatory and pain suppressing properties.
Ginger- reduces levels of pain-causing prostaglandins in the body and is widely used in Asia and India for musculoskeletal pain and inflammation.
Cherries- tart cherry extract has been found to be ten times more effective than aspirin in relieving inflammation. Only 2 TBSP of the concentrated juice is needed per day for effective results. Sweet cherries also have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Celery and Celery Seeds- contain more than 20 anti-inflammatory compounds, including a powerful flavonoid called “apigenin”. Celery seeds can be added to soups and stews or used as a salt substitute in many recipes.
Fatty Fish- contain omega-3 essential fatty acids that convert into hormone-like substances in the body that decrease inflammation and pain. Ingesting fish and other dietary sources of omega-3′s act directly upon the immune system by suppressing the release of cytokines (compounds that destroy joints) by 40%-555%.
Walnuts, Almonds, Hemp Seeds, Olive Oil- contain the same benefits of fatty fish (without the potential heavy metal toxicity).
Flax Seeds and Flax Oil- also contains plentiful omega-3 essential fatty acids. Cooking with flax oil is contraindicated however, as heating it changes the chemical composition into a format that causes the opposite effect- irritating the body’s soft tissues and increasing pain.
Cayenne pepper- cayenne and all peppers contain capsaicin, which is a potent inhibitor of substance P (a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes). The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains.
Pycnogenol- a French maritime pine bark extract, it has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and to improve microcirculation in tissues.
Chinese herbs and herbal formulas- there are many Chinese herbs and herbal formulas which reduce pain and inflammation. The formulas are specifically designed for each individuals constitution and symptoms. Please see me (or another licensed acupuncturist) for more information regarding your individual needs.
Bonus: Eric’s Extra Anti-Inflammatory Power Paste
Ingredients: 1 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, 1 TSP turmeric, 1/4 TSP ground black pepper
Mix all ingredients into a bowl and eat “as is” or add to your favorite anti-inflammatory food dish (this makes one serving). This is a powerful anti-inflammatory food which has tremendous health benefits as well (unlike Tylenol, ibuprofen, NSAIDS, or cortisone!). As stated above, turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and the good fat and pepper combination results in a dramatically increased absorption and efficacy rate of the turmeric.
One final thought on pain: Meditation has been shown to reduce activity in pain-processing regions of the brain which lowers pain intensity levels (Journal of Neuroscience, 4/11) and has also been shown to calm the mind and reduce emotional responses to pain.
So meditate and eat your way to pain relief and good health!