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Holistic Care

Nutrition & Healthy Lifestyle will help my PAIN?

By: Staci Shacter MS RD LDN

In order to see the connection between nutrition and pain we must first understand some basic science of what causes pain.

Where does pain come from?

Pain comes from inflammation. Inflammation is the immune systems natural response to invasion by infectious agent, toxin, chemical, or damage from physical trauma.

Our immune system is like an army of soldiers armed with weapons to fight bad guys in our body. Sometimes these soldiers get a little rowdy and don’t just kill the bad guys, they start killing cells our body needs. When these rowdy soldiers wreck havoc on our system with their weapon of oxidative chemicals, we call it oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a fancy name for the proliferation of free radical damage to our body. A free radical is like a thief. It is lacking something which makes it stable, so it steals what it needs from our body. Antioxidants give the free radical what it is lacking, thus stabilizing it so the free radical does not steal from your body. You have all heard, “Eat lots of foods high in antioxidants when you are sick”. This is why!

The bottom line is short-term inflammation for the purpose of assisting in the healing process is a good thing, but chronic and/or systemic inflammation is associated with oxidative stress and is the root of most disease.

How do we keep our immune system in check?

The answer is through a healthy diet high in antioxidants, and a lifestyle which limits free radicals. Additional supplementation may be needed to fight these bad guys and bring balance to our body.

What does nutrition have to do with pain?

Some foods increase inflammation while others decrease inflammation. For example, fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and phytonutrients decrease inflammation by acting as an antioxidant or activating enzymes which act like antioxidants. While foods like sugar, flour, and certain types of fats are examples of foods that increase inflammation by causing oxidative stress on the body.

Why should you be eating all your fruits & vegetables?

Vitamins found in fruits and vegetables have long been thought to be the key to a healthy immune system. We now know that this is only part of the story. It has been only recently (within the past 30 years) that scientists have discovered other vital nutrients in fruits and vegetables called phytonutrients which not only protect against disease, but also combat pain through acting as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Phytonutrients are what protect the plant from disease, sun damage, predators, and oxidation so it makes sense that it would give us similar protection.

It is important to have a diet with a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables because each color has different phytonutrients promoting health and longevity

Nightshades and Pain
Those with nerve-muscle issues or joint issues (i.e. osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout) may feel relief when eliminating nightshade foods from their diet. Nightshade foods include potato, tomato, eggplant, and both sweet and hot peppers. These foods contain a chemical alkaloid called solanine, which can increase inflammation and pain in some people. It is recommended that those with chronic joint or nerve-muscle pain eliminate nightshade foods from their diet for a few weeks to see if they feel relief.

Fats and Inflammation
Every cell of our body needs fat for its structure. Our brain needs adequate amounts of good fats as well to function optimally. For this reason, a simple low fat diet is not the answer. Rather, a diet low in bad fats with adequate good fats is a healthier diet approach.

Vegetable oils high in omega 6 fatty acids have been shown to increase inflammation. Such oils include safflower, sunflower, soy bean, cottonseed, and corn oil. For this reason you want to minimize your consumption of these types of fats. While canola oil has more mono- than poly- unsaturated fat, it is highly processed, altered, goes rancid easily, and cannot stand high heat. Most processed foods use canola oil. Try to avoid it when possible. Omega 3 fatty acids commonly found in fish, flax, walnuts, hemp, and chia seeds have tremendous anti-inflammatory properties.

Trans fat commonly found in margarine, shortening, and processed foods are the worst type of fat you can put in your body and should be eliminated from ones diet. Too much animal protein, particularly ones high in saturated fat (i.e. red meat, dairy, and poultry), should be limited in the diet. The proper portion size for protein in a meal is approximately 3 ounces or the size of a deck of cards. More or less protein may be recommended depending on age, size, gender, level of physical activity, and medical condition. Fried foods also increase inflammation and should be avoided. Conversely, saturated fat from plants such as coconuts have anti-inflammatory properties and should not be confused with the saturated fat in animal protein. Using coconut products in place of dairy is a great way to easily increase your intake of anti-inflammatory foods.

Fish for inflammation
A great addition to your anti-inflammatory diet is fish high in omega 3. Make sure to choose fish low in mercury, PCBs, and other heavy metals and contaminants. Wild Alaskan Salmon is one of your best choices. Farm raised fish such as tilapia and catfish are poor sources for omega 3, and are high in omega 6 due to what they are fed.

Carbs and Inflammation
Carbohydrates are our #1 source of fuel for energy in the body, but eating large quantities of carbs increase levels of insulin and glucose, which increases pro-inflammatory messengers. First of all, you want to try and stay away from simple carbohydrates like sugar and refined flour (all processed foods). These spike your blood sugar more than healthy high fiber carbohydrates such as fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains. Watch your portion sizes! A large serving of a “good carb” will also increase blood sugar levels and result in increased inflammation.

Food additives, artificial sweeteners, and MSG
Some people are sensitive to food additives, artificial sweeteners, MSG, and don’t even know it. It may be a contributing factor to your inflammation. Even if you are not feeling any effects from these ingredients MSG and aspartame (artificial sweetener) are known excitotoxins and should be avoided by everyone. Stevia is a better option if you need a zero calorie sweetener.

Food Sensitivities and Inflammation
Foods that people are “sensitive” too increase inflammation. Many people have had wonderful results from eliminating dairy and gluten (found in wheat, spelt, rye, kamut, barley, etc) from their diet completely. Food sensitivities may present as inflammatory condition such as digestive issues, arthritis, fatigue, or even diminished memory, concentration, and/or altered mood. The cheapest way to find out if you are sensitive to a food is to STRICTLY eliminate it from your diet. Some people are sensitive to regular dairy, but can tolerate raw grassfed dairy from A2 cows very well.

Caffeine Alcohol and Inflammation
Believe it or not there is a lot of mixed research on coffee being good for you. That is because there is truth in both. There are some negative effects of caffeine such as hormonal, adrenal, and sleep disturbances, but there are also benefits such as increased memory, alertness, and antioxidant support. So what is best to do? I suggest no more than 1-2 cups (8-16 ounces total) of coffee a day. For those with hormonal issues or trouble sleeping I suggest to eliminate coffee and caffeine completely. If you currently drink a lot of coffee/caffeine beverages you will need to wean off slowly so you don’t experience withdrawal symptoms. I do not recommend decaffeinated coffee which uses chemicals in the processing. Your best option is organic alkaline coffee (available online).

Alcohol is known to impair your immune system. Remember, it is all connected. Alcohol has been shown to also increase inflammation. For this reason it is recommended that you limit or avoid alcohol to decrease inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory Seasoning
There are herbs and spices such as turmeric which contains curcumin, a potent natural anti-inflammatory. Ginger, garlic, and cayanne are other examples of great natural anti-inflammatories. Add a punch of flavor while decreasing inflammation with these powerful ingredients!

Stress and Inflammation
We have all heard that when you are under a lot of stress you are more likely to get sick. Why is that? Everything is connected! Stress stimulates the immune system in a way which causes inflammation. For this reason it is important to try to avoid stress when possible and utilize relaxation techniques.

Obesity and Inflammation
Ever heard that obesity is a risk factor for a whole list of diseases? That is because being overweight increases inflammation through multiple mechanisms. Remember, all disease is rooted in chronic inflammation!

Take control of your life and your pain! Start with proper diet and lifestyle.