The sensation of pain comes from many places. Obviously, there is a nervous system component; after all, it is our nerves that transmit the signals that alert us to pain and it is our brain that responds to those signals. In addition, there are structural components – if your leg is broken, it must be reset in order for the healing process to proceed quickly; if you have a subluxation in your back or neck, you’ve got to see a chiropractor or osteopath to help you get that corrected so the nervous system can respond appropriately.
However, the degree of our pain, and the length we suffer with that pain is to a large extent the result of chemical messengers that are created in response to an injury. This is called inflammation. However, how this inflammatory process plays out is largely dependent on what we eat.
Food’s Influence on Pain
The chemicals involved in the inflammatory process can be broadly classified as pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory chemicals. Pro-inflammatory chemicals increase the amount of pain produced; anti-inflammatory chemicals can reduce the amount of pain. Whether the body produces more pro- or anti-inflammatory chemicals is largely dependent on what you put into your mouth on a daily basis. Let’s take a look at some foods and the effect they have on pain and inflammation:
- Water: Proper hydration is absolutely essential for inflammatory control. Being properly hydrated helps you eliminate wastes more effectively, improves communication between your cells and can help keep your tissues healthy and strong (including muscles, joints and ligaments). Drink at least 1/2 your body weight in ounces daily and drink at least 2-4 ounces of water (~1/2 cup) every 30 minutes. Replace as many other drinks as possible with water, including coffee, soda, tea and energy drinks. Nothing hydrates you like water. NOTHING.
- Oils: Next to proper hydration, the amounts and kinds of fats you consume largely determines whether you will produce more pro- or anti-inflammatory compounds. Many of the chemical compounds that control the inflammatory process are made from fats. In general, pro-inflammatory compounds are made from omega-6 fatty acids (including soybean/vegetable oil, saturated fats from meat and dairy, hydrogenated oils and deep fried foods) and anti-inflammatory compounds are made from omega-3 fatty acids (including those from deep sea fatty fish, vegetables, walnuts and flaxseed). Strictly avoid all hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (read the label) as well as deep fried foods. If you eat meat, choose fish or lean cuts, like skinless chicken, turkey or wild game. Because most people do not (and will not) consume adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, taking at least 2000-3000 mg of EPA + DHA (two essential omega-3 fatty acids) per day would be advised (that’s the equivalent of taking 3 capsules of Orthomega 820 daily).
- Sugar: Insulin is secreted in response to blood sugar spikes and insulin has many pro-inflammatory effects in the body. Therefore, eating refined sugar and white flour – in things like soda, cookies, candy, baked goods and sweets – will greatly increase the amount of pain and inflammation you experience. If you need something sweet, choose a piece of fruit (see below).
- Brightly colored produce: The bright colors in most vegetables and fruit come from chemicals called bioflavonoids, which are very strong antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect our cells from the damaging effects of inflammation and can help speed up the healing process. There are literally thousands and thousands of studies that show that eating antioxidant rich foods can help reduce pain and inflammation. Aim for at least 50-75% of your plate at every meal to be covered with deep colored vegetables and fruit.
- Raw foods: Raw foods contain enzymes. These enzymes not only make it easier for your body to break down the food (which saves a ton of energy the body can then use to combat inflammation), they can also help the body to chemically clean up inflammation. Eat raw fruits and vegetables at every meal and as often as possible.
Everybody experiences pain and inflammation after an injury. However, how much pain you experience and how long you will be in pain will largely be determined by what you have been eating over the course of the last several months and years. Get started today on eating a more anti-inflammatory diet so that when pain comes, your body is equipped with the tools that it needs to get it under control and resolved as quickly as possible.