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Smart Diet Choices For People With Chronic Pain

Making wise diet choices is just as crucial for people with chronic (long-lasting) pain as it is for people with heart disease, obesity, or diabetes. People with chronic pain face unique challenges. Uncontrolled pain triggers a natural stress response in the body and decreases certain hormones that play an important role in how a person handles stress. These changes can lead to low energy levels, changes in appetite, physical weakness, and excessive weight gain.

Uncontrolled Pain Triggers a Stress Response” in the Body

When you experience a sudden pain episode due to an injury, your body responds in the same way as if you were in extreme danger. It gives rise to a “flight or fight” stress response.

It starts when your brain sets off an alarm system that tells your adrenal glands (small glands close to the kidneys) to release certain key hormones, including Adrenaline and Cortisol.

Adrenaline allows you to deal with an immediate threat (or stress) by increasing your heart-rate/blood pressure and boosting your energy.

Cortisol is an important hormone that allows you to deal with stress over longer periods of time. It increases sugar (glucose) levels in the blood and it improves your brain function so you can make better survival decisions.

If your pain is due to a condition that lasts for months or years at a time, you will experience an extended stress response, where your adrenal glands cannot produce enough Cortisol. This can weaken your immune and digestive systems. It can create anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, memory and concentration problems.

Ending the Stress Response

It is extremely important for a person who suffers from chronic pain to seek help from a pain specialist, to bring the pain under control. This can end the exhausting stress response, allow Cortisol to return to normal levels, and restore balance in the body.

If you feel that your pain is out of control and is triggering unhealthy eating and low energy levels, schedule an appointment today.

A Diet for People With Chronic Pain

In addition to gaining control over their pain, people with chronic pain conditions need a healthy diet. When in pain, people often have a low appetite. When they do eat, they may go for the feel-good carbohydrate-rich foods (deserts, bread) instead of picking a healthier, protein-rich meal. This creates a yo-yo effect on their blood sugar levels and leads to energy “crashes”, weakness, and excessive weight gain.

A healthy diet that counters the effects of chronic pain should include the following:

  1. An adequate protein intake
  2. Avoidance of refined sugars and starches (to avoid carbohydrate-induced episodes of low blood sugar)
  3. Foods that promote strength, movement, and energy
  4. Anti-inflammatory foods
  5. Nutrients that help injured tissues heal

5 Smart Diet Choices For People With Chronic Pain

  1. Protein Power

Protein provides the body with essential amino acids, the building blocks for many important compounds that are essential to pain relief. Examples include Endorphins (feel-good chemicals naturally produced by the body) and Dopamine, Seratonin (important messengers in the nervous system).

Another benefit of eating protein is the prevention of low blood sugars (hypoglycemia), lowered carbohydrate cravings, and a possible decrease in pain flareups.

TIP* Eat protein with every meal, especially when your meal contains sugar and starches. The Recommended Daily Intake is 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. Protein-rich foods include fish, beef, poultry, lamb, eggs, or cottage cheese.

2. Seek The Simple Sugars

Avoiding processed sugars and starches will prevent inflammation, episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemic crashes), and weight gain. Processed sugar is found in sweetened, processed foods such as pies, cookies, cold cereals, candies, soft drinks, and any other commercially prepared goods.

TIP* Whenever possible, eat simple” sugars. Simple sugars are naturally found in fruits (oranges, apples, cantaloupe), that are also rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber. Fiber helps to slow down the absorption of sugar, and prevents sugar spikes.

3. Vegetables - The Game Changers

What do Olympic runner Carl Lewis, prizefighter Nate Diaz, and NFL linebacker Derrick Morgan have in common? They all switched to a plant-based diet and found that it significantly increased their endurance, and energy levels. Switching to a plant-based diet can decrease inflammation by 29% in only 3 weeks. It accelerates the healing of injured tendons and muscles by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels in injured tissues.

TIP* Color your plate with more yellow, orange, and red fruits or veggies (carrots, squash, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, and peaches). They contain carotenoids, chemicals that act as antioxidants to help fight inflammation and disease at the cell level. To learn more about the benefits of a plant-based diet, watch the documentary The Game Changers.

4. Foods That Fight Inflammation

  • Cherries and Berries contain phytochemicals (chemicals that give fruits a deep red and purple coloring) that act as disease-fighting antioxidants. They help prevent inflammation associated with rheumatic arthritis, arthritic gout, and atherosclerosis.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids - Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation and chronic pain. They are found in wild salmon, herring, fish oils, sardines, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, avocado, kale, spinach.

TIP* Switching from a typical American diet to a Mediterranean-style diet, that contains more fish and plant proteins, can fight chronic inflammation and help to reduce obesity.

For more information on the Mediterranean diet, click here:

5. Foods That Help You Heal

If your chronic pain condition is due to a tissue injury, pick foods rich in vitamin C, collagen, and calcium.

  • Vitamin C (found in oranges, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli) helps repair connective tissues (skin) and cartilage by contributing to the formation of collagen.
  • Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and the major building block for tendons, ligaments, skin, and muscles. Consuming collagen (from chicken/pork skin, beef, fish, bone broth) may help relieve joint pain.
  • Calcium is a major component of bones, where it serves to prevent osteoporosis. Calcium is essential for bone strength, normal blood clotting, and muscle contractions. Sources: yogurt, cheese, eggs, almonds, dark leafy vegetables.

TIP* Two for the price of one - some leafy green vegetables provide both Calcium and Vitamin C. Eat the following for faster healing: collard greens, spinach, and kale.

For more tips on healthy eating, click here.

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