6 Foods That Fight PainChronic pain can be caused by inflammation -- and some top cures are in the kitchen cupboard, not the medicine cabinet. Know 6 foods that fight pain.
"Ooh, my aching . . . " When gripped by chronic pain, reach beyond the medicine chest -- for the right foods at the grocery store. What you eat can directly and indirectly help reduce pain in three ways: by controlling inflammation, which contributes to the nagging pain associated with some chronic diseases like arthritis; by reducing the damage caused by oxidative stress, which occurs when the body is exposed to more cell damage than it can handle; and by helping to regulate your body's immune response, which helps manage inflammation more effectively.
"We get in the habit of taking Advil or Aleve to treat pain symptoms, without getting at the underlying cause of pain. Over time these medications, because of their side effects, can do more harm than good," says integrative nutritionist Beth Reardon, director of nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine, part of the Duke University Health System. "Changing your diet, on the other hand, protects your cells from damage and reduces the number of inflammatory compounds the body produces." Bonus: An anti-inflammatory diet is an effective path to weight loss, which reduces pain that's caused by extra stress on joints. New research in the journal Cancer Research links losing just 5 percent of body weight to significant reductions in biochemical markers for inflammation.
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These six food categories -- and six standout examples -- can result in meaningful changes for your pain level:
Eat this: More non-animal sources of protein
Try: Canned salmon. The fish highest in inflammation-busting omega-3 fatty acids, salmon, is available in cans year-round. "And it's the most affordable source of wild salmon," Reardon says. Wild-caught is healthier than farm-raised salmon, which may contain toxic chemicals and antibiotics, depending on their feed and the conditions they're raised in.
Other examples: Cold-water fish that supply omega-3 fatty acids include black cod, tuna, sardines, halibut, mackerel, herring, and anchovies. And for protein don't overlook legumes and dried beans, such as lentils, soybeans, and black beans, and ancient grains including quinoa, millet, and spelt. Plant sources of omega-3s include pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed.
Why: Replacing animal protein with proteins from fish increases your consumption of DHA and EPA, so-called "long chain" omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to improvement in symptoms of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Plant sources provide also-essential "short-chain" omega-3 fatty acids.
Eat this: Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
Try: Turmeric. Turmeric contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound known as curcumin. (In fact, turmeric is sometimes simply called curcumin.) This deep yellow-gold spice has a smoky, peppery flavor and is used in curries and mustard. "It's such a powerful anti-inflammatory, it's one of the spices I recommend eating every day," says Reardon, who adds it to almond milk with cinnamon and a touch of honey.
Other examples: Garlic, ginger, cinnamon, tart cherry, curry, rosemary. (Dried tart cherries, while not technically a spice or herb, are another antioxidant-superstar way to "spice up" other foods.)
Why: Several studies have shown an anti-inflammatory effect of turmeric on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. These spices and herbs help inhibit the formation of inflammatory prostaglandins and COX inhibitors (the same enzyme-inhibiting substances in medications such as Vioxx or Celebrex).
Eat this: Healthy fats
Try: Coconut oil. Available in specialty groceries (such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods), coconut oil provides good fuel for the cells that line the gut, which is fundamental to proper immune system functioning, Reardon says. You can use coconut oil in cooking and baking where a light, slightly sweet flavor is desired, or to pop popcorn (another plant food high in antioxidants).
Other examples: Olive oil, grape-seed oil, avocados, ground flax, nut butters (especially almond, almond-flaxseed, cashew, or sunflower seed, which are less inflammatory than peanut butter), omega-3-fortified eggs.
Why: You'll be displacing unhealthy, omega-6 saturated fats (found in highly processed foods), which far outnumber good-for-you omega-3 fats in most American diets -- a backwards ratio that fans inflammation. Healthy fat sources fuel both proinflammatory hormones, which fight stresses to cells, and anti-inflammatory hormones, which regulate the healing process after a threat (injury or infection) is gone.
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