Aging is often associated with increasing pain. Achy joints, sore stiff muscles, and lots of things that end in “-itis”. Tendonitis, bursitis, and arthritis are some terms for medical conditions that you may hear more often as you get older.
Words ending in “-itis” mean inflammation is involved. Inflammation, which has a very sinister reputation, is actually a normal part of our body’s healing process.
When you cut your finger, scrape your knee, burn your hand, or bump your head, you feel pain.
Pain is a part of the inflammatory process which signals throughout the body to begin the healing process. Inflammation results in increased blood flow to the injured area, pain, swelling, redness and heat.
Pain is a signal to the brain that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Pain and inflammation are necessary survival tools that the body uses to fight off dangerous pathogens or to repair damaged tissue.
Pain is also protective and helps you shield that part of the body from further injury. There are some people who do not feel any pain, while this seems like it would be a good thing, these people often become severely injured or even die because the pain is not there to protect their bodies from harm.
Inflammation and Its Role in Pain
The origin of pain comes from inflammation and the inflammatory response. In the body the elements of inflammation—which also bring about healing—include cytokines, neuropeptides, growth factors and neurotransmitters.
No matter what type of pain is experienced, the underlying origin of that pain is due to the inflammatory response. Inflammation can bring on different types of pain, including sharp pain, dull pain, aching pain, burning pain, stabbing pain, tingling pain, diffuse (spread out) pain or pinpointed pain.
Acute vs Chronic Pain
Acute pain and inflammation are generally the result of an injury or infection. The pain comes on suddenly and will gradually improve as the body heals. Acute pain and acute inflammation are reasonably short-lived (less than 3 months). However, at some point in the healing process, the improvement in pain may become stalled and long-term chronic pain and inflammation set in.
Chronic inflammation comes on slowly–but does not gradually get better. Often chronic pain stays stuck and the immune system—for whatever reason–cannot correct the offending issue. This creates a cycle of chronic pain and inflammation that just keeps going. Chronic pain can last months or even years.
While chronic pain and its partner, inflammation, may result from an injury or infection, it may seemingly also just mysteriously appear with no obvious cause. Left unchecked, the inflammation turns on itself and begins attacking the body–including healthy tissue, organs, and joints. Many serious diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes are thought to result from chronic inflammation.
Approximately 1 out of 5 people (20%) will go on to develop chronic pain and inflammation. Some of the more common types of chronic pain include:
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Bone pain
- Digestive pain
- Psychogenic pain
The symptoms can range from mild to severe and last for months or years.
Chronic pain is the Main Reason People Seek a Health Professional
Living with chronic pain can take a huge toll on a person’s mental health and is extremely stressful. Chronic pain becomes chronic stress which in turn, can become debilitating.
Pain can become so distracting, it affects how you interact with people, your ability to think clearly, make decisions, manage your emotions, handle your career, eating too much or too little, your joie de vivre (joy of living) and most everything you do. Chronic pain can be so life-affecting that it actually causes physiological changes in our brains.
Long term pain can also bring on depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and constant fatigue. Research shows that those with chronic pain are four times more likely to have depression or anxiety than those who are pain-free.
Pain that lasts longer than three months and is accompanied by activity restrictions, such as being unable to exercise, go to school, or do simple activities of daily living such as getting dressed without help may cause even further suffering. These people often report more severe pain, more mental health problems and even difficulty thinking and reasoning.
Chronic Pain Mapping Breakthrough
The experience of long-term pain is complicated and varies greatly between individuals, making it difficult to explain and quantify, let alone diagnose and manage. A new study shows that how and where a patient reports areas of their chronic pain affects nearly all aspects of the pain experience, including what happens months later. The researchers discovered that patients usually fit into nine different groups of chronic pain.
What’s more, these patterns of pain distribution can help predict pain intensity, pain quality, pain impact, physical function, mood, sleep and likely patient outcomes. This ability for body pain maps to help determine patient outcomes can help to identify whether certain patients will have better or worse outcomes from the start. This will also help determine more specific treatments for pain.
Conventional Medical Treatments
“Chronic pain” is a vague term that doesn’t really define the patient’s condition, and conventional medicine often fails to address the root cause of the pain. Instead, the conventional medicine approach attempts to disguise the pain. Pain can be very subjective to each individual patient. What feels like extreme pain to one person may feel like moderate pain or mild pain to another.
Most often the patient will provide the medical professional with a description of their pain. This includes the type of pain (stabbing, aching, sharp, mild, intermittent), timing of pain (does the pain worsen in the evening, interfere with sleep, etc.), location (can it be pinpointed to one spot, is it referred pain, is it diffuse pain), and history of pain.
You doctor may also ask you:
- How pain affects the rest of your life
- Other physical or mental health symptoms
- Triggers that may make the pain worse
- Any other diagnosed health conditions
- Recent injuries or illnesses
- Current medications
Depending on your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests to check specific causes of pain:
- Urine tests
- Spinal fluid tests
- Nerve function tests
- X-ray, MRI or CT scans
Doctors usually conduct a nerve function test and reflex test as well, to determine if nerves are functioning properly or if there is dysfunctional signaling in the nerves.
A medical doctor will usually prescribe medication for pain, but many pain medications come at a huge price. In addition to directly addressing the pain, health professionals may also prescribe medications that work on the psychological issues with pain.
Medications prescribed may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, muscle relaxers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), aspirin, corticosteroids, opioids, dextromethorphan, ketamine and lidocaine are also used.
Side effects include liver or stomach issues, constipation, weight gain, fluid retention, sleepiness, dizziness, impaired thinking, and addiction which accompanies many pain meds. One other thing about taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDS (Ibuprofen) is that these medications can reduce empathy for others and blunt emotions.
While opioids can help with severe forms of pain, they can also sensitize a person to the pain, creating a vicious cycle. Opioids and some other medications are extremely addictive, and patients usually develop a tolerance to them, creating a need for higher and higher dosages to maintain the same effect. Opioids are one of the most common medications that cause addiction, overdoses and death.
Depending on the type of pain, surgery can sometimes be the answer. Surgical intervention works effectively for acute pain due to a recent injury; however, surgery for chronic pain such as back pain often has mixed results with lower success rates.
Surgery is often a last resort to end or reduce pain. Often back surgeries fail to stop the pain and the phrase “failed back surgery syndrome” is a fairly common one. Knee surgeries and knee replacements often have similar mixed results.
Non-Pharmacological Pain Treatments
Some medical treatments can include a variety of non-surgical, non-pharmaceutical modalities that attempt to block or interrupt the nerves that conduct pain.
An anesthetic is injected near the spinal nerves in the neck or back to directly block the nerves in the area of the pain. This can work but can also impair movement in the area as well. Nerve blocks like epidurals, are effective enough to use on women in labor, but can help many other forms of pain as well. Nerve blocks can be used on cancer pain, arthritis flare-ups, facial pain like trigeminal neuralgia, shingles pain, low back pain, migraines, and chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
Nerve blocks can be used for chronic, long-term pain, post-surgical pain, and severe acute pain. Nerve blocks can ease pain by bringing about immediate relief—ask any mom-to-be whose ever had an epidural during labor!
Nerve blocks can also offer longer-term relief, because some injections can reduce irritation and inflammation to nerves and help them heal. Nerve blocks can also prevent movement to help with healing as well.
Nerve blocks can be very helpful to people dealing with chronic pain so that they can function normally in their daily lives, allowing them to work, exercise and deal with day-to-day activities without the distraction and restriction of pain.
However, nerve blocks are a temporary fix. The pain will return after the anesthetic medication wears off. Some people will need repeated or even long-term nerve block treatments to manage their inflammation and pain.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a method of pain relief involving the use of a mild electrical current.
A TENS unit is a small, battery-operated device with leads that attach to the skin with pads. Small electrical impulses that feel like a tingling sensation are delivered to the affected area. These electrical impulses can disrupt pain signals traveling to the spinal cord and brain.
TENS and other ‘E-stim’ units are used to reduce pain and muscle spasms from arthritis, knee or joint pain, tendonitis, back pain, and pulled and strained muscles.
Movement rehabilitation that includes functional exercise training, physical therapy, occupational therapy and specific exercise programs can be effectively used to help manage chronic pain. Movement rehabilitation improves blood flow, range of motion, and circulation–which in turn helps to improve pain, remove inflammatory substances and reducing stiffness and swelling.
Exercise therapy, like physical therapy, also helps to strengthen weak or tight muscles in the area of pain, improving the body’s overall balance, strength and function.
Any movement modality will help to relieve stress, increase endorphins (‘feel-good’ hormones), improve one’s quality of life, aid in more restful sleep, and even prevent or reverse some of the brain changes that are associated with chronic pain.
Physical therapy techniques for pain management can also include heat or cold applications, stretching exercises, foam rolling techniques, joint mobilization, and kinesiology taping. All of these can make it easier to return to work and daily habits, increasing independence, self-reliance and quality of life.
Other gentle, movement-based therapies such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and even working with a knowledgeable person trainer have shown a large degree of success in the world of chronic pain management. Many pain clinics and integrative medicine centers now offer movement-based therapy for pain.
Several small studies point to the effectiveness of these therapies:
- In one study published in the journal, Alternative Therapies for Health and Medicine, those with chronic low back pain taking yoga classes reported substantial decreases in pain and used fewer pain medications.
- Another study from BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders found that tai chi decreased pain and stress for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
- This study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found people who were suffering from osteoarthritis reported considerably less pain and stiffness in their joints when taking a tai chi program.
Many people have found complementary or alternative medicine approaches very helpful—sometimes in addition to conventional medical pain management—or instead of, conventional medical pain management.
Alternative medicine approaches include:
- Chiropractic care
- Dry needling
- Massage therapy
- Red light (infrared) therapy
- Laser therapy
- Platelet-Rich Plasma injections
Many of these alternative approaches are used in combination with other alternative modalities. Some of the more popular alternative and complementary medicine practices are chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage, and meditation.
There are many different types of chiropractic care and like all doctors, some chiropractors are excellent, and others, not so great. What does a chiropractor do? There are a number of different types of chiropractic practices and definitions depending on who you ask. According to the World Federation of Chiropractic, the meaning of chiropractic medicine is:
“A health profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health. There is an emphasis on manual treatments including spinal adjustment and other joint and soft-tissue manipulation.”
Because the spine and central nervous system control every part of the body, chiropractors focus on the health of the spine being properly aligned. When the spine shifts out of its proper place, then adjustments are used to help bring the spine back into alignment.
According to chiropractic teachings, when the spine is out of alignment, it can impinge on nerves, creating pain almost anywhere in the body. Often when the spine is out of alignment, pain and nerve compression can cause the muscles to lock up in a spasm. The chiropractor aims to move the spine to release the spasm, regain normal movement and blood flow, and allow for normal nerve transmission.
Many people find that chiropractic care either alone or combined with other treatments helps reduce acute and chronic pain.
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years and has been used by the Chinese to treat a variety of conditions. The Chinese philosophy behind acupuncture is a bit more complicated to explain, as the ancient practice isn’t traditionally based in modern science and western medicine.
When acupuncture needles are inserted into specific areas on the body, these points are believed to stimulate certain areas in the central nervous system. The biochemical changes stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being. Even though tiny needles are inserted into the skin, the procedure is relatively painless.
A 2015 analysis of acupuncture published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “acupuncture is associated with reductions in chronic pain…compared to no acupuncture control.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment alone or in combination with conventional therapies to treat the following: chronic headaches or migraines, muscle spasms, arthritis pain, back pain, neck pain and many other conditions.
Massage is a healing, hands-on approach that can be soothing or vigorous. Based on research, massage therapy is considered an effective pain management technique, and is frequently recommended as an effective pain management option.
Massage not only helps relieve pain, but also relieves stress, allows for relaxation and reduces both depression and anxiety. Massage also releases (‘feel good’) endorphins which aid in increasing one’s feelings of well-being.
Massage is the practice of rubbing and kneading the body using the hands. During a massage, a massage therapist will apply gentle or strong pressure to the muscles, fascia and joints of the body to ease pain and tension.
Some of the various types of massage include: Swedish massage, hot stone massage, aromatherapy massage, deep tissue massage, sports massage, trigger point massage, and myofascial release.
Meditation has actually been shown to be very powerful in reducing many forms of pain. Meditation is an ancient practice with roots in Buddhism and other Eastern religions. Different styles of meditation help each person choose what works best for them. Meditation teaches patients how to change their reaction to the pain.
Researchers have examined meditation’s effects on people in hundreds of studies. Researchers have looked at meditation in terms of body awareness, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction. Scientists have also studied the use of meditation as a treatment for pain. In these studies, meditation has been shown ease pain—sometimes significantly.
This Wake Forest University study performed MRI scans of subjects’ brains while inducing pain. Then a certified instructor taught the subjects how to practice mindfulness meditation. On the fifth day, the researchers scanned the volunteers again, once while not meditating, and then while meditating, with pain induced during both sessions. There was an almost 40 percent reduction in pain intensity ratings during the meditation when compared with non-meditation.
Meditation may actually change the structure of the brain. While pain medications ignore the psychological and social aspects of pain, meditation can treat pain by changing one’s perception of pain, diminishing their anxiety of pain, and leave the patient feeling calmer, happier, and more in control.
The Worst Foods for Pain and Inflammation
Inflammation can be a very subtle process—one that you may not even be aware of. What you eat, and how much you eat has a definite effect on the level of inflammation—and the resulting pain in your body. Certain foods that you eat can trigger inflammation and the immune system in turn will attack various parts of the body, resulting in tissue damage and pain.
Certain types of pro-inflammatory proteins also work by directly activating nerve cells, which can both initiate and intensify pain.
Some health conditions can be an underlying cause for chronic pain. These health conditions include:
- Celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Food allergies/sensitivities
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
What does the food you eat have to do with pain in your body? The majority (70% or so) of your immune cells live in your digestive tract. So, what you eat has a powerful effect on whether or not you trigger an inflammatory response. Some foods can start an inflammatory cascade and other foods ease inflammation.
Sugar and Processed Foods
Many of the processed foods, additives, chemicals, and pesticides in our food supply are known to increase inflammation. Processed foods end up becoming a substantial part of many people’s diet. Convenience foods, snack cakes, chips, soda and breakfast cereals are all quick and easy to grab and go.
It is easy to see how a diet of unnatural, low nutrient, low fiber, high sugar, high omega six fats can fuel chronic pain. A Harvard Medical School study found the traditional SAD diet (full of processed meats, sugar, gluten, corn and fried foods) was associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers.
Sugar in the diet is linked to many poor health issues including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The main mechanism in sugar that leads to debilitating chronic disease is inflammation.
Other research suggests that sugar in the diet can negatively affect the gut microbiome, further increasing inflammation and autoimmune activation. Sugar can also damage the gut, causing leaky gut syndrome, leading to further inflammation, food sensitivities and chronic pain.
Omega 6 Vegetable Seed Oils
Once thought of as healthy polyunsaturated, Omega 6 seed oils like safflower, cottonseed, sunflower, corn, peanut and soy oils are big contributors to inflammation and pain. Many people have diets high in omega 6 fats fatty acids.
In spite of their ‘healthy’ label, processed seed oils are significantly worse than even sugar and grains. Processed seed oils create free radicals that damage healthy cells and trigger inflammation. Vegetable seed oils are considered to be one of the primary root causes of chronic pain as well as chronic inflammatory diseases including, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and even cancer.
The Standard American Diet includes large amounts of omega 6 fats. One of the components of omega 6 fats is arachidonic acid (ARA). ARA is present in the membranes of people’s cells involved in inflammation. ARA is also a precursor to a number of potent pro-inflammatory substances in the body.
Arachidonic acid not only contributes to the development of inflammation, but also promotes the excitability of the peripheral nerve system, contributing to pain exacerbation.
The truth is that the cumulative amount of omega 6 fats that you eat will be detrimental to your health and increase pain and inflammation. For individuals who suffer with chronic pain, inflammatory or autoimmune disease, any processed vegetable oils including canola oil, cottonseed, oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil and soybean oil should be totally avoided.
Instead, consuming natural, minimally processed fats from olive oil, coconut oil, wild seafood, nuts and seeds, and healthy animal fats will reduce inflammation and pain.
Gluten free diets became such a buzzword that it often gets thought of as a trendy diet instead of a diet to help real medical conditions. Gluten in the diet can often be very insidious, causing inflammation and health conditions, sometimes with little or no identifiable symptoms.
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Besides being hiding out in bread and other wheat products, it also winds up in sauces, processed meat, and other packaged foods.
For those with celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten, even small amounts can become a major pain trigger. While more research is still needed, gluten may even cause pain or symptoms in individuals without a diagnosis of celiac disease or an obvious sensitivity.
One study actually found a very strong link to gluten sensitivity and neurological conditions of unknown origin. And for some people with gluten sensitivity, the primary symptom they experienced was neurological dysfunction, including pain.
Research data suggests that nearly 60 percent of people with neurological dysfunction of unknown origin test positive for anti-gliadin antibodies. It is thought that gluten may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb certain vitamins and nutrients essential for proper nerve function. This can result in chronic pain, tingling and numbness.
Nightshades are a family of plants belonging to the Solanaceae family. They include some of the most frequently eaten foods in our diet including:
- White potatoes
People can be sensitive to all the nightshades or just one or two of them. White potatoes are often the worst of the nightshades for causing inflammation—and they are often combined with omega 6 oils, which add to the inflammation. French fries, for example, may cause a noticeable increase in pain. Other offending foods include: Paprika, goji berries, ashwagandha, gooseberries, ground cherries, huckleberries and tobacco.
Nightshades contain alkaloids that can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, and when absorbed into the bloodstream, they can destroy oxygen-rich red blood cells. One of the alkaloids, solanine, can also accumulate and block an enzyme called cholinesterase, lighting the body’s pain fuse.
One of the major problems that nightshades can cause is pain and inflammation in the joints. In fact, some researchers believe that arthritis can easily be misdiagnosed in people who may just have a nightshade sensitivity.
Other reactions to nightshades include irritable bowel flare-ups, asthma, GI issues, heartburn, nerve sensitization, and joint pain and swelling.
Flare-ups can take three hours to three days, so it’s often hard to identify the offender. If you live in chronic pain or have ongoing inflammation, it would be wise to eliminate nightshades for a period of time.
Dairy products, especially commercially-raised and processed dairy products, have been known to cause inflammation and pain. Dairy contains a high level of protein called casein, which is responsible for allergic reactions and especially bone and joint pain. Low-fat processed dairy, like conventional low-fat yogurt, which is full of sugar should be definitely be avoided.
This review suggests that limiting dairy consumption will help those with arthritis decrease inflammation and alleviate pain. Another study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that eating dairy foods increased chronic, low-grade inflammation. And a study of 40,000 people with osteoarthritis (OA) found that those who ate dairy products regularly were more likely to need hip replacement surgery. Note: this does NOT apply to raw, whole milk products. This type of dairy actually decreases inflammation.
If you are concerned about getting calcium, other healthier sources of calcium include collard greens, kale, other dark leafy greens, chickpeas, almonds and blackstrap molasses.
How can consuming alcohol lead to whole-body inflammation?
If you drink alcohol on a regular basis, over time it can irritate the GI tract, including the liver. This ongoing irritation can alter the bacteria in the gut, raising levels of inflammation including an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein. The liver creates CRP, and the more inflammation it encounters, the more CRP it makes.
CRP is a general index of inflammation. Chronically elevated levels of CRP have been associated with high blood pressure, obesity, and chronic infections and chronic pain. CRP has already been identified as a marker for the development of cardiovascular disease and other medical conditions that can cause chronic pain, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
When it comes to chronic pain, higher levels of CRP have been found in those with fibromyalgia as well. And another study examining patients with rheumatoid arthritis found that CRP was also associated with an increase in their sensitivity to pain.
Food and Chronic Neck/Shoulder Pain
If you happen to have right-sided chronic shoulder/neck pain, or even headaches, consider this: it may not be in your neck or shoulder—it may be coming from gall bladder. This is called ‘referred pain’ and is actually very common, although many people don’t realize there is a connection.
Here’s what happens: the gall bladder has a series of ducts that connect it to the digestive system to digest fats. It is also connected to the liver and the pancreas. When there is a blockage in any of these ducts, due to irritation (possibly from excessive alcohol consumption) or from sludge (which happens frequently), this buildup creates some irritation, inflammation and swelling.
The swelling in this area puts pressure on the diaphragm and a small nerve called the ‘phrenic nerve’ that starts near the base of the diaphragm and runs up the right and left sides of the spine to the head. Because the gall bladder, pancreas and liver are located on the right side, this is usually where the pain is felt—up in the right shoulder, the neck or even in the head.
What causes this irritation? It’s pretty simple, actually. Omega 6 fatty acids create inflammation. Too much consumption of any foods containing omega 6 seed oils including canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, etc. can contribute. Nuts, nut butters, peanuts or peanut butter can also contribute to this health condition, since they tend to have omega 6 fats in them. Processed foods, refined grains and sugar are often culprits as well.
So, the next time you have a pain in the neck or shoulder, think back about what you’ve been eating the past few days—it could just be that you may need to change your diet.
Best Foods to Reduce Pain and Inflammation
The key to reducing inflammation is to start with the gut. A large proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract. There has been found strong relationship between the gut bacteria and chronic pain.
The gut microbiome balance is a critical key to visceral pain (coming from internal organs). However, there is also plenty of evidence that the gut bacteria play an important role in other types of chronic pain and inflammation. Other types of pain the gut affects include headache and migraine pain, arthritic pain, neuropathic pain, and even opioid tolerance.
The gut bacteria can regulate pain in the peripheral (outlying nervous system) and the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). By targeting our specific gut bacteria with dietary modifications, this emerging intervention may represent a new, effective therapeutic strategy for the management of chronic pain and emotional distress.
The goal here is to identify and move away from inflammatory foods, and to work towards more organic fresh vegetables, some fruit and naturally raised meat, poultry, and ocean wildlife.
One of the best ways to do identify foods that may be causing ongoing inflammation and pain is to do a food elimination diet. There are many different types of food elimination diet, but the basic premise is this: For a period of two to four weeks, eliminate all possible inflammatory foods. This includes:
- All grains, especially gluten, and processed grains and flours
- All sugars
- All other processed foods that come in boxes, bags, or packaging
- All sauces
- Dairy products
- Omega 6 oils such as, soybean, canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed oils
After eliminating these foods for a minimum of two weeks, note how your pain feels. Is it better? Keep a journal of your results. Then, one-by-one, challenge each food by consuming it for a couple of days and note your pain levels.
Anti-inflammatory foods are notable for their abundance of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other key phytochemicals. Anti-inflammatory foods are often also plentiful in omega 3—not omega 6 essential fatty acids.
The evidence here is clear that these types of anti-inflammatory foods will modulate and regulate the immune system—making it work effectively against invading pathogens while remaining calm and reducing chronic inflammation and pain in the body.
While there are many, many foods that can reduce pain, while improving health and well-being, we will discuss some of the best pain and inflammation-reducing foods.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fats with healing inflammation-reducing capabilities contain omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fats have many healthful, healing properties like preventing disease, fighting cancer, reducing the aging process, improving the mood, and helping protect the brain. And they are powerful tools to help fight chronic pain.
Omega 3 fats are made up of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are found in cold water, wild caught fish like salmon, cod and sardines, as well as grass fed meats and pasture raised poultry. It is important to note however, that conventionally-raised grain fed meat and farm raised fish contain more omega 6 fats and less omega 3’s.
Omega 3 fatty acids are absolutely necessary for good health. These essential fats are essential for optimal brain and nerve function, which in turn helps to modulate the immune system and reduce pain.
In addition to helping your body fight pain and inflammation, omega 3 fats can prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol, reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety and asthma. In addition, these fats help to fight cancer, reduce menopause symptoms, manage lupus, prevent migraines, improve rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and more.
Grass Fed Butter
Grass fed butter is full of anti-inflammatory nutrients that help to ease pain. If you happen to have a dairy sensitivity, consuming ghee (butter with the milk solids removed) will bring you all the benefits of butter without the dairy.
Both butter and ghee contain a healthy fat called butyric acid, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid that helps keep your gut lining healthy. Both butter and ghee also contain conjugated linoleic acid, (CLA), a healthy polyunsaturated fat that lowers inflammation.
Butyric acid is an incredible anti-inflammatory agent that improves the beneficial bacteria in the gut (which as we discussed previously, lowers pain and inflammation), suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria, and helps those with digestive disorders. Butter is a valuable treatment for people with chronic pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease.
Monounsaturated oils like extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that fight inflammation. Monounsaturated polyphenols, like those in olive oil, are powerful inhibitors of inflammation.
These oils help block messaging molecules that signal to increase pain and inflammation. They also contain enzymes that block the action of pro-inflammatory substances in the body.
Olive oil, especially, is known to significantly lower levels of C- reactive protein (CRP), which is a standard medical laboratory test for inflammation, and as mentioned earlier, CRP increases pain, while decreasing one’s ability to withstand pain.
Using monounsaturated fats to control inflammation does not require a large amount. As little as 1 or 2 Tablespoons a day are associated with significant anti-inflammatory benefits. But, be sure when you purchase olive oil you are getting genuine olive oil and not a cheap fake olive oil.
Good quality protein is key to your body’s ability to use it. High quality grass fed beef or bison, free range chicken and organic eggs, and wild caught fish are the best protein sources you can eat. These protein sources contain the right ratios of omega 3 fats to omega 6 fats and contain highly bio-available protein that is easier to digest and assimilate than commercially raised livestock and poultry.
In addition, CLA and omega 3 fats in grass fed meats and wild caught fish are essential to optimal health and improve your cells’ response to insulin, neurotransmitters and other messengers. They’re also very important for the repair process when your cells are damaged.
The best types of animal proteins are free of hormones, antibiotics and toxins–meaning they are considered ‘clean’ proteins, with no toxic residue to increase pain or inflammation.
Antioxidant-Rich (Organic) Fruits and Veggies
While all plant foods contain nutrients that fight cancer and strengthen the immune system, particular herbs, fruits and vegetables have properties that fight oxidation and free radicals that increase inflammation; all the while strengthening, cleansing, and repairing the body.
Most any brightly colored fruit or vegetable is full of inflammation-fighting ingredients. Some of the best pain and inflammation fighters include dark green leafy vegetables, beets, cruciferous vegetables, and pineapple.
Dark green leafy vegetables that include leaf lettuce, such as arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, mache (a type of lettuce), romaine lettuce, parsley and watercress one of the most concentrated sources of nutrition of any food. They also provide a variety of phytonutrients including beta- carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which protect our cells from damage. Dark green leaves even contain small amounts of healthy omega 3 fats.
The rock star nutrient in leafy greens is vitamin K, which is a key regulator of inflammation.
Other brightly colored vegetables that fight pain and inflammation include beets, known for their deep red color full of antioxidants. Beets go to work to repair cell damage caused by inflammation. Beets also contain large amounts of essential minerals, potassium and magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is often linked with painful inflammatory conditions.
Cruciferous vegetables in the diet are key to fighting pain and inflammation. The cruciferous family includes: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, kale, kohlrabi, Brussel sprouts, radishes, mustard greens, watercress, arugula, and turnips. Cruciferous veggies are also high in inflammation-fighting phytochemicals, including sulforaphane. Research shows the sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables is extremely beneficial at helping to reduce pain and inflammation.
Another component in cruciferous vegetables is ascorbigen, which has been shown reduce pain sensitivity and improve the quality of life, according to this study on fibromyalgia patients.
Cruciferous vegetables have been shown to get rid of depression that often accompanies pain and inflammation. Furthermore, sulforaphane also benefits those with anxiety.
Pineapple deserves a mention here. Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain. Bromelain contains immune-modulating abilities. It helps to calm down the immune system to prevent unwanted pain and inflammation. The highest concentration of bromelain is contained in the stem of the pineapple, so don’t cut out this section out and throw it away!
Other healing, anti-inflammatory plant foods include: edible seaweed, acai berries, goji berries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and dark red or purple grapes, garlic, ginger, and turmeric.
Herbs, Spices and Tea
Herbs and spices are some of the most potent natural antioxidants on this earth. In fact, many herbs rank higher in antioxidant activity than fruits and vegetables. Herbs and spices add plenty of extra flavor, and when combined with other nutrition-packed superfoods, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power is boosted 10X.
These spices have the highest amount of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing ability, so add them liberally to your foods.
Chili Peppers—Chili peppers of all types include a substance called capsaicin, which is what makes them taste hot. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. Capsaicin is actually an irritant, which stops the nerves from transmitting pain signals. It also creates a rush of endorphins which are one of the body’s natural painkillers. Capsaicin works well externally as a cream or internally where you get the added benefit of its cancer-fighting abilities, improved circulation, ramped up metabolism, and reduced cholesterol. So, pour on that hot sauce!
Turmeric—We’ve heard plenty about this pungent, yellow spice, but it’s worth reiterating. Turmeric contains curcumin, a very powerful anti-inflammatory that competes with commercial painkillers for its effectiveness–but without the adverse health effects.
The active ingredient, curcumin is also very good at destroying some forms of cancer, lowering cholesterol, and killing bacteria too. Turmeric needs some fat and a warming spice such as black pepper to work effectively, so add both to your turmeric milk and enjoy its healthful, pain-killing benefits.
Ginger—Ginger is in the same family as turmeric and has inherited many of the same health boosting properties. Ginger has been shown several studies to be as effective as many commercial painkillers, without the side effects like stomach bleeding, liver damage, kidney problems, and high blood pressure. Ginger also relieves nausea, bloating, and cramping while improving circulation. And it tastes delicious!
Nutmeg—Another medicinal spice that has been used in many dishes all over the world. It is effective to fight pain and lower inflammation. Nutmeg also relieves indigestion and increases circulation—which often helps reduce swelling and pain. Nutmeg also acts as a mild sedative. Nutmeg is best in small amounts; larger quantities can be toxic and serious mental issues, nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, agitation, hallucinations and even death in large doses.
Cinnamon—Cinnamon not only tastes wonderful but contains anti-inflammatories that have been shown to be effective in easing the pain of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Cinnamon is also an antibacterial, antioxidant spice that lowers cholesterol and improves insulin function as well. It’s also pretty easy to add to lots of dishes, as it makes everything taste better.
Clove—Cloves and clove oil have long been known for the gentle numbing properties they contain. Clove oil can be used externally to warm and numb specific areas that are painful. Clove contains anti-inflammatory properties when you consume it as well. Add some cloves to your turmeric milk.
Garlic—Garlic is so good for almost everything health-related. And pain reduction is another example of garlic’s power. Garlic is rich in both sulfur and selenium, both of which can help to relieve joint and muscle pain.
The sulfur compounds in garlic and onions tap into the some of the same pathways as capsaicin, decreasing inflammation and pain-causing compounds, while releasing endorphins and painkillers.
The selenium in garlic helps reduces pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. Many people with arthritis tend to have low levels of selenium. Selenium is also a powerful cancer-fighting mineral that boosts immune health, protects against heart disease, boosts thyroid functions and helps protect the brain.
Rosemary—Rosemary contains active ingredients that are potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of rosemary is largely attributed to its polyphenolic compounds like rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid.
Rosemary has been known to improve concentration, boost memory, and lift depression. It also is a muscle and joint pain reliever. Rosemary oil can be massaged into joints and sore muscles, but it is also effective when consumed in your favorite dish. Rosemary also strengthens the immune system, improves circulation, stimulates digestion, and fights cancer, as well.
Green, white, oolong, and rooibos tea contain potent catechins, bioflavonoids and polyphenols that reduce pain and inflammation and limit free radical production. Drinking 2 cups of any of these types of teas every day will reduce inflammation significantly, as well as adding powerful antioxidants that fight aging and disease.
Natural Supplements for Pain
There are many studies on cannabinoids for pain relief. Marijuana comes from the cannabis plant and contains somewhere around a hundred compounds called ‘cannabinoids’.
Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemical compounds in marijuana that affect neurotransmitters in the brain. One of the most well-known cannabinoids in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which is the primary substance in marijuana that contains psychoactive compounds and will get you ‘high’.
Cannabidiol, or CBD is another active compound in marijuana, which does not affect the brain in the same way or get you ‘high’ but is known for its many other health benefits. CBD is also found in the hemp plant, along with the cannabis plant. The hemp plant which does not contain any psychoactive compounds like marijuana.
In the 1990’s a well-known scientist discovered a system within our own bodies that contains receptors for the compounds found in hemp and marijuana. This system is called the endocannabinoid system. This EC system actually contains receptors that connect with cannabinoids in marijuana such as CBD and THC.
Our bodies have these cannabinoid receptors in the brain, lungs, kidneys, immune system and other parts of the body that link up with the cannabinoids in marijuana when it is ingested, inhaled or applied. This is why therapeutic use of marijuana has very specific effects on different parts of the body.
CBD works as well or better than opioids in relieving pain by inhibiting the nerve transmission in the pain signaling pathways, without the tolerance or addiction of an opioid drug. CBD oil is often used by people who have chronic pain. While it works to reduce pain, it also reduces inflammation (a big part of pain), and overall discomfort that is related to many health conditions.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that CBD significantly suppressed chronic inflammatory and nerve pain without causing any tolerance to the treatment. Another review of multiple studies showed that a combination of CBD and THC was found very effective in treating the pain associated with Multiple Sclerosis, which is often very debilitating in 50-70% of patients.
Other studies show both CBD and THC can help to relieve depression, anxiety and stress. In one study, self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety decreased drastically.
As of 2021, thirty-six states now allow medical marijuana to be sold. Twenty-one states allow both medical marijuana and recreational sales. CBD is legal in all 50 states; however the laws vary from state to state. Be sure to check your state’s laws on marijuana and CBD products.
Collagen is a type of protein that helps to repair connective tissue, including ligaments and tendons, the cartilage in joints, the lining of the GI tract, certain organs and the skin.
As we age, we continually lose collagen, so we must replace the lost collagen. Much of the aging process has to do with the breakdown of collagen. Sagging and thinning skin, stiff joints, shortened stature, stooped posture, and easy bruising are all the visible signs of aging from collagen breakdown.
Collagen contains the amino acid, glycine. Our bodies need adequate amounts of glycine from collagen, and we cannot create enough on our own. An average person needs approximately 10 grams of glycine to cover all of our physical needs. Unfortunately, our bodies only make about 3 grams per day, and most of us only get about 1.5-3 grams from diet—if that. That means we cannot make enough on our own and need supplemental glycine to function optimally.
Collagen reduces inflammation—especially in the gut—which is intricately connected to the immune system. Collagen also contains amino acids vital to optimal immune function. Glycine, glutamic acid or glutamine, and arginine have been shown to help regulate the inflammatory process and support the immune function.
Glycine is considered an amino acid that has strong anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, it also helps to modulate the immune system, meaning that it helps the immune system work effectively, without causing it to overreact. Glycine also helps boost the functionality of macrophages (our cells’ scavengers) , which in turn, go after damaging free radicals and inflammatory cytokines.
The B vitamins, have been shown to be effective in treating various forms of painful nerve conditions including neuropathy, low back pain, sciatica, trigeminal neuralgia and facial paralysis.
The B vitamin family is made up of thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate or methylfolate (B9) and methylcobalamin (B12).
B vitamins are necessary for proper nerve function and neurotransmitter signaling. B vitamins are also effective in blocking pain signals from damaged nerves and help to repair nerves damaged by neuropathy.
Deficiency in B vitamins can contribute to various neurologic and psychiatric disturbances because the lack of B vitamins will impair nerve health, neurotransmitter function, and other neurological processes, potentially leading to symptoms like anemia, numbness/tingling, weakness, anxiety and depression.
Back in the old days, a vitamin C deficiency resulted in scurvy, which was characterized by musculoskeletal pain. Scurvy is very rare these days, but evidence does indicate that vitamin C administration can still have pain-killing properties.
A number of recent clinical studies have shown that giving vitamin C to patients with chronic regional pain syndrome reduces their pain. Other types of neuralgia also show diminished pain with high dose vitamin C administration. Furthermore, cancer-related pain is decreased with high dose vitamin C, contributing to enhanced patient quality of life.
Oxidative stress and inflammation are known to have a major role in many types of chronic pain, including arthritis, CRPS, infection, cancer and surgical trauma. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that is capable of protecting cells and tissues from oxidative damage.
Vitamin C also acts as a cofactor in numerous enzymatic reactions and has anti-inflammatory properties, providing marked decreases in markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and pro-inflammatory cytokines. It’s not clear what doses of vitamin C will reduce pain, but vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, and higher doses are not harmful.
Magnesium helps maintain 300 different enzymatic reactions within the body. Magnesium also has a calming, relaxing effect, eases depression and anxiety and aiding in more restful sleep. This amazing mineral also soothes chronic pain, due to its muscle-relaxing and analgesic effects.
Magnesium has reported benefits for migraine and tension headaches, low back pain, neuropathy, neuralgia and other forms of chronic aches and pains. These effects are considered to be due to blockage of specific pain receptors, attenuation of central sensitization, and muscle relaxing effects.
Epsom salts are high in magnesium and one of the best most relaxing ways to absorb magnesium is by soaking in a hot bath. The magnesium absorbed in the body from the Epsom salts will help to relax and dilate blood vessels, increasing healing blood flow and helping the healing process.
Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Its popularity comes from its antiaging abilities, and its presence in red wine. It turns out resveratrol may do a lot more than slow down wrinkles, however!
When your body gets an injury, the nerves carry the pain signal to your brain. Those same nerves can also become hyperexcited, which means they turn up the volume on all other sensations. Often, this results in ‘false’ pain caused by hyperexcited nerves. Over time, this hyperexcitability mechanism can turn into chronic pain. It can even lead to opioid dependency and abuse.
Resveratrol, applied topically, can lower this pain, and reduce the excitability of the nerves. Resveratrol works for post-operative pain, neuropathy, arthritis, tendinitis, muscle pain, plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel, and migraines.
S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e) is a supplement commonly used to help with symptoms of depression and to ease the pain of osteoarthritis. The liver naturally produces SAM-e from an amino acid called methionine which is a product of methylfolate, a B vitamin.
SAM-e has several functions, including helping the production and repair of cartilage, clearing the liver of toxins and helping the body with methylation production.
When taken as a supplement, SAM-e can help with symptoms of chronic pain. It is thought to be as effective as the anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex. SAM-e may take a while to work, however. In one study comparing celecoxib and SAM-e, the drug improved symptoms more than SAM-e after only a month. However, by the second month, the two treatments were comparable.
SAM-e is also well-known for its ability to be a natural antidepressant—with no side effects.
While this article focuses on pain strategies, it is important to mention that following general good health guidelines and having a healthy lifestyle will lay the groundwork to help you overcome pain.
Those healthy habits include:
- Stop smoking!
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- If pain keeps you up, try melatonin which is full of powerful anti-inflammatories and antioxidants.
- Do your best to avoid stress. If you cannot get away from it, try meditation and quieting your mind to help lower stress and cortisol.
- Exercise–Multiple studies have shown that exercise can significantly reduce chronic pain, increase nerve function and decrease neuropathy symptoms, and even reduce depression and anxiety that’s so common in chronic pain sufferers. Exercise is perhaps the most important tool in reducing pain. It can also be the hardest to start doing. When you’re in severe pain, exercise seems nearly impossible. The key is to start slow, increase gradually, and respect your body’s limits.
Pain is an individual and subjective experience and may or may not be associated with obvious tissue damage or disease. Pain is often accompanied by other influencing factors, such as mental state, coping strategies, social/cultural context, experience, and other symptoms. Taking care of yourself in a healthy, holistic fashion will pay off far, far better than just taking pain medication.
Here’s wishing you a long, happy, pain-free life.
Before you go…
30-second Himalayan practice fixes knee and joint pain (try it tonight)
Doctors were stunned to discover that a remote Himalayan tribe had almost zero cases of joint or knee pain.
And that’s despite a diet rich in cheese and red meats, and drinking copious amounts of alcohol (all things that are supposed to make knee pain and inflammation worse).
A simple, 30-second trick they practice at 6:45 each morning that can not only prevent — but reverse creaky and stiff knee joints. Here’s how to do it:
>> 30-second Himalayan practice “cures” knee and joint pain (try it tonight)