Can Nutrition Really Help With Inflammation And Chronic Pain?

Can Nutrition Really Help With Inflammation And Chronic Pain?

Detoxifying vegetables and fruits

We have all heard the word “inflammation”… but what is it, and is it really that bad? 

What Is Inflammation?

Believe it or not, inflammation is good for us and we need it! When we get injured, our bodies trigger an inflammatory response which causes redness, swelling and pain. This is all in an effort to bring more blood (and therefore nutrients) to the area to help with the healing process. However, when inflammation persists over time when there is no injury present, that is when it becomes problematic.

The Effects of Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation is well recognized as a root cause for many diseases and health conditions. Inflammation has been shown to contribute to obesity; endometriosis; heart disease including stroke; autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis; cancer; diabetes; thyroid issues; inflammatory bowel disease; pulmonary diseases; as well as depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD; and many other chronic pain conditions including arthritis, migraines/headaches, and fibromyalgia. 

What Causes Chronic Inflammation?

Inflammation can be a product of certain diet and lifestyle choices. Inflammation can accumulate over time as a result of continued oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a phenomenon that occurs when there are more damaging “free radicals” in the body than there are protective antioxidants to neutralize them.

Over time, oxidative stress leads to oxidative damage, which in turn leads to chronic inflammation, that promotes the above diseases to occur. 

Inflammation and Pain

To help manage pain, you need to help manage inflammation in the body. This is why NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) are a common strategy for pain relief, these drugs block inflammatory pathways that lead to pain.

Another way to manage inflammation – from the root cause – is through diet!

How Nutrition Can Help with Inflammation and Chronic Pain

Nutrition has a crucial role in helping to reduce inflammation by providing antioxidants and various phytochemicals, fiber, omega-3, as well as specific vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, the importance of nutrition is often grossly overlooked as part of a chronic pain program.

We are here to help you on your journey to a more pain free lifestyle!

Below we list some strategies to help you find some relief from your pain and other pain related symptoms. This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list… but, hopefully a great start to provide you with some direction in the search for relief. Plus, check out our article on our Top 10 Anti-inflammatory Foods!

Anti-Inflammatory Diets

There are many diets that can help reduce inflammation this includes vegetarian diets, the Mediterranean diet, a specific anti-inflammatory diet, or following a gluten-free and dairy-free diet.

Regardless of the exact strategy used, common elements among all these diets include:

  • whole-food based, limiting or excluding processed foods
  • tons of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • increasing intake of Omega-3, while reducing intake of Omega-6
  • avoiding sugar, hydrogenated oils, and processed ingredients

Kylie James, founder of Koru Nutrition, was fortunate to be a part of a study at Brock University which followed individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI). People with an SCI are in a chronic state of low-grade inflammation and are at higher risk of many secondary health conditions as identified above. The study focused on tracking inflammatory markers in the blood while following an anti-inflammatory diet, and how the dietary intervention impacted the participants’ mood, depression and sleep. The study diet was based on whole foods, while avoiding all gluten and dairy products, as well as adhering to a supplement program including omega 3, turmeric, antioxidants, vegetarian protein powder and a greens supplement. After 3 months following the diet the results showed that cytokine levels (inflammatory markers IFN-y, IL-1B, IL-6, CRP) reduced in the blood by 28%. Additionally, depression scores reduced by 55% in 3 months compared to 48% reduction in depression scores when using SSRI’s for 6 months. Pain scores significantly reduced by 39%. Participants also noted significant improvements in weight loss and sleep (3). This study demonstrates the therapeutic role that nutrition has in reducing inflammation, pain, and resulting symptoms.

For more information or support with getting started with a therapeutic anti-inflammatory diet please reach out to us to book an appointment. If you’re a clinician with a client suffering from chronic pain and are interested in making a referral, please fill out our referral form.

Maintain A Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to help mitigate pain experiences. This might be difficult given exercise and activity can contribute to pain, but again that might be another reason why changing the diet becomes such a major step in a rehabilitation and/or pain-reduction program.

One 2012 study published in the journal Clinical Rheumatology found that people with fibromyalgia experienced less pain and depression, had fewer tender points, and slept better after losing weight. This study suggests that weight loss can be an important part of fibromyalgia treatment (1).

A 2019 literature review also suggests that weight loss and eating a low calorie diet can contribute to less pain and inflammation and an improved quality of life (2).

One of the reasons for this is that fat tissue excretes inflammatory markers and can impact hormones, such as the production of excess estrogen, which can promote inflammation. The other important factor is that inflammation contributes to weight gain and weight gain contributes to inflammation, so it is important to work on both to break the cycle.

Vitamin D, Magnesium and Calcium

A 2018 literature review, has linked pain in conditions such as fibromyalgia to low dietary intake of, and low levels of nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D (4). Deficiencies in vitamin D (which is common in Canada in light of our long, dark winters) can be associated with joint, bone and muscle pain. In observational studies, low vitamin D levels have been associated with increased pain and higher opioid doses. Recent interventional studies have shown promising effects of vitamin D supplementation on cancer pain and muscular pain in patients with insufficient levels of vitamin D when starting intervention (6).

Symptoms of calcium deficiency include leg, bone, joint and neck pain; as well as muscle cramps and muscle spasms; numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face; and frequent toothaches. Magnesium deficiency can promote inflammation and contribute to fatigue, sleep and mood problems and muscle dysfunction such as muscle cramps and spasms – all factors that influence pain. Studies show that magnesium can reduce osteoporosis pain, muscle cramps, muscle spasms and myalgia (5).

References 
1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10067-012-2053-x 
2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07853890.2018.1564360 
3. Allison, Thomas, Beaudry and Ditor, 2016 (Journal of Neuroinflammation) 
4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0753332218309697 
5. James, Smith, Eat Well Live Well with Spinal Cor Injury and other Neurological conditions, 2013
6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29057787/ 
7. https://file.scirp.org/pdf/FNS_2014062611410421.pdf 
8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27485230/ 
9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16280438/ 
10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21242652/ 
11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21142420/ 
12. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/bromelain 

 

Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Detoxifying vegetables and fruits

1 in 5 Canadians – that’s 8 million of us – live with chronic pain. Chronic pain impacts children, adults, and the elderly, affecting the way individuals take part in school, work, family life, and within their communities. Unfortunately, with pain often comes reduced activity levels and difficulties participating in daily tasks such as grocery shopping and meal preparation and often people seek out more quick on-the-go foods, prepared foods, or take out to help avoid pain flare ups. This unfortunately can often fuel pain experiences as these types of foods contain many ingredients and substances that contribute to inflammation.

The goal with reducing inflammation and subsequent pain in the body is to remove inflammatory foods from the body such as processed foods, hydrogenated oils, sugars, saturated and trans fats from the diet while integrating anti-inflammatory foods into the diet instead. There are many foods that have been identified as anti-inflammatory foods that have been well researched. To learn more about the role of nutrition and reducing inflammation check out our article Can Nutrition Really Help With Inflammation And Chronic Pain?

Focusing on a few specific foods is a great way to begin incorporating anti-inflammatory foods your diet.

Below are our Top 10 Anti-inflammatory Foods, and some healthy recipes to help you introduce them into your diet.

  1. Turmeric has massive anti-inflammatory benefits! In a review of the effects curcumin has on osteoarthritis, participants reported improvement in pain, physical function, and quality of life after taking curcumin, with decreased use of pain medication. (4) For more about the medicinal properties of turmeric, check out our recent article on the Top 5 Health Benefits of Turmeric. We’ve also created a Turmeric Latte recipe that you’re sure to find delicious, even if you’re not usually the biggest fan of turmeric!
  2. Green tea is rich in flavonoids which are anti-inflammatory, contains fat burning properties to help manage healthy weight, and L-theanine to relax the mind and the muscles. Of course, green tea makes for a simple and delicious cup of comforting tea or as a cold refreshing drink in the summer, but you could also try out our Green Tea Ice Cream recipe for something new!
  3. Berries pack a mighty punch when it comes to fiber, antioxidants and other amazing phytochemicals that can help reduce inflammation. Berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. These compounds have anti-inflammatory effects that may reduce your risk of disease and pain. In one study, adults with excess weight who ate strawberries had lower levels of certain inflammatory markers (10) Check out our Berry Beet Smoothie Bowl!
  4. Oily fish is loaded with omega 3’s which are anti-inflammatory and can help to reduce inflammation and pain and boost mood. One study have found that individuals that consumed salmon or EPA and DHA supplements experienced reductions in the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP). (11) Our Smoked Salmon and Avocado Toast is a simple way to consume more healthy fats!
  5. Dark Leafy greens are an excellent source of nutrients including folate and iron, plus pain relief minerals such as calcium and magnesium, antioxidants including zinc and vitamin C, and fiber. They also contain high levels of anti-inflammatory compounds known as carotenoids, which may protect against certain types of cancer. (8) A simple green salad is always a great way to fit in more greens, but if you’re looking for a way to sneak more greens into your diet without even noticing them… check out our Green Shrek Muffins.
  6. Ginger contains anti-inflammatory compounds that function in the same way as COX-2 inhibitors. COX-2 inhibitors are drugs used to treat pain and inflammation. Researchers in one study found that ginger was an effective pain reliever for human muscle pain resulting from an exercise-induced injury (9). This powerhouse green smoothie is an easy way to include some ginger in your diet!
  7. Shiitake mushrooms have been studied for their protective qualities against cancer and inflammation.  Bioactive compounds in shiitake mushrooms are responsible for their therapeutic effects. (7) If you’re interested in including more mushrooms in your diet, check out our Broccoli & Mushroom Fried Rice because Shiitake mushrooms work perfectly in this dish!
  8. Papaya contains papain, a protein-digesting enzyme. Together with other nutrients such as vitamin C and E, papain helps to reduce inflammation. one study noted that men who increased their intake of fruits and vegetables high in carotenoids such as papaya had a significant decrease in CRP, a particular inflammatory marker (9). Enjoy on its own as a delicious snack.
  9. Extra virgin olive oil offers a rich supply of polyphenols to protect the heart and blood vessels from inflammation. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are also turned into anti-inflammatory agents by the body, which can lower occurrences of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Researcher led by Paul Breslin of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia indicated that a daily dose of 4 tablespoons of olive oil is the equivalent of around 10% of the recommended ibuprofen dose for adult pain relief. This is great as a salad dressing because cooking with olive oil on high heat can damage the oil, destroying many of the health-promoting qualities.
  10. Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that aids in the healing of indigestion, sports injury, trauma and other kinds of swelling. Extracts of bromelain have also proven to be as effective as some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and are used in a number of natural anti-inflammatory supplements for arthritis. Mount Sinai Hospital indicated that studies show bromelain may reduce swelling, bruising, healing time, and pain after surgery and physical injuries. It is often used to reduce inflammation from tendinitis, sprains and strains, and other minor muscle injuries (12). Have pineapple on your own or enjoy it in this high antioxidant green smoothie!

Summary

If you or someone you know is struggling with inflammation and chronic pain, we want you to know that there is hope! Nutrition and lifestyle strategies such as adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, maintaining a healthy weight, optimizing nutrient status, and incorporating specific therapeutic foods can go a long way in reducing inflammation and reducing chronic pain! If you need some support on your chronic pain journey, we’re here to help!

References

1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10067-012-2053-x 
2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07853890.2018.1564360 
3. Allison, Thomas, Beaudry and Ditor, 2016 (Journal of Neuroinflammation)
4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0753332218309697 
5. James, Smith, Eat Well Live Well with Spinal Cor Injury and other Neurological conditions, 2013
6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29057787/ 
7. https://file.scirp.org/pdf/FNS_2014062611410421.pdf 
8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27485230/ 
9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16280438/ 
10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21242652/ 
11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21142420/ 
12. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/bromelain