Amy Beausang | Food can be a real pain in your…
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Food can be a real pain in your…

We’re accustomed to seeing dietary guidelines from entities like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, because it makes sense, right? Our diet impacts our blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health, blood sugar, diabetes risk. Of course.

But now it appears that the Academy of Integrative Pain Management (AIPM) will be releasing their own food guidelines soon.

Huh? What does diet have to do with pain?


According to Dr Robert Bonakdar, director of pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California, nutrition can affect pain through many mechanisms. “Diet can influence inflammation, shift the microbiome, modulate the immune system, improve joint function, eliminate pain triggers, and reduce deficiencies.”

This basically means that the foods we choose to eat impact how inflamed we are, what types of microbes live in our bellies (beneficial or harmful), how reactive our immune systems are (many painful conditions are triggered by auto-immunity), and how achy our joints are.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is woefully lacking in vegetables, fruits, fiber, and healthy fats. In other words, real food. Roughly 60% of the SAD consists of processed foods. Eating this way ramps up markers of inflammation, like C-reactive protein (CRP). Elevated CRP has been linked to pain intensity–the higher the CRP, the greater the pain severity.

Dr Bondakar also points out that highly processed foods can excite mast cells, causing them to release potent inflammatory mediators like histamine and cytokines. Over-excited mast cells are linked to migraine, fibromyalgia, and nerve pain.

To put it simply, we get out what we put in. If we eat toxic, pro-inflammatory foods we’re more likely to end up with pain and inflammation.

The opposite also applies: vegetables, healthy fats, whole fruit, fiber, clean protein (again, REAL FOOD) can reduce pain and inflammation. These types of foods can also shift the microbiome (gut bugs) to a more beneficial and diverse population.

There is certainly a question around grains when it comes to inflammatory conditions. While I think many healthy people can tolerate and even benefit from whole grains, there are many conditions driven by inflammation that most likely benefit from eliminating grains. People with thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, celiac, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, multiple sclerosis, or any issue driven by inflammation often feel much better when they eliminate grains.

Bottom line: we can’t just think of pills as the only remedy for pain. They do very little if anything to address the origin of the problem, and often come with dangerous risks. Food really can make a difference either way: it can generate more pain, or it can actually help ease it.

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