Going gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian… all of these popular diets share a common theme, which is to avoid one or more major food groups. Some people take on these new eating plans for ethical reasons, while others may have a dietary intolerance that forces them to stay away.
But what about chronic pain — could omitting certain foods from your diet help to ease your discomfort? To answer this, we must first understand the interplay between food, inflammation, and pain.
Dietary Factors and Inflammation
While acute inflammation is the body’s normal reaction to illness or injury, chronic inflammation occurs when the body continues to issue this innate immune response over a prolonged period of time. Instead of just attacking foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria, prolonged inflammation can damage healthy cells as well, including those found in your joints, muscles, and other tissues.
Low-grade, chronic inflammation is suspected to be an underlying cause of many sources of chronic pain, including:
- Chronic low back pain
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Your diet can have a significant influence on your pain levels, largely because of the relationship between what you eat, and inflammation in your body. Alcohol, red meat, soda, refined carbohydrates, and omega-6 fatty acids may all contribute to increased inflammation, while plant-based foods and whole grains can help curb it.
What’s the Best Diet to Control Chronic Pain?
Chances are you don’t need to avoid an entire food group to alleviate your chronic pain, unless you have a known allergy or intolerance to that specific food. For example, people with celiac disease must avoid gluten to prevent an intense immune reaction in the small intestine, which could cause serious health issues, including joint pain.
If a restrictive diet works well for you in other ways, there’s no harm in following it as long as you get a full range of nutrients through other sources, or if needed, with supplements. But note that a 2020 study analyzing dietary patterns and their effect on chronic pain across ten years of research indicates participants struggled to maintain highly restrictive eating habits, especially in diets that omitted several food groups, such as the ketogenic diet.
“The main issue with harshly restrictive diets,” says Carl Brinkman, PA, “is that they’re difficult to sustain. But your chronic pain may stick around much longer.”
In most cases, following a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to give your body the nutrients it needs to perform well while controlling inflammatory triggers. A better alternative to restrictive eating might be to consider what you could add to your diet to increase nutritional density. For example, attempting to “eat the rainbow” of multicolored foods could increase your intake of various nutrients, as different color groups have distinct nutritional properties.
If there’s one thing you do want to restrict, putting a limit on heavily processed foods may help with your chronic pain. These “middle of the grocery store” items often have ingredients linked to inflammation, which can exacerbate your suffering.
If you’re struggling with chronic pain, allow our providers to help. The team at United Physicians Group offers tailored treatments to eliminate pain and restore your quality of life. Connect with us online or call (833) 523-0906 to schedule an appointment.