Could Low-Sugar Anti-Inflammatory Diets Reduce Chronic Pain?

Could Low-Sugar Anti-Inflammatory Diets Reduce Chronic Pain?

Nearly 80 million Americans—or one in four—struggles with chronic pain. The deep bone pain, chronic headaches, and popping joints such pain can cause lead many sufferers to believe they have a serious medical condition. More frequently, though, the pain is muscle pain that's radiated to other parts of the body. Pain in your neck, for instance, can cause splitting headaches. Our contemporary lifestyles may offer plenty of conveniences, but fast food, endless hours sitting in front of a screen, and inadequate exercise all conspire to leave many people in intense pain. What you eat matters, though, and may even be the key to finally lifting fog of pain.

Understanding the Cycle of Inflammation

A generation or two ago, chronic pain was still poorly understood. Most pain patients got nothing more than a prescription for addictive drugs—or, if they were really lucky, a plan for surgery. Nowadays research is increasingly pointing toward inflammation as a cause of chronic pain. When your body is injured, it initiates an inflammation cycle that protects your muscles, allowing them to heal. But lack of exercise, long-term injuries, and even stress that causes you to repeatedly tense your muscles can trap your body in a cycle of inflammation. When this happens, your muscles are constantly inflamed, leading to intense pain.

Worse still, that pain can prevent you from exercising, making the pain even worse. If you don't understand chronic pain, you may even turn to pain relievers, or give up entirely on ever feeling better. This allows your muscles to get even more inflamed, making the problem progressively more difficult to remedy.

Why Food Matters

It's taken doctors a long time to accept that what people eat matters, and some chronic pain sufferers remain skeptical that something as simple as a change in diet could “fix” chronic pain. Food is what fuels your body, though, and if you want to feel good, you have to choose the right fuel. Some foods are more likely to inflame body tissues than others, and the results can be disastrous. Not only does inflammation lead to chronic pain; it's also linked to depression, gastrointestinal problems, infertility, anxiety, insomnia, and a host of other health difficulties.

What to Eat

A number of diets can help reduce inflammation, and the right approach for you depends on your dietary needs. For instance, vegetarians may struggle to get adequate protein on a traditional anti-inflammatory diet, while a person with celiac disease may need to alter the diet to comport with his or her other medical needs. For some chronic pain sufferers, consumption of sugar and highly acidic foods can flare up inflammation symptoms. Talk to your doctor or a skilled nutritionist about your best options. Generally speaking, an anti-inflammatory diet embraces the following principles:

  • Eat large quantities of fruits and vegetables, especially those with anti-oxidant properties.
  • Minimize your consumption of refined sugars, including white breads and sweetened snacks.
  • Eat healthy snacks, such as dark chocolate.
  • Prioritize whole grains.
  • Minimize consumption of trans and saturated fats.
  • Eat medicinal spices such as ginger, garlic and turmeric, which may reduce inflammation.

Dairy, red meat, factory-farmed meat, sugar, and alcohol top the list of inflammatory foods. If you have food allergies or sensitivities, the foods to which you are allergic are likely sources of inflammation for you.