The relationship between nutrition and chronic pain

Good nutrition is an important part of maintaining our health. Recent research indicates that eating healthy may also help those dealing with chronic pain.

Most of us know the importance of good nutrition and the positive effects it has on our health. A well balanced diet helps us:

  • Look, feel and perform better
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce fatigue and increase energy
  • Reduce the risk of certain diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers.

Good nutrition is also important for people dealing with chronic pain. Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three to six months and exceeds what is considered a normal amount of time needed for healing and recovery. Stanford School of Medicine’s Chronic Pain Self-Management Program says there is no such thing as a “chronic pain diet,” however; nutrition is an important part of the self-management process. Eating healthy can help people with chronic pain in many ways.

According to Stanford, the role of nutrition and its effect on pain is still in the early stages of research. There are several studies that show certain substances in foods may help with reducing inflammation, improving mood and reducing the sensation of pain. Examples include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids – This is found in foods such as flaxseed, walnuts, halibut, shrimp and winter squash. Studies suggest that foods high in Omega-3 may reduce migraine headaches, inflammatory pain and pain associated with multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
  • Tryptophan – This is present in dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, cottage and parmesan cheese, as well as other foods such as sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Chocolate, oats, bananas, poultry and turkey also have high levels of tryptophan. Tryptophan may be helpful in reducing neuropathic pain and improving sleep.
  • Fiber – Foods high in fiber are effective in preventing constipation which is known to aggravate back pain.
  • Soy-enriched diets may have positive effects in reducing neuropathic pain.
  • Green tea and cherries may have pain-relieving properties.

Michigan State University Extension recommends talking to your doctor if you are suffering from any type of pain that doesn’t go away. It’s also important to remember that even though good nutrition may assist with reducing pain, it should never replace other forms of treatment prescribed by a health professional.

MSU Extension offers a workshop called Chronic Pain PATH (Personal Action Towards Health). This six week series teaches the skills and tools needed to help people living with chronic pain improve their health and manage their pain.

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