Pain in the joints, muscles, nerves or ligaments, headaches, back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and intestinal inflammation all have pain in common that, when it does not go away and lasts more than three months, is considered chronic. Chronic pain is a common condition that can worsen the quality of life, limiting some actions, such as shopping or cooking, disturbing sleep, leading to consuming more caffeine and foods rich in sugars and fats and increasing the state of stress and anxiety. For chronic pain, however, help can come from diet. In fact, more and more scientific research is demonstrating that what we eat can help relieve pain thanks to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action of some foods. In fact, in most cases of chronic pain, regardless of the cause, inflammation and excess free radicals are present. Some foods contain substances that, on the other hand, are able to reduce the levels of inflammation and the damage of free radicals, but also to reduce body fat, especially that of the waistline, which is not inert but secretes pro-inflammatory substances that feed the body's inflammation and so chronic pain. So let's see, based on the tips of scientists, which foods should not be missed to counteract pain and which foods should be limited in order not to worsen the inflammatory state.
The anti-pain diet, here is the study
The University of Pavia, Italy, has developed a series of dietary guidelines in order to help those suffering from chronic pain to counter it or at least to mitigate it (Rondanelli et al, Nutrition Research Reviews, 2018). The result is a real food pyramid with tips on which foods should be eaten every day and which ones should be limited. At the base of this pyramid we find water, the supply of which must always be adequate and constant, with the advice of drinking 1.5-2 liters every day. Indeed, dehydration can increase the sensation of pain. Immediately after water, the base of the pyramid is made up of fruit and vegetables, 5 servings in total every day, which provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, capable of reducing inflammation levels and increasing antioxidants. Not only that, fruit and vegetables, thanks to their fiber content, stimulate the production, at the level of the gut microbiota, of butyrate, which is a short-chain fatty acid with an anti-inflammatory action. Frozen fruit and vegetables are also good, since they can be consumed all year round and preserve all their properties (Brain et al, J Clin Med, 2021). Then follow three servings a day of low glycemic index carbohydrates, this means whole grains, brown bread, brown rice and whole wheat pasta. In fact, refined grains have been shown to increase inflammatory levels, especially in cases of chronic but also acute pain. Instead, whole grains, thanks to their polyphenol content, act with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In the anti-pain food pyramid, the condiment par excellence is represented by extra virgin olive oil, about 10 ml per day, which, being rich in unsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols, has a powerful anti-inflammatory action. Extra virgin olive oil should preferably be consumed raw. Then, every day, nuts and oilseeds should be taken, especially walnuts, pistachios, flax seeds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, but also yogurt, preferably with probiotics, which help reduce inflammation and counteract the damage at the level of the microbiota of the medicines taken against pain, spices and herbs, such as rosemary, cinnamon, pepper, thyme, oregano, but above all turmeric, echinacea and ginger. Then follow legumes, including soy that also has a valuable anti-inflammatory action against chronic pain, and fish, to be eaten 4 times a week. Then, to be consumed to a lesser extent, we have eggs, cheeses and poultry, the latter shouldn't be eaten more than twice a week. Once a week the pyramid includes red or processed meat and only occasionally sweets. The top of the pyramid is dedicated to supplements that can be taken, under the supervision of a doctor, to cope with chronic pain. In fact, in these cases, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids are useful.
Foods to limit in order to combat pain
Foods that are too rich in fats, sugars, salt and hydrogenated oils should be limited as they are capable of increasing inflammation levels and thus worsening pain. In fact, studies have shown that, for example, a pro-inflammatory diet increases the likelihood of developing low back pain (Shin et al, Appl Nurs Res, 2022). Some examples of these foods and beverages are soft drinks, candies and sweets, salty snacks and processed meats. Sometimes, to facilitate their consumption and to speed up preparation times, we prefer to buy canned legumes. In this case it is better to choose those with a reduced salt content (Brain et al, J Clin Med, 2021 - Elma et al, J Clin Med, 2022).