You Can Fight Chronic Pain With Food

Not long after I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the complications started to appear. I hated them all, but the one that dismayed me the most was pain.

Most of us fight chronic pain every day, and it only gets worse as we age with diabetes. One of the biggest reasons for our pain is the inflammation that’s a part of diabetes.

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Did you know there are foods that promote inflammation and pain? The list includes things such as red meat, dairy products, processed meat, refined grains like white flour, and artificial food additives like MSG and aspartame.

When I learned that some of the worst offenders are the sugars and trans fats in my Western diet, it made me realize how much was going to have to change.

Thankfully, I found another list. It is full of foods that fight inflammation and improve chronic pain. Here are eight of them, along with explanations of why they work so well.

Eight foods that fight chronic pain
The first food on our list is olive oil, a major component of the Mediterranean diet (a style of eating that can improve diabetes control). Olive oil may be one big reason why that diet works so well.

The saturated fats in our Western diet are known to stir up inflammation. Olive oil, on the other hand, contains a compound that inhibits the mechanism of pain. It has many other benefits as well, but this one was enough to win me over.

Second on the list are whole grains like wheat and quinoa. They are full of fiber that helps with weight loss and slows digestion. Some types of carbohydrate raise blood sugar quickly and can trigger inflammation, but the fiber in whole grains keeps the impact of the carbohydrate to a minimum.

Also, whole grains are full of vitamins and minerals that are missing from processed grains. One example is magnesium, which is known for reducing muscle pain.

The third food is salmon, which along with other various other cold-water fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids — known to be great inflammation fighters. Also, three ounces of salmon has enough vitamin D to cover half of the daily dose recommended for adults.

Lack of vitamin D is a common cause for pain in joints and muscles. The best source of vitamin D is sunshine, but we do not always get enough, so adding salmon to the diet makes a lot of sense.

The calcium and vitamin D in dairy foods make bones stronger, but dairy is known for causing inflammation. So the fourth food on this list may come as a surprise: yogurt.

Yogurt has the calcium and vitamin D you need to help improve chronic pain, but it also has enzymes that make milk easier to digest. This reduces its inflammatory effect and keeps dairy in your diet.

While you are deciding which yogurt to buy, keep in mind that many have added sugars. My favorites are the Greek yogurts, because they typically have less added sugar and higher protein levels.

Fifth on our list of pain-fighting foods is actually a spice, or, to be more specific, two spices: Turmeric, used in a lot of Thai and Indian recipes, has been shown to reduce inflammation from arthritis. In a clinical test comparing curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) to a drug for arthritis pain, the curcumin was found to work better than the medicine.

Ginger, a common spice in desserts, has been found in some studies to be as effective as aspirin for reducing pain. Many of us have taken ginger for dizziness and nausea, but now we might fight chronic pain with it too.

Number six is on this list is spinach. One cup of fresh raw spinach has more than 100% of your daily requirement of vitamin K. This vitamin promotes strong bones and may help improve the health of joints — the very joints that inflammation likes to attack.

Vitamin K also speeds up the healing process, which is good news because diabetes can slow healing.

It is important to note that vitamin K plays a major role in blood clotting, so talk to your medical professional if you are on a blood thinner like warfarin (Coumadin and others) or daily aspirin. Let him know you are getting vitamin K from eating spinach.

Seventh on our list are fresh berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. They contain lots of vitamin C and other antioxidants, which are powerful aids for fighting pain. Berries can also slow the loss of cartilage, a major cause of chronic pain in joints.

Low-glycemic berries are already considered a superfood in the diets of people with diabetes, so finding out they are pain fighters makes them a food I never want to be without.

Eighth on the list are cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. The strong smell and taste that many people do not like are from a compound called sulforaphane.

This is an organic sulfur that seems to have anticancer and antimicrobial effects. It also may reduce inflammation in arteries.

However, cruciferous vegetables can make goiters (enlargement of the thyroid gland) worse, so those of us with thyroid problems need to talk to our dietitians and health-care providers before we eat these veggies.

Find what works for you
With such a long and varied list, I hope you find a few foods that help fight your chronic pain. You are unique, so some things may work for you, while others may not.

Try the ones you like and see what happens. I would love to know whether they make a difference.

Chronic pain can keep us from exercise, which is a shame because exercise is one major thing that will improve chronic pain. Anything that helps us stay active will aid in our fight against Type 2 diabetes and its complications.

Whatever you do, please do not give up.

  • Victor Najjar

    The key is how much Curcumin or ginger? Does taking it as a pill produce the effect of is that overkill.

  • joan

    Thank you for the info on food choices for D pain etc. I find that I have used them all over the years without realizing what they did for me except that I knew them to be healthful choices.

    Also these food choices may be the reason I have had no pain in 58 years and heal quickly as a T1D.!!

    Joan [(:0]

  • Joe

    Victor: Those are the million dollar questions. Unfortunately, food-based medicines receive much less study than pharmacuticals, and much of the information is anectdotal. The only good answer at this point is, “whatever works for you.” We all have to run our private clinical trials with ourselves as test subjects and figure out what helps us personally.

    As far as taking a pill, often trying to eat enough highly aromatic spices like turmeric or ginger to be theraputic is a challenge Adding some pills may be the only way to go. Of course, always choose supplements that are as pure as possible. Some brands contain more fillers than product.

  • Martha Zimmer

    Victor, I agree with Joe. It is hard with supplements to know what you are really getting. Plus, how much do you really need?

    Whole foods with added spices is my favorite way to get the benefits, but your journey may take you a whole different route. I hope you find what works for you.

  • Rick

    My breakfast: It started as oatmeal and now I call it my seed concoction. I start by putting Freekeh seed, Chia seed, Quinoa, Coconut or olive oil, Oregano and Cilantro in a pan with water and boil. While that is busy soaking up the water. Separately in a bowl I add Oatmeal, Cinnamon, Pine nuts, Pecans, Walnuts, Turmeric, Ginger, Bee pollen, Hemp seed, Honey, Nutmeg & Cumin. Then I combine all and add almond milk.

    Lunch is all fruits and vegetables & some smoked salmon. I’ve also substantially reduced eating processed foods.

    I’m convinced that the food I eat has made a big difference in my life. I’m 63, full of energy and somewhat oblivious to pain. Examples: I got a case of the Shingles on my chest and back with no pain or itching, at all. Two weeks after that hit, while in an attic, I fell through a ceiling landed on a joist and broke a rib. I worked that day and the following before I noticed that something was moving in my back. I went to the doctors, he asked where it hurt, I said it didn’t hurt. Well then your rib is not broken. I said, well something is moving in my back, put your finger right there. He did, it moved, and he said, your rib is broken. What the hell do I know.

    My construction job is physically demanding and I get considerable exercise hiking, dancing, cycling and climbing through the tubes and bars chasing my grandchildren around the playground equipment.

    I have diabetes. I take no medications and once or twice a year I have my blood tested and the numbers are always good. My doctor said I’m his hero.

  • Martha Zimmer

    Rick: Wow! You are my hero now too.