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Nutrition, Lifestyle

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What is nutrition?  

It is often said: “We are what we eat.”  

There is a strong relationship between diet, health and disease.  

Bad food choices can contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart attack, hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure.  

A bad diet can also exacerbate chronic pain conditions like arthritis.  

Nutrition is your best defence.  

Put simply, nutrition is the study of nutrients in food – and how the body uses those nutrients. It’s our source of energy.  

It’s all about getting the right amount of nutrients from healthy foods in the right combinations.  

The essential nutrients for life include protein, carbohydrates and lipids (fats), as well as fibre, vitamins, minerals, and water.  

The absorption of nutrients starts the moment we begin to digest our foods, as they are transported to assist all the metabolic processes in the human body.  

Therefore it pays to make smart choices about the foods you eat.  

Pain and nutrition  

By choosing the right foods you can achieve optimum health and avoid illness, obesity and chronic diseases.  

The nutrition in certain foods can naturally increase your body’s oxygen levels and eliminate many sources of toxins. It can also improve your digestion and prevent, heal or reduce the severity of various diseases.  

There is a strong relationship between pain and nutrition.  

Recent studies have shown that pain is related to a disturbance of functions within our cells.  

In many cases, a change in diet may have a significant effect on chronic pain.  

For longer term pain relief, some experts suggest a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. Certain foods are known to decrease pain sensitivity and inflammation.  

Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants can provide pain relief.  

Antioxidants are substances that help the body get rid of potentially harmful molecules called free radicals. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and oxidative stress, which play a significant role in persistent pain conditions. 

With a healthy diet you can not only help to minimise your pain, you can also maintain a healthy weight.  

Excessive body weight can worsen pain  

Obesity occurs when there is an imbalance in nutrition – the total amount of calories consumed exceeds the total used through our metabolic processes – such as exercising, sweating and breathing.  

Excess weight puts increased strain on our joints and spine. This can aggravate many painful conditions, including arthritis and lower back pain.  

Loss of excessive weight has been proven to reduce pain and improve joint function in some cases.  

Foods linked to pain  

So what components of food are linked to pain?  

Fats  

There are three main types of fats:

  • Saturated fatty acids – Found in foods such as butter and beef fat.
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids – Found mainly in chicken fat and vegetable oils.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids – This group includes omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids (EFAs).There are high levels found in fish oil, vegetable and nut oils.

Omega 3 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids. This means they are essential to human health, but cannot be manufactured by the body. Therefore, omega 3 fatty acids must be obtained from our diets.  

It is important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega 3 and omega 6 in the diet as these two substances work together to maintain pain pathways and promote health.  

Omega 6 EFAs drive the cell towards more inflammatory and pain promoting pathways. Omega 3 EFAs reduce inflammation and help prevent diseases affecting our hearts and joints, like arthritis.  

A healthy diet should consist of about one to four times more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3 fatty acids.  

Omega 3 has been proven to help with inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain.  

Also, omega 3s have b een found to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease by helping to prevent clotting.  

Sugars  

Sugar comes in many forms – glucose, fructose, lactose and sucrose.  

Table sugar (white, brown, raw, crystals), fruit, milk, honey, jams and syrups are just some of the sources of sugar in our diets.  

A high sugar diet has a number of adverse health effects.  

When you eat sugar, it causes your blood sugar levels to spike quickly, leading to increased insulin production. Higher insulin levels can inhibit the production of growth hormones and weaken your immune system. High insulin levels also contribute to weight gain, and, over time, the stress on your body can lead to diabetes.  

Excessive sugar can weaken the immune system  

Glucose and vitamin C have similar structures, so when you eat sugar, your body's white cells accumulate glucose instead of vitamin C, leaving less room inside the cell for it to accumulate the vitamin C it needs to fight off pathogens. Sugar, therefore, slows your immune system down.  

Sugar can contribute to disease  

By severely disrupting your body's insulin levels, sugar puts strain on your metabolism.  

Over time, excess sugar consumption can lead to autoimmune diseases such as diabetes. It also contributes to weight gain, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension and arthritis.  

Managing chronic pain through nutrition  

Nutrition is often overlooked in managing chronic pain conditions.  

It is important for everyone to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. It is even more important for people suffering from chronic diseases and chronic pain conditions.  

A well-balanced diet can improve overall health and pain levels.  

Conversely, a poor diet can make health problems worse and lead to various problems and deficiencies.  

If you are overweight, losing weight can have many beneficial health effects.  

Cardiovascular (heart) health is improved, inflammation (arthritis pain) is improved and you lower the risk of diseases such as diabetes.  

You also improve blood glucose levels and have more energy.  

Nutritionists or dieticians can advise chronic pain sufferers on the types of food they should be eating to optimise their health and reduce pain levels.  

Studies have shown that certain foods can help to lower pain levels in chronic pain patients when they are eaten as part of a balanced diet.  

A nutritionally-balanced diet is the key to good health  

A special diet may not replace other types of pain treatment, but it can compliment your pain management plan for chronic pain conditions.  

Most nutritionists and dieticians will recommend keeping a food diary or journal to record your diet history.

These are not only excellent tools for people trying to lose weight, but it is an excellent way to ensure you a getting essential nutrients.  

Also, by monitoring your food intake, you can avoid foods or food components known to contribute to chronic pain. 

Many nutritionists use a process of elimination to determine which foods are best for you.

Patients are usually required to avoid certain foods or food groups for 4-6 weeks – and then the results are monitored.  

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About Pain does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment