Chronic pain can be very disturbing and sometimes we need certain foods to help ease the pain rather than medications.
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Chronic pain affects mostly adults and while pain pills reduce suffering, they can be addictive and produce side effects. Worse, they often fail to eliminate the true cause of the pain. “No matter how well you prescribe medication, chronic sufferers don’t get complete relief,” says James N. Dillard, MD, author of The Chronic Pain Solution. “It’s an enormous problem, and the medical community is doing a bad job solving it.” But there is an alternative, and it’s right in your kitchen. Certain foods ease aches by fighting inflammation, blocking pain signals, and even healing underlying disease.
“Almost always, if we find pharmaceuticals doing the trick, we’ll find a plant doing the same trick and doing it more safely,” says botanist James A. Duke, PhD, author of The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods. But before you can reap these rewards, you have to quit the junk food that riles up your body’s pain system. The typical Western-style diet is heavy on foods that promote inflammation, including highly processed foods and refined carbs. No fruit, vegetable, or herb by itself can alleviate your pain if you don’t change the pattern of your diet to reduce processed food and increase whole foods.
This may not be easy, says Peter Abaci, MD, medical director of the Bay Area Pain and Wellness Center in Los Gatos, CA. “But if you stay committed to a good nutrition plan, you may be able to say good-bye to pain.” Click through these 10 pain-fighting foods.
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Here are 6 pain-fighting foods that help ease pain naturally:
The Target: Arthritis, muscle pain
The Dose: 45 daily
Compounds in cherries called anthocyanins, the same phytonutrients that give cherries their rich ruby hue are powerful antioxidants that work in two ways to tamp down pain. “They block inflammation and they inhibit pain enzymes, just like aspirin, naproxen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories,” says Muraleedharan Nair, PhD, natural products chemist at Michigan State University’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources.
One study in the Journal of Nutrition showed that people who ate a bowl of cherries for breakfast reduced a major marker of inflammation by 25%. Other researchers found less muscle pain in runners who drank 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days before a distance run.
The Target: Migraines, arthritis, sore muscles
The Dose: ¼ teaspoon daily
This spicy root is a traditional stomach soother, easing seasickness and nausea. It’s believed to work by breaking up intestinal gas and possibly blocking a receptor in the gut that induces vomiting. But there are good reasons to eat ginger even when you’re not doubled over. Another natural aspirin impersonator and anti-inflammatory, it can offer relief from migraines, arthritis pain, and muscle aches. There are plenty of ways to include ginger in your diet.
Add it grated into Asian dishes, smoothies, and juice. Or make ginger tea by placing sliced, peeled ginger root in boiling water and letting it steep for 15 minutes. For ginger lemonade, combine grated ginger root, lemon juice, and honey with ice water.
The Target: Ulcers
The Dose: 1 cup daily
Ulcers are the result of a pathogen called H. pylori, which attacks the protective lining of the stomach or small intestine. Antibiotics are the usual cure, but you can help prevent ulcers in the first place by drinking cranberry juice, thanks to its ability to block H. pylori from adhering to the stomach lining.
One study found that just under a cup a day for 3 weeks eliminated almost 20 percent of all cases of H. pylori infection without drugs. But the juice becomes inflammatory when it’s loaded with sugar, so grab a bottle of natural cranberry juice. If it’s too bitter, add water or a natural sweetener such as Stevia.
The Target: Achy back, neck, joints
The Dose: Two to three 3-ounce servings weekly
Eating fish low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve back pain. In a healthy back, blood vessels at the edge of spinal disks transport crucial nutrients to those disks. If blood flow is diminished, the disks lose their source of oxygen and other nutrients, and they begin to degenerate, says Neal D. Barnard, MD, author of Foods That Fight Pain.
Omega-3s help by improving blood flow and tamping down inflammation in blood vessels and nerves. But for the full effect, you may need supplements. One study in the journal Surgical Neurology found that taking 1,200 mg or more of EPA and DHA per day could reduce both back and neck pain.
The Target: Headaches
The Dose: Two 4-ounce cups
Coffee isn't just a morning pick-me-up, it is a good medicine. Caffeine helps reduce pain by narrowing the dilated blood vessels that develop with headaches and it delivers a one-two punch by reducing pain-promoting compounds and amplifying the effect of other pain relievers too. (But be warned: If you're a java junkie, too much caffeine can have the opposite effect. When you quit, you can get withdrawal headaches. Coffee works as a headache reliever only if you don't consume it regularly).
The Target: IBS
The Dose: One or two 8-ounce containers daily
For people who have irritable bowel syndrome, stomach pain is a given. But help may come in the form of a bug (billions of bugs) actually. Several bacterial strains that are often in yogurt (especially B. infantis and L. acidophilus) reduce pain, inflammation, and bloating, according to a 2010 review. Another study found similar results with B. lactis. But shop smart. Not every yogurt contains probiotics. Look for a brand with "live and active cultures." Vegans can get their daily dose from pro-biotic enriched soy yogurt.