Oh those aches and pains that come with aging can sure get us down. We all have pain from time to time that keeps us from performing our best. But when you have to deal with chronic pain, you may be dealing with more than just the pain itself.
Pain and Inflammation
There are 116 million adults in the U.S. that experience chronic pain. Inflammation occurs as a response from the immune system to some type of infection or injury to tissue. More specifically, the body releases proteins and protective chemicals to protect cells and tissues that are under stress, increases blood flow to the injured area, and sends white blood cells and other protective cells to defend against bacteria and viruses. This causes symptoms of redness, swelling, heat, and pain, but once the foreign invader has been fought off these symptoms of inflammation subside and the immune system has done its job. When the body is under chronic stress however, it may start identifying foreign invaders where none actually exist causing the body to attack itself in a sense. This type of chronic inflammation has been found to lead to increased risk of depression, heart disease, autoimmune disease, and infectious disease. It can often lead to conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, digestive problems and skin problems. Many people experiencing the pain from chronic inflammation turn to medications to help them control the pain. According to James A. Duke, PhD, botanist and author of The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods there are many plant based foods that can work just as well as those medications to fight inflammation, work on the condition causing the pain, block pain signals, and that are safer to use.
Inflammation and Diet
The first step in using diet to control chronic inflammation and pain is to eliminate certain foods that are prevalent in many Americans diets. This includes foods that are processed, full of refined carbohydrates and sugars, artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated fats. Co-author of The Art of Body Maintenance: The Winners Guide to Pain Relief, Hal Blatman, MD, has found research indicates that a diet consisting of fatty fish and fish oil to provide omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, fruits, vegetables and other whole foods is the optimal diet for fighting chronic inflammation. Along with chronic inflammation, the body comes under oxidative stress and is subject to a lot of damage from free radicals. Making sure your diet includes lots of foods with antioxidant protection can help not only fight off this damage, but also aid in repairing damaged cells. The pigments found in microalgae have been found to have powerful antioxidant capabilities that can protect cells from damage from heat, infection, heavy metals, and toxins. Microalgae was one of the Earth’s first antioxidants and the wide spectrum of pigments it contains provides more protection for cells from oxidative stress than single antioxidants alone. In addition, there are certain foods that contain compounds and phytochemicals that can help with various aches and pains.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
According to Neal D. Barnard, MD, author of Foods That Fight Pain, the blood vessels by the disks of the spine carry nutrients and oxygen to the disks keeping them healthy. If there is a decrease in the blood flow it can result in the disks degenerating which can cause back pain. Omega-3 fatty acids help keep a healthy blood flow and reduce inflammation in these blood vessels and nerves. Adding fatty coldwater fish like salmon, sardines, trout, and mackerel to the diet can help in getting omega-3 fatty acids. Many experts agree though that supplementation may also be needed as cited by a study in Surgical Neurology that reported a reduction in back and neck pain from taking 1200 mg. a day of a supplement of EPA and DHA omega-3’s. Fish get their omega-3’s from eating algae and so can you. AFA bluegreen algae is not only a rich source of EPA and DHA, but also ALA, none of which our bodies can make on their own. Studies have found that adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet can help with joint pain and swelling from arthritis, add lubrication to stiff joints, reduce headache pain and can be as effective on pain as NSAIDs. Fish also gives you a good lean protein source and antioxidant protection. Other food sources for omega-3s include chia and flax seeds, dark-green leafy vegetables, nuts, and flax and olive oil. Olive oil in particular has been reported to lower the risk of stroke and act as an anti-inflammatory.
Anthocyanins are the antioxidants that give tart cherries, berries and grapes their color. Michigan State University’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources chemist, Muraleedharan Nair, PhD, credits this phytonutrient with being able to block inflammation and work like NSAIDs in inhibiting pain enzymes. A study in the Journal of Nutrition reported a 25% reduction in inflammation by eating a bowl of cherries for breakfast and another study reported runners drinking twelve ounces of tart cherry juice two times a day for a week had less muscle pain. Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland also found drinking tart cherry juice two times a day for 3 weeks to reduce the joint pain from osteoarthritis and according to the Agriculture Department 45 Bing cherries eaten daily for almost a month can significantly reduce inflammation. Experts also find some results in pain reduction from eating blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, blueberries, cranberries, pomegranates, and acai. And of course all these give you the antioxidant benefits of fighting off free radical damage.
Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapple that some studies have shown can reduce swelling in osteoarthritis with its anti-inflammatory properties. Besides eating pineapple, you can get bromelain and other plant based enzymes papain, protease, lipase, and serratiopeptidase and the nutrition from AFA bluegreen algae in this algae enzyme supplement designed to help provide cellular nutrition for the body to be able to recover more quickly from the stress of exercise. In supporting healthy joints this glucosamine algae supplement gives you vegetable-based glucosamine, chondroitin, UC-II® undenatured collagen and AFA bluegreen algae since healthy joints naturally have glucosamine and chondroitin in the cartilage. You can get all this supplementation and more with the ease and convenience of daily packets of capsules in this algae program.
Curcumin is found in turmeric which is a spice used in curry and that Ayurvedic medicine has long used for pain relief with its anti-inflammatory properties. According to Peter Abaci, MD, medical director of the Bay Area Pain and Wellness Center in Los Gatos, CA, turmeric has been found to improve the function of nerve cells and protect against joint inflammation and break down. James N. Dillard, MD, author of The Chronic Pain Solution, adds that when using turmeric in cooking to pair it with black pepper as the piperine in it helps release the curcumin from the turmeric. A study at Baylor University reports turmeric has been found to help with the pain of arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Other studies have found it able to reduce inflammation that can lead to tumors. If you just aren’t a fan of the taste of turmeric, you can still get this relief in supplementation form. This algae turmeric supplement also gives you the antioxidants from wheatgrass juice, noni, and green tea, the immune boosting power of cordyceps mushrooms and the high amino acid content of bee pollen.
This flavonoid gives support in fighting free radicals and has been found effective in pain relief and inflammation. Onions, garlic, and shallots are the best food sources and according to Cornell University, shallots, and yellow and red onions have more of this pain fighting agent than white onions or sweet onions. Studies with garlic have found it to be very similar to ibuprofen in interfering with inflammatory pathways and onions and garlic both have shown the ability to reduce pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and outbreaks of psoriasis.
Other Herbs and Spices
Ginger not only can help a nauseous stomach and help with intestinal problems, but has also been found to be an effective anti-inflammatory for relief from aching muscles, migraines, pain of arthritis, and fighting off oxidative stress with its gingerols and shogaols. The University of Miami reported a reduction in chronic knee pain for those taking ginger extract. Capsaicin found in hot peppers has been found to stimulate nerve endings and reduce a chemical that sends pain signals. You can get capsaicin by eating hot peppers, using cayenne for seasoning, or from applying them topically with creams that contain capsaicin. Menthol found in the herb peppermint has been found helpful with headaches and muscle spasms. You can use the oil from the herb, use it to make tea, or use as aromatherapy by breathing in the scent. Wintergreen is another mint that has been found effective with inflammation and pain as it contains methyl salicylate that blocks pain causing enzymes. Other useful herbs and spices include sage which has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties that can decrease swelling, cinnamon with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and cloves that contain eugenol giving it anti-inflammatory abilities and antioxidant properties.
No one likes to deal with pain and pain medications often have side effects that we don’t want. If you are dealing with chronic pain, try adding some of these natural solutions through dietary changes and see how they affect your pain. Of course, if you are on medications, make sure to consult your healthcare provider as some foods don’t mix safely with certain medications. There have been many reportings of those able to get off of pain meds or at least reduce the amount of pain meds they have to take just with an anti-inflammatory diet to help control their aches and pains. Check it out and see if this is a solution for you.
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Bruno, PhD, Jeffrey, Eat Light and Feel Bright