Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dietary Management of Pain

A Plateful of Pain – or Energy?

Diane Gross, L.Ac.

Food is intended to give pleasure, as well as nourish, strengthen and energize your body.  The problem is that most of us developed eating patterns that, while satisfying taste buds, do not optimally nourish.  Certain foods increase the inflammatory response and pain levels in the body.

Eating pseudo-food filled with numerous chemicals has become commonplace.  Many Americans can go for weeks without so much as eating a fresh green vegetable.  The problem with this pattern for people dealing with overuse is that your body needs adequate nutrition in order to heal the myriad “micro traumas” and reduce the inflammation that can occur with overuse injury.

It is important to minimize foods that increase the body’s inflammatory response and pain levels.  Some commonly eaten foods and food additives have been shown in research studies to provoke an inflammatory response, cause cellular death and increase pain levels in the body.

Avoiding foods and food additives known to increase pain and inflammation in the body, while concurrently adding foods and herbs that reduce inflammation can be an important part of a comprehensive program of preventing and managing pain.  Eating foods that are natural and unprocessed is one of the easiest ways to ensure the foods you eat are nutritious and nourishing.

Some helpful things to know about diet and managing pain are:

  • Excitotoxins:   Monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, yeast extract, textured protein and soy protein isolate (a common ingredient in many soy-based meat substitute products) and refined sugars are among the culprits that may be implicated in the increase of pain levels in the body.  These substances are considered to be “excitotoxins.”

Excitotoxins are toxins known to hyper-stimulate and excite neurons, the primary cells of the nervous system.  This can lead to injury, or even death, of the neurons.  Additionally, these foods can cause the body to release several neuropeptides, or amino acids, two of which are “Substance P” and glutamate.  Substance P is an important link in the transmission of pain signals in the body.  It can also increase the body’s inflammatory response that is intricately associated with pain.  Glutamate functions directly as an excitotoxin.

Eating excitotoxic foods not only can increase and sharpen a person’s experience of pain, but has also been shown to negatively impact a number of neurological and other disorders including fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, various skin diseases, and seizures, as well as some autoimmune disorders.


  • Food and the Inflammatory response: 


  •  Eat too much animal protein.  It contains arachidonic acid which can contribute to inflammation and pain if eaten in excess.  It is commonly found in meat, eggs, and shellfish.
  •  Eat too much sugar or refined products due to their inflammatory producing quality.


  •  Take Fish Oil (unless you are allergic to fish, have a food sensitivity to fish or are on a blood thinner).  Fish oil is one of the things I prescribe most to patients dealing with issues of chronic pain or inflammation.  I think fish oil is best for those without fish allergies since the body does not have to “convert” it for use like it must do with plant based oils.  Additionally, many of the plant-based sources of essential fatty acids have a lot of omega 6 and 9.  Most Americans already consume too much of these, and in excess these can cause inflammation.  If you opt to use fish oil, make sure it is heavy metal free (mercury, lead, cadmium, etc.).
  • Add flaxseed (ground), pumpkin seeds and walnuts.  These can help reduce arachidonic acid, and therefore inflammation.
  • Eat foods and spices that can block enzymes known to increase pain and inflammation.  These are known as anti-inflammatory foods.  They include ginger, cayenne pepper, turmeric, green tea, red wine, pineapples, avocados, garlic, onions and fish oil.

Nightshades and Arthritis:  If there is an underlying arthritic condition there are several additional foods that are thought to be detrimental.  They are generally known as nightshades.  The most commonly consumed nightshades include white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers (any kind) and paprika.  I have seen miraculous results when people afflicted with arthritis completely eliminate these foods from their diet.

In contrast, Oriental medicine considers cherries (especially black cherries) to be the best food therapy for arthritis.  Turmeric and prickly pear is also extremely beneficial.  These interventions can be helpful to someone who is experiencing arthritis, while at the same time trying to prevent or manage overuse symptoms.

pH Balance:  Your body should be slightly more alkaline than acidic.  Ideally, it should remain within a range of 6.8 and 7.5.  However many, if not most, Americans fall well below that level.  The ramifications of being in a chronic acidic state are significant. It impacts every system in the body.  If the pH levels are too low, a condition called acidosis results. Your body’s pH affects your electrolyte levels, which in turn affect the assimilation of needed nutrients.  Eventually this can cause weakening of the body, provide a medium in which unhealthy cells proliferate, and make it difficult for the body to heal.

The chief reason your body becomes acidic is the intake of acid-forming foods and drinks.  Some common culprits include coffee, tea, milk, soda, meat, refined sugar and fruit juices.  Some common foods that help alkalinize the body include celery, raw spinach, broccoli, lemons (although they are acidic, they leave an alkaline “residue”), maple syrup, green vegetables and apples.