Schedule a consult with one of our experts in nutrition and pain management at Southwest Pain Management. One of the best ways to reduce inflammation lies not in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator. By following an anti-inflammatory diet, you can fight off inflammation for good as well as decrease your overall pain levels.
One recurring and painful condition for many people is inflammation, which can take many forms. It can be low-level inflammation where we don’t feel the immediate effects. It can occur due to an autoimmune system disease or show up in a common condition such as arthritis. However, sometimes inflammation persists, day in and day out, that’s when it can become your enemy. Many major conditions and diseases that plague us—including chronic pain, headache, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease – have been linked to chronic inflammation. In any form it can be constant, nagging and unhealthy.
Some of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation come from the grocery store. Many studies have shown that certain foods, beverages and supplements have anti-inflammatory effects. When you choose the right anti-inflammatory foods, you may be able to reduce your chance of pain or risk of illness. When you consistently pick the wrong ones, you could accelerate the inflammatory disease process and increase your pain levels. On top of all this, eating is something that we all do every day anyway, and modifying diet to manage pain comes with little to no side effects.
In our Western culture, the typical diet is the Standard American Diet, or the SAD diet. The SAD has been implicated in the obesity epidemic and in the prevalence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, other diseases, and chronic pain. The SAD is characterized by an over-consumption of refined sugars and carbohydrates, salt, and saturated fats. This type of diet is low in fruits and vegetables, has low fiber, is low in pre- and probiotics, and is highly processed and refined. The SAD also has a high-glycemic index, is generally high in additives and preservatives, and is high in inflammatory fats, such as omega-6 fatty acids. The SAD is also often accompanied by a high intake of caffeine and alcoholic beverages. Some of the key concepts of the SAD are that it is depleted of nutrient diversity, and obesity-promoting, and pain-promoting. That’s not surprising, since inflammation is an important underlying mechanism for the development of most pain and many diseases. So, it’s not only SAD, but it’s also painful!
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As we mentioned before, unhealthy foods also contribute to weight gain, which is itself a risk factor for inflammation. Yet in several studies, even after researchers took obesity into account, the link between foods and inflammation remained, which suggests weight gain isn’t the sole culprit. Some of the food components or ingredients may have independent effects on inflammation over and above increased caloric intake.
On the flip side are beverages and foods that reduce inflammation, and with it, chronic pain and disease. To reduce levels of whole-body inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet. If you’re looking for an eating plan that closely follows the principles of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils. An anti-inflammatory diet should include foods like tomatoes, canola oil, olive oil, green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale, and collard greens), nuts and seeds (like almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseed), fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines), and colorful fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and oranges. Coffee, which contains polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds, may protect against inflammation as well.
You should try to avoid or limit foods that cause inflammation as much as possible. Cut back on things like refined carbohydrates (such as sugars, fructose, sucrose, white potatoes, white bread, white rice), french fries and other fried foods, full-fat dairy products, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, red meat (burgers, steaks), processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, deli meats), desserts (like cake, pie, and pastries), and an excess of omega-6 fatty acids (found in margarine, shortening, lard, corn oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, and vegetable oil).
In addition to lowering inflammation, a more natural, less processed diet can have noticeable effects on your physical and emotional health. It is beneficial not only for reducing pain and the risk of chronic diseases, but also for improving mood and overall quality of life.