Eating your way to less pain, illness | News

We all know that a healthy diet is beneficial in so many ways — lower cholesterol, less heart and cardiovascular disease, less diabetes, and better weight control to name a few. But improved pain control? Oh yes, some pain control and prevention is possible for many people.

About 116 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic pain. This is a huge number, almost a third of the adult population. Nutrition for pain is not a new concept.  

Dr. Elizabeth Huntoon, associate clinical professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation neuroscience at Virginia Commonwealth University, spoke about nutrition and wellness at the Moving Beyond Opiods for Chronic pain conference in November 2019.  

She postulates that there is a strong connection between an “anti-inflammatory”-type diet and a reduction in pain. There is no single definition of what an anti-inflammatory diet might include, but a classic example is the Mediterranean Diet, touted for many positive health effects.  

Fish, vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and olive oil are the staples of this diet. Poultry, eggs and dairy products are included and these foods have been shown to reduce and possibly prevent some inflammatory processes.  

Red meat and processed foods should be eaten only occasionally. 

Some foods actually promote inflammation. Highly processed products such as processed meats, refined grains, refined oils, and sugar sweetened beverages should be avoided. 

Oils that are highly refined such as soybean, canola, cottonseed and margarine are not healthy choices. And “low-fat” (not those naturally low in fat such a fruits and vegetables) foods are often highly processed. 

Chronic pain is very serious. Too often patients’ complaints are either disregarded or medicated without an evaluation of lifestyle. Pills, not just opiates, are rarely the only answer to better pain control and sometimes not only don’t help but can be harmful. (The opiate crisis in the United States is a clear example of a harmful outcome.)  

Diet plays an important role. Though sometimes difficult to embrace in our world of fast and convenience foods, a transition to a Mediterranean-style regimen will reap many benefits, including an appreciation for whole and unprocessed foods.  

Regular walking, along with healthier eating, has been shown to lower inflammatory markers (measured in blood) and decrease the risk of inflammation, chronic illness and pain.

Massage therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, guided imagery, music therapy, diet therapy — all are legitimate nonpharmaceutical avenues to pain control.

Diet plays a major role in many other health issues and certain foods have been shown to prevent and sometimes cure some common maladies. Good nutrition is a critical component of health and development including longer life and a lower risk of such illnesses as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Even a few changes in a daily diet can make a lasting difference for more optimal health.  

We all know that adequate dairy intake will promote a stronger immune system and healthy bones and teeth. But are we aware that the little super fruit, acai berries, can reduce cholesterol and improve digestive health? Cinnamon is often recommended to people with diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome.  

Salmon is a strong anti-inflammatory food and can be purchased fresh, canned, smoked, as sushi or sashimi. It has a powerhouse of benefits from reducing cardiovascular disease, enhancing brain health and memory, building strong bones and may have a role in cancer prevention.  

Pumpkin (canned, which most of us use) can help with blood pressure control, reducing the risk of stroke and heart attacks, maintain eye health and help with weight loss. 

The Illustrated Food Remedies Sourcebook is an excellent guide and can be found at

We can benefit in so many ways by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. Chronic pain is debilitating, and medication is truly needed sometimes. But relief and optimal health may be reached just by adopting that “healthy lifestyle,” which includes a healthier diet.

Mia Smitt is a longtime nurse practitioner. She writes a regular column for Tucson Local Media.