I recently attended a national conference in Las Vegas called PAINWeek. It’s where practitioners in the medical field come together to discuss the topic of pain. Chronic pain is a complicated issue, and prescription medications are not enough. The best approach to chronic pain management is a holistic approach.
This year I shared two presentations at PAINWeek. It Takes a Village: Caring for the Whole Patient From an Integrative Therapies Approach, and Nutrition for Chronic Pain.
Pain is often addressed with the use of pharmaceuticals such as NSAIDs and opioids. And yes, these drugs do help to relieve pain symptoms effectively in the short term, but they also come with a long list of side effects. Longterm use of medications alone for chronic pain isn’t enough. There are number of factors that contribute to pain that medications don’t deal with.
When it comes to caring for a patient, an integrative approach can help to reach the causes of pain rather than just the symptoms alone.
Diet for Chronic Pain Management
The way you live, eat, drink, and sleep can all have an effect on the inflammation in your body. Certain nutrients and foods for example, have the power to impact inflammation like a light switch. It can turn inflammation on, and it can turn inflammation off.
When I work with patients, the first thing I do is ask them about their diet. A lot of people are surprised to hear that nutrition can play a major role in how they’re feeling.
Diet is an important part of maintaining the health of the microbiome. We have a mass of microorganisms that live inside of us, and the majority of them live in the gut. It’s where 70-80% of our immune system lives, and where 80% of our serotonin is produced. So it’s no surprise that the health of our microbiome has a profound effect on inflammation, immunity and even our mood.
Your diet directly affects the balance of the bacteria in your gut and how your microbiome responds. You are what you ingest, digest and absorb.
Most North Americans today eat a diet that is extremely high in processed food. It’s also very low in micronutrients. You need a large amount of your vitamins and minerals from plants. A healthy diet should include an abundance of whole foods like vegetables, fruit and legumes.
An anti-inflammatory diet is one way that people can get more nutrition and reduce the inflammation in their body. It takes out foods from the diet that increase inflammation in the body, and adds more foods that help to decrease inflammation.
Turmeric is a great example of a nutritional pain killer. It has subtle effects on the inflammatory system that relieve pain but still promotes healing. Some of the anti-inflammatory drugs prevent healing. Inflammation is a necessary first step to the healing process, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories called NSAIDs can interfere with that healing step. Turmeric has been studied for osteoarthritis and has been used prior to surgery to reduce the need of opioids and NSAIDs needed after surgery helping to improve longterm recovery.
Omega-3 fats found in fish, nuts and seeds like flaxseeds or chia seeds are another good example of how food can improve pain. Omega-3 fatty acids contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) that help to lower inflammation in the body. They also help to improve mood.
Other nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium have also been shown to have an effect on pain. Patients with deficiencies in vitamin D tend to use more pain medications than those with healthy vitamin D levels. That’s because vitamin D is known to reduce inflammation.
Magnesium functions as an effective muscle relaxant which I’ve found to be beneficial to my patients that suffer with myofascial pain, leg cramps, neuropathic pain and diabetes.
Chew on this
The best strategy for chronic pain management is holistic. Using integrative medicine and addressing the way you eat are important for managing inflammation in the body.
Food can both increase and decrease inflammation. It also has an intricate relationship with the health of our microbiome. Our gut plays a large role in inflammation, immunity and our mood.
A nutrient dense and anti-inflammatory diet provides the foundation of health you need while lowering inflammation in the body. Superfoods like turmeric and omega-3-rich foods have pain-relief properties that can help the body to heal.
Have you ever noticed a difference in your physical health after making dietary changes? Share your experience in the comments below.