By: Kelli Kieselbach
Have you ever thought about how the food you eat can influence your chronic pain?
I know some of you would be shaking your head right now – and that’s okay! It’s a connection that often goes unnoticed, however research has shed light on how various aspects of our dietary choices can either aggravate or help alleviate chronic pain.
As a qualified naturopath and clinical nutritionist with a special interest in chronic pain conditions, I’m here to guide you through the intricate relationship between nutrition and chronic pain.
In this blog, we’ll dive into the key factors that connect your daily diet to chronic pain and uncover how making thoughtful food choices can be an excellent tool on your journey to improved health.
The Culprits: How Diet Can Worsen Chronic Pain
It may come as a surprise, but what you eat can significantly impact your pain levels. Here are six fundamental ways in which dietary choices can intensify pain or heighten your perception of it:
A deficiency in vital nutrients can intensify chronic pain. Certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), all have essential roles in managing pain. So, addressing these deficiencies can make a world of difference in pain management. This is not an exhaustive list but are the ones that I see pop up most frequently in clinic. It’s important to know that nutritional deficiencies can occur even with a good diet due to other factors such as stress, where food is grown, the ability to absorb nutrients, medications and health conditions.
Have you heard of inflammatory foods before? If you’ve been suffering with chronic pain for a while now, and like me, follow every chronic pain practitioner under the sun on social media, then chances are you have. However, do you know why it has such a negative effect on your pain? Well, a diet filled with inflammatory foods, such as white bread, fast food, and vegetable oils, not only means production of more inflammatory compounds but can also crank up pain by triggering pain signals in your digestive system, ultimately sending alarm signals to your brain. This not only heightens your pain but also triggers inflammation throughout your body, contributing to central sensitisation.
Central sensitisation = a hypervigilant wound-up nervous system, which is associated with pain and fatigue syndromes, such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
Identifying and eliminating foods that your body is sensitive or intolerant to can be a real game-changer. These foods often trigger inflammatory responses and worsen pain symptoms. Some common culprits include gluten, dairy, oxalates, and food additives. It’s important to seek advice from a qualified practitioner before implementing any major dietary exclusions.
Antioxidants act as your body’s armour, guarding against chronic pain and inflammation caused by oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the result of too many compounds (free radicals) which can cause damage to cells and not enough antioxidants to neutralise them. This elevation in oxidative stress has been associated with chronic pain.
An unhappy gut microbiome (bacteria which live in your digestive tract) can contribute to chronic pain via several mechanisms which I will cover in another blog as it’s such a huge and fascinating topic! Suffice to say the balance and diversity of your microbiome is directly influenced by your fibre intake, fat consumption and how many processed foods find their way into your diet.
Protein isn’t just for athletes; it’s a vital component for everyone, especially when dealing with chronic pain. Consider protein as the crucial workforce responsible for your body’s repairs. Protein also forms the building blocks for critical hormones and brain chemicals that are involved in pain signalling. Ensuring you eat enough protein is a way of equipping your body with the essential tools to facilitate healing and enhance chronic pain management.
It’s important to remember that the effectiveness of these dietary strategies can vary from person to person. Your unique circumstances and the underlying causes of your pain should be considered when crafting a nutrition plan. That’s why individual assessment with a qualified healthcare provider is crucial.
Your diet is a powerful player in either exacerbating or alleviating chronic pain. By recognising the impact of your food choices on your pain perception and incorporating evidence-based dietary strategies, you can take proactive steps toward managing conditions like Fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, Long Covid, Arthritis, Auto Immune Pain Conditions and Migraines.
Article supplied with thanks to Kelli Kieselbach.
About the Author: Kelli Kieselbach is a Naturopath and Nutritionist with a passion for a holistic and natural approach to health and wellbeing. She also works to educate Christian ministry leaders in self care and avoiding burnout.