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Diet and Pain

In their search for relief, more and more people with chronic pain are paying attention to what they eat. Though more research is needed to prove conclusively that dietary changes are effective for pain relief, improving your diet has health benefits that extend far beyond pain reduction. For example, it can help you lose weight and reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease.


Can Diet Help Control Chronic Pain?

Pain medications are quite effective for treating chronic pain, but they aren't without problems. Many people will get adequate relief from their symptoms with pain medications, but medicines aren't 100 percent effective. As a result, most people will continue to experience some amount of pain, even with the best medication treatment.
In addition, all medications come with the risk for side effects, and pain medications are no exception. Finding a balance between pain relief and minimal side effects can be challenging. For these and other reasons, natural approaches to managing pain are appealing, and many people turn to alternative therapies in search of additional pain relief. Some people wonder if certain foods or a specific diet can help.

A Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet Is Good for You

There's no doubt about it -- healthcare providers and researchers have long known the beneficial effects of eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. In 2003, the World Health Organization issued a report examining the impact of diet and lifestyle changes on the development of chronic diseases. It appears that the unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits that have become more of the norm now than in the past have led to a rise in chronic health conditions.
People today are consuming diets high in fat and low in unrefined carbohydrates. In addition, there's been a shift toward a more sedentary lifestyle. People tend to spend their free time engaged in less physically demanding activities, such as reading, watching television, or playing video games. As a result, we've seen an increase in many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
Things that place someone at risk for a condition are known as risk factors. When healthcare providers and researchers talk about risk factors, they generally divide them into those that are modifiable and those that are nonmodifiable. Nonmodiafiable risk factors are things you can't control. For example, if your mother or father had early heart disease, you have a higher risk of having heart disease as well. Modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, are things you have control over.
Research is clear that diet and lifestyle changes are known modifiable risk factors for many diseases. Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are important for reducing your chance of developing medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. And many of these conditions can lead to, or worsen, chronic pain.
But can changing what you eat help relieve chronic pain? The answer to that question is less clear-cut.
To date, no foods or diets have been consistently shown to prevent or improve chronic pain in clinical studies. The majority of studies have either been animal studies or small human studies that weren't scientifically rigorous. Unfortunately, large, well-done clinical trials are lacking.
However, there is some evidence to suggest that certain foods may help reduce inflammation, which could reduce pain for some people. In addition, being deficient in certain vitamins may contribute to pain.
If you're considering trying certain foods for chronic pain, make sure you do so with realistic expectations. It's unlikely you'll be able to completely control your pain through diet alone. So, don't ditch the medications or other proven therapies (such as physical therapy). Also, be wary of fad diets, or diets that claim to be miracle cures for chronic pain. Until more research is available, following a healthy, well-balanced diet is your best bet for overall health.
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