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Does an anti-inflammatory diet play a role in pain prevention? It’s a worthy—and natural—strategy, considering that pain management has spawned an opioid crisis—one of the worst public health crises of our time. (See the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services post “HHS Acting Secretary Declares Public Health Emergency to Address National Opioid Crisis.”)
Research, however, is slowly shedding light on pain and pain management. A new study of more than 400 Emergency Department patients with acute extremity pain found that the patients did not experience significant differences in pain relief with ibuprofen and acetaminophen (over-the-counter painkillers) or three different opioid and acetaminophen combinations. The research raises serious questions about the efficacy of opioids for the treatment of pain.
Scroll to the bottom of this story for two simple and healthy recipes:
- Healing Turmeric Vegetable Soup
- Inflammation-Fighting Berry Smoothie
Anti-Inflammatory Diet Guidance
Although food is not a quick fix or substitute for prescribed medication, an anti-inflammatory diet may be helpful if you experience pain due to a medical condition related to inflammation. A 2016 study (click here for details) supported the powerful effects of food on inflammation. Foods that contain anti-inflammatory properties can help to reduce pain and flare-ups associated with inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and diabetes.
Anti-inflammatory diet foods include fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, and fresh spices and herbs. We address each of these categories—plus the foods you’re better off avoiding—in our list of five tips for keeping an anti-inflammatory diet. (See also our post “Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Do They Work?“)
FYIOPIOIDS AND PAIN
In addition to overdose deaths related to today’s opioid epidemic, misuse, abuse, and addiction are additional complications. In some cases, an opioid addict may move on to life-threatening street drugs like heroin and fentanyl (100 times stronger than morphine). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid prescribing by medical doctors continues to fuel the epidemic. (See also our post “What Are Opioids?“)
#1. Get your daily dose of fruits and vegetables.
Leafy greens like kale and spinach are rich in vitamin-K, which can help lower inflammation. Berries and cherries help support your immune system and contain antioxidants called anthocyanins which have anti-inflammatory effects. Beans are also filled with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory substances. The USDA recommends you fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables with every meal and snack.
#2. Have herbs and spices handy.
Add antioxidants and fresh flavor to your food at the same time. Turmeric contains a valuable substance called curcumin. Boasting powerful anti-inflammatory effects, this strong antioxidant has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb. Garlic also offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
#3. Fight pain with nuts and seeds.
Nuts and seeds offer healthy fat to curb inflammation. Consume them in moderation (about a handful per day) as they are high in saturated fat and calories.
#4. Add fish to your dish.
Oily cold-water fish (wild is best) such as salmon, herring, and sardines contain a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which function as an inflammation-fighter. Enjoy these foods about twice per week.
#5. Steer clear of these foods.
Avoid foods that are very sweet, heavily processed, or deep-fried (rethink those donuts!). To do this, spend more time cooking your own food without added sugar and using very little oil.
- High-fat meat is not a treat. Meats can contain large amounts of unwanted saturated fat, which can lead to inflammation and many other health problems.
- Retreat from sweet. In addition to a whole host of problems, sugar causes the body to release inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Steer clear of soda pop, juice, packaged baked goods, and other sweet “treats” that contain added sugar.
- Forget fried foods. When your omega-6s and omega-3s balance in your body is off, inflammation sets in. To avoid this imbalance, limit the amount of fried foods you eat. Try steaming, roasting, grilling, boiling, and slow cooking your foods instead.
- Toss all trans fats. Research has shown that trans fats trigger systemic inflammation and pain. Most trans fat is created by an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, causing the oil to become solid at room temperature. This “partially hydrogenated” oil gives processed foods a longer shelf life. It is found in baked goods, packaged foods, creamer, margarine, and many other packaged foods. In the United States, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in one serving, the food label can legally say “0” grams trans fat. To truly be in the know, you need to read ingredients lists. Any amount is an unsafe amount to eat, so avoid this fat completely.
RECIPE 1HEALING TURMERIC VEGETABLE SOUP
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium parsnips, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
3 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small cans of diced or stewed tomatoes
1 cup kale or spinach, chopped
3-4 cups vegetable broth or beef broth
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- Add olive oil to a large cooking pot and place over medium-high heat.
- Add onions, parsnips, and carrots, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add turmeric and garlic, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add broth, tomatoes, kale or spinach, and frozen vegetables to soup, and stir well to combine.
- Add chili pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover the pot with a lid and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
RECIPE 2INFLAMMATION-FIGHTING BERRY SMOOTHIE
1/2 cup dairy-free milk
1/2 cup unsweetened organic probiotic yogurt
1/4 cup frozen cherries (pits removed)
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 frozen banana (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in your blender and blend until smooth.
This article was originally published in 2018. It is regularly updated.