By: Dr. Heather Tick
Using both the data of modern science and the time-proven traditions of complementary medicine, Dr. Heather Tick M.D. has helped tens of thousands of patients reach their peak levels of health over the past 30 years. She is the first holder of the prestigious Gunn-Loke Endowed Professorship of Integrative Pain Medicine at the University of Washington and serves at the forefront of research and teaching as a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington in the departments of Family Medicine and Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.
A balanced diet is more effective than drugs or medical care in boosting your immune system, reducing your risk of chronic diseases, and making you feel good. Research has shown that anti-inflammatory foods will reduce your chronic pain and improve your immunity.
What is inflammation?
There are helpful and harmful sides to inflammation. On one hand, inflammation protects us from harmful substances like bacteria, viruses, and damaged cells. Here's the problem: it's also responsible for many damaging effects of common diseases.
Since ancient times, inflammation has been described as redness, heat, swelling, and pain. We initially believed that inflammation had simple causes. However, we now know that inflammation is the result of a complex dance of chemical mediators that impact every cell type and organ system. Inflammation creates an environment in the body where many harmful conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer can overwhelm us.
Inflammation can cause many problems, but it's also the first step in healing. Inflammation sends out signals of tissue damage or invasion by foreign substances to call for a measured response to protect us. Inflammation after an infection or physical injury is healthy and normal. It subsides after the body has healed itself. This capacity for both hurt and harm is why inflammation needs to be managed carefully. You can reduce the harmful side of inflammation by eating well.
How does inflammation cause chronic pain?
Let's talk about some biochemistry.
The link between inflammation and chronic pain is oxidative stress, a part of the inflammatory process. Oxidative stress involves free radicals, high-energy particles that zip around our system like little out-of-control bumper cars and damage our cells. Some free radicals are produced by your body during normal and healthy metabolism. Others are stimulated by outside influences such as smoking, too much sun exposure, toxics in our environment and the wrong foods. Regardless of their source, free radicals damage our cells, cause swelling and pain and interfere with healing.
Nutrition is a powerful cure for chronic pain
We need antioxidants to neutralize free radicals. If we don't have sufficient antioxidants, our cells become damaged. Damaged cells cause even more inflammation and damage from free radicals. Nutrition is the most powerful way for us to tip the balance of inflammation towards healing. Diet plays a major role in preventing chronic diseases. Antioxidants, mostly derived from food and supplements, deactivate the free radicals and make them harmless.
80% of your immune system lies around your digestive tract. If the free radicals in our digestive tract are not deactivated by antioxidants, your gut can be constantly attacked. Your immune system will respond with more inflammation.
The top 10 anti-inflammatory foods
Here are the foods that will help you reduce your pain.
Dark-colored leafy greens really are a remarkable superfood. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids, leafy greens can reduce your risk of cancer.
Berries are rich in antioxidants. Anthocyanins, the antioxidants that color your berries, combine with quercetins to reduce inflammation and slow down memory loss in seniors.
Like oatmeal, fruits have a large amount of soluble fiber that reduces cholesterol.
4. Beans and lentils
We should all eat more beans. These powerhouses of protein, fiber, and minerals help keep your blood pressure in check. Lentils also make our body less acidic.
Enjoy your guacamole. Avocados contain large amounts of beta-carotene, fiber, and potassiumand healthy oils.
6. Extra-virgin olive oil
“Extra-virgin” refers to the very first cold-pressing of a batch of olives. “Cold-pressed” means that the olives were pressed without heat or chemicals. Cold-pressing preserves the phenolic compounds which may help inhibit genes that cause inflammation.
7. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, contain good polyunsaturated fats, and are also rich in arginine, magnesium and manganese. Nuts are wonderful for you but also pack a lot of calories. Enjoy nuts in moderation.
An analysis of 20 studiessuggests that eating one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week reduces your risk of fatal heart disease by 36%.
9. Whole-grain foods
Whole grains are high in dietary fiber which reduces your cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease.
10. Dark chocolate
Enjoy your dessert! Dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa is rich in flavanols which may lower blood pressure.
Chew on this
Sometimes the best solutions can be the simplest. Research shows that chronic pain drugs very seldom help patients in the long-term. Drugs often seem to 'work' only because of their short-term effects.
Nutrition, on the other hand, is proven by our best research to reduce your pain. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are also far less expensive than pharmaceutical drugs. Eating a balanced diet is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your pain.