Can Diet Improve Chronic Pain?

Could an anti-inflammatory diet help to ease chronic pain symptoms? Your questions about diet and inflammation answered.

What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is any pain lasting for greater than three months. Pain is the body’s normal response to alert us to possible injury, but chronic pain persists and often can start without an obvious cause. When there is no clear cause, pain is usually linked to an underlying issue such as sleep disorders, mood changes, or inflammation from poor dietary choices. Examples of chronic pain are arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, or any musculoskeletal pain lasting more than three months. 

What is inflammation?
Like pain, inflammation is normally part of a healthy immune response to heal injury and fight infection; however, inflammation can become detrimental when the body doesn’t shut inflammation off causing it to persist long-term or chronically in the body. You can’t feel, see, or test for chronic inflammation, but it is a quiet fire smoldering inside you. Chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of many diseases, health problems, and pain.

Could my diet be contributing to chronic inflammation?
While no one food is to blame for causing inflammation, your overall diet patterns could be contributing to inflammation. By changing your diet patterns, you can help reduce the inflammation in your body over a period of weeks or months.

What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet looks similar to a Mediterranean-style diet and involves reducing your consumption of pro-inflammatory foods (foods which promote inflammation) such as refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and trans fats and replacing them with anti-inflammatory foods (foods that fight inflammation) such as whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It is not a weight loss diet, but it can work in conjunction with a weight loss plan.

What other diet changes can I make to improve my chronic pain?
Maintaining a healthy body weight is key to reducing inflammation. Excess body weight, especially weight carried around the waist, contributes to even more inflammation to the body. The anti-inflammatory diet by itself is not a weight loss diet, so if you need to lose weight, you may need a calorically restricted diet also. A Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist can help assess your weight status and body composition to determine if weight maintenance or moderate weight loss can reduce your inflammation.

What non-diet changes might reduce my inflammation?
Getting an appropriate amount of exercise, controlling anxiety and depression, avoiding tobacco and polluted air, and getting adequate sleep could also reduce your level of inflammation.

How do I get started reducing my inflammation and chronic pain?
The optimal way to treat chronic pain is with a multidisciplinary approach. Chronic pain is not a problem with one simple solution. Think of chronic pain like a car with four flat tires. Only using one approach to treat your chronic pain is like only filling up one of your tires. To become fully functioning, you need to find the right combination of interventions.

If you have chronic pain and inflammation, make diet changes one of your interventions. Ask the Expert or schedule a FREE, 30-minute nutrition consultation with our Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist to evaluate your nutritional status and learn about anti-inflammatory diet interventions.