Pain is something that we can all associate with and we inevitably have to deal with it from time to time; some incidents more acute than others. Whether you have sprained your ankle running, have picked up the latest cold from the office, or just have some niggly aches and pains that won’t go away, we have all been there at some point.
The natural reaction for alleviating aches and pains is to reach for the painkillers, but have you ever given any thought to what role diet can play in helping to alleviate pain? There are many foods that have anti-inflammatory properties which can help to reduce your discomfort without resorting to pills. Some have even been proven to be just as effective as taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammotary drug (NSAID) such as aspirin or paracetamol.
There are many foods that have anti-inflammatory properties which can help to reduce your discomfort without resorting to pills.
One American study in 20071 noted that the “The highly processed, calorie-dense, nutrient-depleted diet favored in the current American culture…induces immediate oxidant stress…the transient increase in free radicals acutely triggers atherogenic changes including inflammation…” They also noted that a diet rich in minimally processed, high fibre, plant-based food, such as fruit and vegetables, will markedly reduce the inflammation.
Don’t get me wrong; sometimes inflammation is a good thing, such as protecting that sprained ankle whilst it heals. But there are many circumstances where it can be painful (think sore throat, migraines, IBS, and arthritis to name just a few). The good news is that by following a Paleo lifestyle you are already making great leaps towards keeping your body vibrant and healthy from the inside.
Whilst maintaining a healthy and varied diet is a huge step towards preventing illness and inflammation, there may still be circumstances where you find that you are suffering. In these situations you might want to focus on increasing your consumption of certain foods that can help to lower inflammation and may act as a natural pain relief. The great thing is that you most likely have most of these foods already in your store cupboard. Here are 4 amazing foods that help to fight pain…
Ginger contains four substances (gingerols, paradols, shogaols, and zingerone) that have natural pain relief qualities similar to aspirin or ibuprofen. It is an anti-inflammatory that can improve circulation and the pain associated with arthritis, backache, and menstrual cramps.2
A 2012 study found that taking 500mg of ginger three times a day had a significant effect on relieving both intensity and duration of menstrual pain.3 Another study carried out in 2009 found that taking 250mg of ginger powder four times a day was just as effective at treating menstrual cramps as taking ibuprofen.4
If you find that you have sore muscles after the gym, cycling, or running then cherries could be the answer. Studies have found that cherries have powerful anti-inflammatory benefits which can act as a natural pain relief alternative to NSAIDS and can help to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage. Anthocyanins, which give tart cherries their deep red colour, have anti-inflammatory properties similar to those in aspirin.
One particular study carried out in 2010 found that those who drank tart cherry juice twice a day for a week before a strenuous running event reported a significant reduction in post-run muscle pain compared with those who had the placebo.5 Another study using cyclists found that tart cherry concentrate (specifically Montmorency tart cherry concentrate) was effective in combating post-exercise oxidative stress and inflammation.6
The important component of turmeric when it comes to natural pain relief is curcumin; it not only provides the distinctive yellow colour that makes your curry vibrant and full of flavour, but is also very effective at reducing inflammation. You are most likely aware that inflammation plays an important role in many conditions; in fact it is difficult to find a medical condition which does not arise as a result of some form of inflammation within the body.
Curcumin has been found to have wide-reaching therapeutic potential in relation to many diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, asthma, bronchitis, colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and diabetes.7 It can also be used to improve circulation and treat digestive issues. One study from 2014 found that a combination of turmeric and fish oil had the same impact on pain relief as aspirin in the same doses. The study commented that both turmeric and fish oil had “desirable biochemical properties to develop further their use as food and medicine.”8 You can include turmeric in your cooking (powdered form or as a dry root) as well as in juices and smoothies and of course turmeric tea or milk. There are also supplements which are available from your local health food store.
4. Cayenne Pepper
An oily compound found in cayenne and its peppery friends known as capsaicin is known to stimulate endorphin production and have strong anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used in traditional medicine across many cultures for treating a variety of issues and is the active ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter creams, ointments, and patches for arthritis and muscle pain. When applied to the skin, capsaicin offers a powerful natural pain relief. It reduces the amount of substance P, a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain; by confusing these pain transmitters and blocking pain messages from the skin it creates effective natural pain relief.9
Capsaicin is often recommended for conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, joint or muscle pain, shingles, and lower back pain. It can also help to reduce the inflammation caused by psoriasis and other skin conditions. Studies have also found that it can be very effective in managing post surgery pain. Capsaicin consumption can sometimes interact with other drugs so it is always best to seek medical advice before you begin any course of treatment. You can purchase it either as a supplement or ointment depending on what condition you wish to treat.
Whilst no single food can completely stop chronic pain altogether, consuming a health diet with a variety of nutrient dense food can be a powerful part of any pain relief strategy. So before you reach for that pack of ibuprofen, remember to check your store cupboard. It is certainly food for thought!
How do you manage pain naturally? Leave a comment below with your natural pain relief remedies.
- O’Keefe, J.H., Gheewala, N.M., and O’Keefe, J.O. (2008). Dietary Strategies for Improving Post-prandial Glucose, Lipids, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Health. In Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 51(3), 249–255. Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109707034444
- Grzanna, R., Lindmark, L., and Frondoza, C.G. (2005). Ginger – An Herbal Medicinal Product with Broad Anti-inflammatory Actions. In Journal of Medicinal Food, 8(2), 125–132. Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16117603
- Rahnama, P., Montazeri, A., Huseini, H.F., Kianbakht, S., and Naseri, M. (2012). Effect of Zingiber Officinale R. Rhizomes (ginger) on Pain Relief in Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Placebo Randomized Trial. In BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 12, 92. Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518208/
- Ozgoli, G., Goli, M., and Moattar, F. (2009). Comparison of Effects of Ginger, Mefenamic Acid, and Ibuprofen on Pain in Women with Primary Dysmenorrhea. In Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, 15(2), 129–132. Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19216660
- Kuehl, K.S., Perrier, E.T., Elliot, D.L., and Chesnutt, J.C. (2010). Efficacy of Tart Cherry Juice in Reducing Muscle Pain During Running: A Randomized Controlled Trial. In Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7, 17. Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-7-17
- Bell, P.G., Walshe, I.H., Davison, G.W., Stevenson, E., and Howatson, G. (2014). Montmorency Cherries Reduce the Oxidative Stress and Inflammatory Responses to Repeated Days High-intensity Stochastic Cycling. In Nutrients, 6(2), 829–843. Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/2/829
- Aggarwal, B.B. and Harikumar, K.B. (2009). Potential Therapeutic Effects of Curcumin, the Anti-Inflammatory Agent, Against Neurodegenerative, Cardiovascular, Pulmonary, Metabolic, Autoimmune and Neoplastic Diseases. In International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, 41(1), 40–59. Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2637808/
- Jacob, J.N. and Badyal, D.K. (2014). Biological Studies of Turmeric Oil, Part 3: Anti-inflammatory and Analgesic Properties of Turmeric Oil and Fish Oil in Comparison with Aspirin. In National Product Communications, 9(2), 225–228. Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24689297
- Ehlrich, S. (2015, June). Cayenne. Retrieved on 16 March 2016 from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/cayenne