Did you wake up in pain this morning? Are you blaming your creaky knees or hip joints on an old injury or a new workout? Or, has it been ages since you hit the gym, yet you still feel nagging back pain from constant sitting? Even worse, are you suffering from chronic pain like daily headaches, or pain that rarely goes away even though you may have even had major surgery in the hopes of finding relief?
We often think of nutrition when we think of getting in shape, losing weight, or keeping our hearts healthy. But the concept of eating better to ease pain may not even be on your radar. Nutrition can have a huge impact on mitigating sore spots. We picked three of the most common (and well-studied) fixes to show just how what you eat might be literally hurting you.
DO YOU HAVE A LEAKY GUT?
While it is rare to have a true food allergy, the kind that causes your face to swell and your breathing to constrict, it is common to be sensitive to foods. Over time with exposure to foods that you’re sensitive to, the lining of the small intestines and the colon can become “leaky” . Specifically, leaky gut refers to the opening up of the tight junctions between the delicate cells that line the small intestines and the colon allowing large food particles to pass directly into the blood stream. The body then activates an immune response to protect itself from these foreign invading food particles . The immune system releases chemicals that can trigger abnormal pain responses in the abdomen and elsewhere in the body  .
What to Do?
Try a basic Elimination Diet. Eliminate the foods that are damaging your digestive system. Don’t eat the foods that people are most commonly sensitive to for three weeks. Don’t cheat! These include foods such as soy, gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, sugar and sweeteners, and corn. Then once the body has had a chance to calm down the immune reaction to these foods, add them back in slowly, one at a time, and watch for symptoms like congestion, skin breakouts, bowel changes, or pain. Talk to your local doctor or nutrition professional (you can also find resources at a Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) or Functional Medicine Physician) to walk you through the process (and hold your hand through the cravings!).
DO YOU HAVE CHRONIC INFLAMMATION?
Inflammation is great when it’s functioning well to heal your body. For example, when you sustain a skin cut, the area will swell, redden, heat up, and be painful. These are normal and healthy signs of healing. However, when your entire body or an area of your body is chronically inflamed — red, swollen, painful, and hot, eventually the inflammation itself becomes the problem.
There are many causes of chronic inflammation including chronic stress and chronic exposure to environmental toxins. One of the most common is chronic exposure to pro-inflammatory foods such as dairy proteins, gluten, and protein from unhealthy animal sources that have been altered in their chemistry by industrial farming methods . These altered proteins can have endotoxin-like effects, meaning that they have toxins within their cell membranes that when the proteins are leaked through the gut, can leak toxic material to cells throughout the body . One example of this leaking of toxins is that these altered cells can deposit within arterial walls contributing to arterial plaques, which restrict blood flow to painful areas . In addition, these altered proteins can actually contribute to leaky gut syndrome . The combination of endotoxin-like activity and worsening of a leaky gut can contribute to a full-body attack of inflammation. When your entire body is inflamed, it can result in pain and fatigue throughout the entire body .
What to Do?
Eat more anti-inflammatory foods. Dr. Andrew Weil first made famous the anti-inflammatory food pyramid. The foods on this pyramid can be a good place to start, except for any foods you might be sensitive to (see above), and soy can be a bit tricky because the research is conflicting. It is my professional opinion that soy should only be consumed if you are not sensitive to it, if it is grown without being genetically modified, and if it is in a traditionally fermented form like miso.
ARE THE BUGS IN YOUR BODY FRIENDLY?
Our bodies consist of more bacterial DNA than human DNA, so it’s important that we take great care of the friendly bugs that make our bodies their home and keep the infectious bugs at bay. There is a tremendous amount of research going on right now in the field of “The Gut Microbiome.” This is a fancy way of describing the delicate community of bacteria that live in our digestive systems.
Simply put, it is important not to feed and encourage growth of the infectious bugs, and it’s just as important to take good care of the friendly bugs in your body. Alterations in the gut microbiome can cause problems with pain regulation, even in the brain and the spinal cord .
What to Do?
Avoid unnecessary antibiotics and exposure to chemicals in your food, including animal antibiotics, pesticides, and herbicides. Even short-term exposure to these substances can significantly affect the physiology, structure, and gene expression of the bugs in your gut . Choosing foods that are not processed, or don’t contain chemical additives on the label are a good place to begin. In addition to keeping the bad bugs out, you want to be sure to add friendly bugs to your system. These are also called probiotics. You can take probiotic supplements, but a tastier way to add good bugs is to eat fermented foods.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As you can see, there are many reasons that your morning aches and pains — or even your debilitating, chronic pain — can be related to what you’re eating. Eating the foods that are good for your overall health and your waistline can also help to relieve your pain. Start by figuring out what foods your body is sensitive to, and eliminate them for a while to allow the lining of your intestines to heal.
Then, eat foods that are anti-inflammatory in nature. Anti-inflammatory foods are colorful vegetables and fruits, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like wild salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds, healthy fats like coconut and olive oil, spices and flavor enhancing foods like garlic, onion, turmeric, and cinnamon, foods high in anti-oxidants like green or white tea, and even the occasional square of dark chocolate. (Yum! Sounds better than popping Advil everyday to me.)
Finally, round out your pain-relief diet by keeping the chemicals and unnecessary antibiotics out, and adding in friendly gut bugs by eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir.
Pain-relief can be delicious!
This guest post was written by Jessica Drummond, MPT, CCN, CHC and Founder ofThe Integrative Pelvic Health Institute. The Institute certifies healthcare professionals who care for women with pelvic pain in integrative healing tools, self-care, and business sustainability. The opinions expressed herein are hers and hers alone. To learn more about Jessica, visit her at JessicaDrummond.com. Posted on March 8th, 2013.