When it comes to natural pain relief, a thoughtful diet is a worthwhile path to explore. Using specific foods to reduce inflammation is a good place to start because food is a constant in everyone’s life. We all must eat to survive. But, within that context, we can choose foods that help alleviate discomfort while providing nourishment. Below, you’ll find five suggestions that science says may make a difference.
The Apple of Your Eye
A recent study discovered that supplementing your diet with apple peel powder (4.25 grams/day) significantly improved joint function, range of motion and reduced pain in a group of human volunteers. It turns out that apple peel inhibits enzymes involved with the inflammatory process.
Previous research in animals reveals that polyphenols, antioxidants found in apple peel, are likely responsible for the noted benefits. Eating more unpeeled apples is easy enough to do. However, conventionally grown apples are heavily sprayed with pesticides. Therefore, opting for organic apples is a wise choice. As a bonus, growing apples organically often results in higher levels of the previously mentioned polyphenols.
Raisin Your Pain Threshold
Boron is a little-known trace mineral rarely contained in multivitamins and minerals. A first of its kind trial, published in May 2015, explains that supplementing with boron shortens the duration and severity of painful menstruation. For over two decades, researchers have known about the anti-inflammatory activity of boron derivatives - in animals. Beyond that, a clue to the pain-relieving effect of boron may be illustrated in a seemingly unusual food: raisins.
It turns out that raisins are an abundant source of boron. And, at least one experiment shows that they likewise suppress inflammation in humans. Also of note, raisins contain grape seeds. Grape seed extract reduces C-reactive protein, a marker of systemic inflammation.
It’s Not the Fat, It’s the Fat Ratio
These days, the health benefits of eating fish and/or supplementing with fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are relatively well known. But, in order to fully maximize the effects of omega-3s, you need to concomitantly reduce omega-6 fatty acid intake. Omega-6 fats are predominant in vegetables oils such as corn, safflower and soybean oil. Lowering your intake of omega-6s and boosting your consumption of omega-3s has been shown to diminish canker sores, chronic headaches, complex regional pain syndrome, joint pain and muscle damage caused by vigorous exercise.
Shaking the Salt
Excess sodium has long been associated with inflammation and poor health. But, sussing out the actual effects of salt in relation to pain has been difficult because unhealthy diets are generally high in many harmful ingredients. That said, of late, some studies have tried to zero in on the exact role sodium plays in pain-related conditions.
The strongest trial to date involved the use of a low-sodium diet as a means of preventing chronic headaches. In short, lowering sodium worked very well in limiting the recurrence of headaches. What’s more, preliminary research suggests that sodium-restriction may decrease inflammation in individuals with metabolic syndrome, premenstrual syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis.
Stop and Smell the Rosmarinic Acid
Rosmarinic acid (RA) is a natural phytochemical present in several common herbs and spices. The good news about RA is that it appears to relieve knee osteoarthritis pain and stiffness. The study in question utilized a type of spearmint tea with a high-rosmarinic acid level. Other experiments examining animal models of pain report that different RA sources, such as lemon balm and rosemary, are similarly effective.
Presently, it’s unlikely that your average pain management specialist will recommend apples, fat ratio balancing, raisins, sodium restriction or herbal tea as a primary therapy. And, perhaps he or she shouldn’t. But, long-term pain management is a delicate dance. The ultimate goal is to find the safest way to cure or, at least, lessen chronic pain. To that end, diet can be a very valuable resource indeed.
John Paul Fanton, based in Los Angeles, California, is a consultant, researcher and writer with over 20 years of experience in the field of natural medicine. He designs unique nutritional plans, mind-body (meditation, mindfulness, etc.) and vitamin/supplement programs for individual clients who are interested in improving overall health, weight and wellness. You can find his weekly column on the Healthy Fellow.
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