June 27, 2008

A Nutrition Minute: How Food Can Help Chronic Pain

by Sharon Gruber, Nutrition Consultant.

I'm only in my mid-30s, but it seems even most of my peers suffer from some type of chronic pain. I truly didn't expect this until I turned 50! Thankfully, though, there's a lot we can do to help mitigate pain, including through food choices. Below are a few of many ways to go.

My first recommendation is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. This means, cutting down on sugar and processed grains, while eating more walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, salmon, and sardines. Also, papaya and the core of pineapple offer some strong anti-inflammatory enzymes. And to season all of this, load up with cumin and turmeric. (These spices are found together in powdered curry.) They contain a compound that is quite potent at fighting inflammation.

Finally, I recommend "building the blood." It sounds like a strange concept, but when we're in pain, it's critical that the blood reaching our affected areas is rich in oxygen and nutrients. Most people having chronic pain suffer in part because of restricted blood flow and oxygen to certain regions.

There are two key factors in building the blood, including eating more vegetables in general (aim for 5 a day) and focusing on green vegetables. By eating more vegetables, especially green ones, we increase the amount of chlorophyll in the diet. Chlorophyll transports oxygen in the plant and is structurally very similar to hemoglobin, the oxygen carrier in humans. The intention here is that the blood will help nourish the cells. Together with appropriate exercise and possibly medication, this could make a significant difference. And I hope it helps encourage people to think about the many roles nutrition could have in good health.

As this blog's focus on food and nutrition comes to a close, I want to end on with a little note about food choices. Sometimes I struggled with my message here, as I do each time I head into the medical clinic and offer advice to people who are struggling financially. Every day, unrelated to food, we all make some decisions we feel good about and others we don't feel as good about. Food is no different. And each meal, each snack offers us a new opportunity to make the most of our choices, even if they're not the ones we would pick if we had unlimited options.

Note: Because these nutrition minutes have been so popular, Sharon has agreed to occassionally write updates on nutrition independent of our current focus. Many thanks to her, and to all of our readers who contacted me.

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