What you eat might help ease chronic pain

It’s believed that a poor diet high in saturated fats, sugar and highly processed foods can affect the immune system, contributing to chronic inflammation that can trigger pain.

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A poor diet high in saturated fats, sugar and highly processed foods can affect your immune system, which can lead to pain. But a good diet can help fight pain, studies have shown.

A poor diet high in saturated fats, sugar and highly processed foods can affect your immune system, which can lead to pain. But a good diet can help fight pain, studies have shown.

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“You are what you eat” is well accepted when it comes to improving or worsening your risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers.

Research increasingly suggests that what you put on your plate also can ease or worsen pain from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, bursitis, migraines and possibly chronic lower back pain.

Pain — acute or chronic — results from inflammation. And what you eat and drink can stimulate or quell inflammation. Research strongly suggests that diet can contribute to inflammation throughout the body.

Though studies have shown a connection between diet and pain, exactly how that works isn’t understood.

It’s believed that a poor diet that’s high in saturated fats, sugar and highly processed foods that are low in nutrients can negatively affect the immune system, contributing to chronic inflammation that can trigger pain.

Some studies have found that the immune system can react to an unhealthy diet in a similar way to how it responds to an infection — with inflammation.

Chemicals in the body — cytokines, neuropeptides, growth factors and neurotransmitters — are produced in response to diet and affect whether and where you experience pain and to what degree.

A review of studies on diet and chronic pain, published in The Journal of Clinical Medicine, found that sticking to a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, is linked to lower levels of markers of inflammation found in the blood.

The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet rich in whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes and fruits. All are rich in nutrients the immune system needs to function at its peak. The diet also includes olive oil and fatty fish like salmon and sardines, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to ease inflammation.

Eating a plant-based diet isn’t a quick fix or a cure-all for pain, but it could help and certainly won’t hurt.

Sticking to a plant-based diet also can offer other health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers.

There are many foods that eating more of can be helpful and others it’s best to limit or avoid:

Eat more: Whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, soy, berries, cherries, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic, salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, plain yogurt, spices including cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, rosemary and cayenne pepper, tea, dark chocolate and generally yellow, orange and red vegetables,

Eat less: Fruit juice, sugar-sweetened pop, cakes, cookies, pastries, muffins, donuts, brownies, pies and puddings, processed meats such as ham, bacon, sausage and lunch meat and fried foods.

Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter written by experts on health and nutrition.

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