In last week's post, we looked at how addressing the foundational aspect of gut health influences some of the most common underlying causes of chronic pain. In this post, we'll dive deeper into some of the dietary aspects to see how we can lessen our pain symptoms even further. I realize the last few posts have been a bit longer; my apologies, there's a lot to cover. I promise I've got some shorter, more accessible posts coming up.
Alright. Let's dig in.
Most people know how certain foods can make them feel less than awesome. It's common knowledge that eating foods that you're allergic or sensitive to can cause GI symptoms like bloating, gas, and pain. And as we discussed earlier, there are more intense effects on our bodies that we don't always readily attribute to the foods we eat. When it comes to chronic pain it's amazing how much can be resolved simply by avoiding those common allergies (wheat/gluten-containing products, dairy, grains). But aside from allergies and intolerances, there are a host of other foods that can bring about painful symptoms all over our bodies. Let's take a look at some of them.
This probably isn't terribly surprising to many of you. Most processed foods are high in sugar, additives (aspartame, MSG), and other non-foods and are generally seen as toxins inside the body. These toxins, and the body's attempts to metabolize, utilize, and clear the toxins, can cause serious inflammation all over the body. Foods high in sugar also result in high insulin levels which can exacerbate inflammation. This includes grains, which are metabolized very similarly to sugar, and naturally occurring sugars in high glycemic fruits and starchy veggies.
As we discussed in the magnesium deficiency post, excess sugar intake severely depletes your magnesium stores. In addition to being necessary for the relaxation of muscles, magnesium plays a crucial role in regulating how our brains perceive pain. With too little magnesium, certain neurotransmitters run amok in the brain causing neurons to be more sensitive to pain.
Lastly, processed and refined foods are usually much higher in omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. This is important because these essential fatty acids (EFAs) go on to become hormones that regulate the body's ability to inflame and anti-inflame. When these two EFAs are in balance with each other (ideally a 1:1 ratio), the body's pro-inflammatory/anti-inflammatory processes are also balanced. When the scales are tipped in favor of more omega-6 fats, the pro-inflammatory processes take over. To combat this, we can always supplement with the anti-inflammatory omega-3s, but that can be like starting a race several minutes behind your rival. Sometimes we need to level the playing field by limiting the amount of omega-6s we take in.
If I were to recommend one dietary change to all of my clients, avoiding processed and refined foods would be it. This is a great starting point for tackling chronic pain as well as a number of other health issues. By removing these toxins and giving our bodies the materials it needs to repair itself and reduce inflammation, we'll surely see huge improvements in the overall health of our bodies.
Where sugar and non-foods seem obvious, the nightshade family might be a little more obscure - especially if you've never heard of nightshades in the first place. The complete list of foods in the nightshade family is extensive but the most common are tomatoes, potatoes (excluding sweet potatoes and yams), eggplant, and all types of peppers.
Nightshades have sort of a funny history. Initially they were thought to be poisonous and were only grown for decorative purposes. If eaten, these fruits and vegetables were thought to shorten one's lifespan and even cause insanity (eggplants used to carry the nickname "mad apple"). Those might seem like outlandish claims, but nightshades have now been linked to inflammation, joint pain, muscle pain, arthritis, morning stiffness, sensitivity to changes in the weather, insomnia, and even gallbladder issues.
But aren't all those foods supposed to be good for you? The ambiguous answer is that they can be very health-giving for some and problematic for others. Just like how some people have increased sensitivities to properties in certain foods, some people can be more sensitive than others to the chemical components (called alkaloids) found in nightshades. Alkaloids are nature's insecticide. They protect the plant from being eaten. Two examples of alkaloids found in night shades are calcitriol and solanine. Calcitriol can lead to the calcification (hardening) of smooth muscle tissues, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Eating foods rich in vitamin K2 can help fight calcification. K2-rich foods include butter from grass-fed cows, egg yolks from grass-fed chickens, liver, and fermented foods. Repeated exposure to solanine in nightshades can lead to prolonged muscle contraction resulting in stiff, painful muscles, especially in the morning.
It's been said that if the positive results of your pain treatment (chiropractic, acupuncture, ultrasound, etc.) only last 1-2 days, you may be sensitive to nightshades and would greatly benefit from eliminating them from your diet. And heck, the nicotine plant is even part of the nightshade family. So there's another way smoking might be causing problems in your bod.
This one is a little trickier. For me, I definitely had a sensitivity to legumes (I love hummus, alright?) so it was in my best interest to eliminate them from my diet. Like nightshades, however, some people can handle them. However, it's important that, if you're going to eat these, they are prepared in such a way that doesn't add stress or damage to your already aching body.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes (and we can include grains in this section too...), much like the rest of the plant world, were not actually designed to be eaten. Their main purpose as seeds is to spread and populate large areas. To do this, seeds must be able to protect themselves. They do this by making themselves difficult to digest with the help antinutrients like phytates, lectins, and trypsin inhibitors.
Phytates bind to minerals in the gut and prevent their absorption. Nuts are a great source of minerals like magnesium and calcium, but phytates don't allow you to absorb and use them - they just flow right through you. Lectins are combinations of sugars and proteins that increase inflammation in the body. And finally, trypsin inhibitors block the absorption of proteins that your body can use to repair itself.
This sounds hopeless but there is a way to enjoy these foods again! During the germination process, these foods release a special enzyme that deactivates most of these antinutrients. The process of soaking and/or sprouting your legumes, nuts, seeds (and grains) tricks them into thinking they've been planted and they start the germinating. The soaking process is wicked easy (sprouting is a little more complicated). All you have to do is soak the legumes/nuts/seeds in warm water with some sea salt for 12-24 hours. Once they've soaked, rinse them with cool water and dry them in the oven or dehydrator at a very low temperature. This last step is necessary to prevent mold.
Which brings me to my next point. Legumes, nuts, and seeds are especially susceptible to a certain type of mold poison called aflatoxin. It can lead to all sorts of unpleasant symptoms including pain and arthritis. If you're going to eat these foods, do make sure they're as fresh as possible and store them in a cool, dry, airtight container.
Legumes, nuts, and seeds can absolutely be healthful foods. They are high in proteins, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I strongly urge you to eat them in moderation, however, as most types can be higher in the omega-6 fats we discussed earlier. Also, legumes are very high in carbohydrates which demands more insulin. High insulin levels, as we've also discussed, triggers more inflammation.
I know that seems like a lot of food to suddenly cut out of your diet. It definitely feels that way sometimes. But it's important to note that your body, and therefore your pain, is unique. It's possible that nightshades, legumes, and nuts don't have any adverse effects in your body at all. It's important to try an elimination-style diet where you remove the common stressors and gradually reintroduce them one by one, keeping tabs on your symptoms along the way. This is a cheap and easy way to find which foods you should avoid to feel your best.
So there you have it. I know that's a lot of information. But it's important to know what could potentially be causing your pain in order to take the steps necessary to diminish it. And like I said, these are the methods that worked for me. Every body and everybody's pain is different. Schedule a free 10-minute phone/in-person consultation with me today to see how we can tailor a plan specifically for you and your pain. We here at NECA know that healing is best accomplished through multiple avenues. So during the month of February, if you schedule an appointment with me, you'll receive a token redeemable for one FREE acupuncture treatment or one FREE sauna session. Is there a better way to tackle your pain!?
*** The information found on this website should not be construed as medical advice or treatment of medical conditions. Only your healthcare professional can provide you with medical advice. Consult your healthcare professional regarding all matters of your health and before making dietary changes.