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FOODS TO FIGHT PAIN:
- Hot Peppers
- Ginger and Turmeric
- Oily Fish
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Walnuts and Almonds
- Coffee and Tea
- Olive Oil
- Whole Grains
I have been fighting pain for more than five years. It is unrelenting pain that comes at me in a variety of ways. Most of my chronic pain is related to a complex paraneoplastic syndrome that developed in response to stage IV metastatic melanoma. One weapon that I use to cope with pain is diet. And, I have found certain foods to be useful in reducing inflammation and pain.
Berries are so special because of their high levels of phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring nutrients that help protect cells from damage. Phytochemicals may be called antioxidants, flavonoids, flavanols, flavanones, isoflavones, catechins, epicatechins, anthocyanins, anthocyanidins, proanthocyanidins, isothiocyanates, carotenoids, allyl sulfides, polyphenols, phenolic acids, and many other names.
Berries protect your body against inflammation because they are full of antioxidants. These phytochemicals protect the body against free radicals, which are molecules that can damage cells and organs. We become more susceptible to the damaging effects of free radicals and inflammation as we age. Berries help prevent those effects by turning off the inflammation signals triggered by cytokines and COX-2s.
Flavonoid-packed berries, such as blueberries and raspberries, may one day lead to more effective cancer-prevention strategies. Because cancer prevention diets generally emphasize fruits and vegetables, including berries certainly won’t hurt. Any cancer-preventing benefit is enhanced by the inclusion of many different colors of fruits and veggies in your diet.
Berries are loaded with fiber, which helps you feel full (and eat less). So, they not only ease pain and inflammation and may prevent cancer; they also may help in a diet directed at weight loss or weight management. This effect is useful for pain patients who are taking high dose steroids or drugs like Lyrica that have weight gain as a potential side effect.
To get the optimal health benefits of berries, eat two to three servings of berries each day and include different colors and varieties in your choices.
***I start every day with a breakfast that consists of light yogurt, 2 tablespoons wheat germ, ¼ cup whole grain granola and 1 cup berries – usually raspberries and blueberries but occasionally using strawberries and blackberries for variety.***
- Strawberries contain more vitamin C in a one-cup serving than one orange and are particularly high in folic acid.
- Blueberries contain 20 types of anthocyanin – antioxidants that give berries their blue-violet and red colors. Other berries contain only three or four types.
- Blackberries, Raspberries and Boysenberries each contains 8 grams (g) of fiber in one cup – one-third the daily recommended amount (25 g).
- Cranberries not only help against urinary tract infections by preventing E. coli bacteria from sticking to cells in the urinary tract, but they also are a natural probiotic, supporting healthy bacteria that grow in the gastrointestinal tract and aiding in digestion.
Hot peppers, alternately known as chili peppers and cayenne peppers, belong to the capsicum family of vegetables. Their culinary and medicinal use extends back to antiquity. For example, hot peppers have been cultivated in Central and South America for 7,000 years. Chili peppers can be used fresh, or dried and powdered, to add spice and heat to home cooking.
It is their capsaicin content that makes hot peppers shine.
***Capsaicin has powerful pain-relieving effects and may relieve the inflammation and pain of diseases such as sensory nerve fiber disorders and psoriasis.***
Researchers have found that capsaicin works better than a placebo to reduce neuropathic pain in cancer patients. Hot peppers have also been shown to increase the metabolic rate which may also help in weight management efforts.
A little (1/4 teaspoon) cayenne pepper may be added to many vegetable and meat dishes as can be any of a variety of hot pepper sauces. I happen to like chili peppers, both raw and pickled, added to salads and entrees.
***I often find that after a hot and spicy (but healthy) meal, my pain is not as bad. And, you don’t have to add so much spice to still get the benefits.***
Ginger and turmeric
Ginger is an herb that is used as a spice and also for its therapeutic qualities. The underground stem (rhizome) can be used fresh, powdered, dried, or as an oil or juice. Ginger is part of the Zingiberaceae family, as are cardamom, turmeric and galangal.
What’s ginger good for? Studies have shown it can:
- ease muscle pain
- eliminate inflammation
- help with painful menstruation and migraines, and
- may even slow or kill ovarian and colon cancer cells.
***The wide range of turmeric health benefits come mainly from its main ingredient, curcumin.***
This widely researched component of turmeric is highly therapeutic and is used in various drugs and pharmaceutics mainly because of its immunity boosting and anti-oxidant properties.
Free radical causing oxidative damage of DNA and proteins are associated with a variety of chronic diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases. Curcumin plays an important role in curbing these conditions. Curcumin down-regulates certain inflammatory transcription factors such as kappaB, enzymes such as cyclooxygenase 2 and 5 lipoxygenase, and cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1 (IL-1) and interleukin 6 (IL-6) and hinders the development of these diseases.
Ginger and turmeric are found in most Asian and Indian cooking. These cuisines can also provide healthy options in other ways such as lower calorie content and easier digestion.
***When I eat out, I like to eat at Asian restaurants. I usually can find more fresh dishes, more healthy options, fewer calories AND the benefits of a variety of medicinal herbs and spices.***
Examples of oily fish include salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines. Numerous health benefits are associated with the consumption of oily fish. Research indicates that it can:
- reduce the risk of death from heart disease,
- improve mental ability,
- ward off cancer,
- prevent alcohol-related dementia, and
- lower the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Oily fish is very rich in omerga-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. While white fish also contains these fatty acids, levels are much lower. As well as being a super source of omega-3 oils, oily fish contains plenty of lean protein.
***Research has shown that omega 3 helps switch off the enzymes that break down joint cartilage which reduces inflammation and pain.***
For maximum benefit, the fish should be either baked or broiled versus other cooking methods. I like to eat fresh salmon about once per week. Also, I use packaged tuna and salmon in healthy salads that I eat on whole grain breads and wraps.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of nutrition. The dark greens supply a significant amount of folate, a B vitamin that promotes heart health and helps prevent certain birth defects. Folate is also necessary for DNA duplication and repair which protects against the development of cancer.
***The vitamin K content of dark green leafy vegetables provides a number of health benefits – including protecting bones from osteoporosis and helping to prevent against inflammatory diseases.***
Eating dark green leafy vegetables is vital to a healthy, balanced diet and to a diet designed to reduce pain and inflammation.
There are many ways to enjoy a meal with leafy greens:
- Salads: Keep salads interesting by varying their colors, textures and varieties. Use raw spinach, broccoli and kale to perk them up from the ordinary.
- Wraps: Make a whole grain wrap with tuna or salmon (oily fish) and add romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other veggies for some extra flavor and nutritional benefit.
- Soups: Add greens with larger, tougher leaves such as collard greens, kale or mustard greens into your favorite soup.
- Stir-frys: Add some chopped spinach or broccoli to your favorite stir-fry. And use olive oil (another powerful anti-inflammatory) with some garlic, ginger and/or turmeric (more anti-pain foods).
- Steamed: Steaming collard greens, mustard greens, kale or spinach until they are slightly soft.
- Omelets: Add steamed broccoli and/or spinach to an egg-white omelet for a vitamin and iron rich meal. This can make for a very satisfying dinner option.
Walnuts and Almonds
Just about any nutritionist will tell you that almonds and walnuts, in moderation, make delicious and healthy snacks.
***A serving size (1 ounce) equals about 20 to 25 almonds or 12 to 15 walnut halves, which is not too bad. And a serving will cost you only about 160 to 190 calories.***
But it will keep you full for hours because each type of nut contains a good source of healthy essential fatty acids as well as a solid amount of protein (4 to 6g per serving). This combination helps us feel full longer.
So, what’s the difference between walnuts and almonds? The types of fat.
Almonds have more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats may actually increase inflammation according to some studies. Walnuts, on the other hand, are highest in omega-3 fats, the same type of healthy fats that come from salmon and other oily fish.
In fact, most people consume roughly 20:1 more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, when in fact, we should aim for a ratio of 4:1. That’s where walnuts can help. A single serving of walnuts contains about 95% of the recommended daily value for omega-3 fatty acids.
***While walnuts may be the better choice to fight inflammation, I find almonds to be a good choice in my diet too. Almonds are very satisfying and many people prefer their taste to that of walnuts.***
Coffee and Tea
***Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than anything else.***
While fruits and vegetables also have tons of antioxidants, the human body seems to absorb the most from coffee. And, by this point you should remember how antioxidants help reduce pain and inflammation.
Just smelling coffee could make you feel less stressed. Researchers have discovered that those who were exposed to coffee aromas experienced changes in brain proteins tied to the stress felt as a result of sleep deprivation. Maybe good news for all of us pain sufferers who can’t get a good night’s sleep.
Coffee can make you feel happier. A recent study found that those who drink four or more cups of coffee were about 10% less likely to be depressed than those who did not drink coffee. And apparently it’s not because of the “caffeine high”. Colas can give you a caffeine high, but they’re linked to depression. The proposed reason coffee makes you feel good is because of those trusty antioxidants. And feeling happier can prevent pain from becoming so overwhelming.
***Tea also has a number of health benefits that can help reduce pain and inflammation.***
There are a variety of types of tea and each has some unique benefits.
- Black tea has high concentrations of the antioxidant compounds known as theaflavins and thearubigins, which have been linked to lower levels of cholesterol. Research has also shown that people who drink three or more cups of black tea daily may cut their risk of stroke by 21 percent.
- Green tea is full of antioxidants called catechins; a subgroup known as EGCG may ward off everything from cancer to heart disease. One study found that each cup of green tea consumed per day may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10 percent.
- Oolong tea may aid in weight loss. It activates an enzyme responsible for dissolving triglycerides, the form of dietary fat that’s stored in fat cells. One study showed that women who drank oolong tea burned slightly more calories over a two-hour period than those who drank only water.
- White tea is another health multitasker. It offers the same potential cardiovascular and cancer-fighting benefits as other teas. And some research suggests that it may offer benefits to people with diabetes. An animal study found that consuming white tea resulted in improved glucose tolerance and a reduction in LDL cholesterol. Some experts believe that this may eventually have implications for humans.
***As for me, I am a big proponent of drinking chai tea.***
See my previous blog:
Many of the component herbs in chai tea are considered powerful anti-inflammatory agents.
- The main constituent in cloves, called eugenol, is a potent anti-inflammatory used to relieve gum pain and general inflammation.
- Ginger has broad anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful as a natural alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
- Cinnamon also has been shown to have anti-inflammatory action in the body.
Chai tea is also full of antioxidants that may help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- It is made with black tea which is a powerful antioxidant that can help prevent damage to the cells and tissues of the body caused by free radicals. And, as we previously pointed out, reducing this damage will also reduce inflammation.
- Ginger tea is a potent antioxidant that may protect the body from certain forms of cancer, including colo-rectal cancer, and it may help to treat ovarian cancer.
- The main active constituent of black pepper, piperine, is also a strong antioxidant, preventing oxidative damage.
- Another chai spice, cardamom, has shown antioxidant effects against nonmelanoma skin cancer and may help lower blood pressure and reduce other cardiovascular risks.
***Some prepackaged chai teas, as well as those found in restaurants, can have large amounts of sugar and cow’s milk added to the medicinal tea.***
To make your own more healthy chai, substitute honey for refined sugar and try using coconut milk in place of cow’s milk, particularly if you don’t digest dairy products. If you can tolerate milk, choose the organic variety, which is free from added hormones and antibiotics.
For me, I prefer my chai tea without milk or any sweetener.
***But I look for organic double spiced teas because I like a strong flavor and also to reduce any processed ingredients that might be added to various non-organic packaged teas.***
I do admit that occasionally I do give in to a chai tea latte but I use skim milk and sugar free caramel – makes it at least a little better for me.
***Olive oil is full of polyphenols, another type of antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damage.***
Certain polyphenols that are in olive oil also have strong anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, researchers have been exploring the effects these polyphenols may have on bone and digestive health as well as looking into how they could help prevent cancer. Other researchers are looking into olive oil’s potential for improving cognitive function and memory.
The benefits of whole grains most documented by repeated studies include:
- Stroke risk reduced 30-36%
- Type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%
- Heart disease risk reduced 25-28%
- Better weight maintenance
Other benefits indicated by recent studies include:
- Reduced risk of asthma
- Healthier carotid arteries
- Reduction of inflammatory disease risk
- Lower risk of colorectal cancer
- Healthier blood pressure levels
- Less gum disease and tooth loss
You have to be certain that the food you are eating is truly whole grain.
***Many foods labeled “whole grain” contain many other processed ingredients. Whole grain should be the first ingredient listed on the packaging.***
A serving of whole grain is defined as any of the following:
- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or other cooked whole grain
- 1/2 cup cooked 100% whole-grain pasta
- 1/2 cup cooked hot whole grain cereal, such as oatmeal
- 1 ounce uncooked whole grain pasta, brown rice or other whole grain
- 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
- 1 very small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
- 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal
Garlic has very strong anti-inflammatory properties. One study has identified four sulphuric compounds in garlic that help reduce inflammation.
***People who suffer from auto-immune diseases might also be helped by including garlic in their diets.***
If you have psoriasis, a skin condition related to inflammation, rubbing garlic oil directly on the affected area may provide relief.
Of course, garlic is an important flavoring ingredient for many recipes and an important part of a Mediterranean diet, that can be both heart health and pain reducing.