Pain management and your diet.
This may come as a shock to many of you. If you suffer from pain, any pain, what you eat may be making the pain worse! In my many years of practice I have seen patients with pain that was difficult to manage with conventional methods improve dramatically when we made some simple changes in their diets. Certain foods are considered excitotoxins, this means that they will excite the nervous system. An excited nervous system can cause nerves to send more impulses to the brain and the person can perceive this as pain.
Two foods that have become a major part of our societies diet that are known excitotoxins are MSG (monosodium glutamate) and aspartame, which is a very common artificial sweetener. Many folks equate MSG with Chinese food, but MSG and it chemical cousins that are just as bad, can be found in a wide variety of foods. In my book, “Eating Right For The Health Of It”, I have a whole chapter devoted to ingredients that are MSG, but may not be listed as MSG. Some of the common foods and ingredients that always contain MSG are glutamate, monosodium glutamate, monopotassium glutamate, glutamic acid, calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, gelatin, textured proteins, hydrolyzed protein, yeast extract, yeast food, and autolyzed yeast.
Some foods and ingredients that often contain MSG are bouillon, natural beef, chicken or pork flavoring, natural flavoring, soy sauce, whey protein, stock, pectin, smoke flavoring, malt flavoring, and even just the word “flavoring”. There are over 5000 foods that now contain aspartame, including diet sodas, sugar free gum (and many things that say “sugar free”), artificial sweetener packets and even many drugs and chewable vitamins. One of the most common pain reactions to these excitotoxins are headaches, however they can contribute to arthritis pain, fibromyalgia and can exacerbate any pain syndrome. You can get vegetable broths that taste fine and do not have MSG as well as substitutes for most other foods that contain MSG. Be sure to read the labels of any food that you purchase.
If you suffer from any type of nerve viral infection, such as herpes I, herpes II or shingles, you have to be careful to avoid products that contain peanuts. Peanuts are high in an amino acid known as arginine. Arginine can block the amino acid Lysine from suppressing the viral growth and can lead to outbreaks which can be very painful.
Acidic foods, such as alcohol, meat, sugar, dairy, coffee, soda and artificial sweetener, require the body to neutralize the acid and the body uses calcium as one of its primary neutralizing agents. Calcium is not only used for building bones, but it also helps muscles to relax. If a person is in pain, it is common for muscles around the area of pain to spasm to protect the area. The muscle spasms can pull on or pinch nerves and this can be a primary source of pain. If you take calcium supplements, it is best to use calcium citrate or calcium lactate. Calcium carbonate, which is the most common form of calcium on the market, is not absorbed as well and may not be as effective. It is also good to eat lots of raw celery, spinach and/or figs. These foods are very alkalizing and help neutralize acids in the body.
Electrolyte imbalances can contribute to the pain. Not getting enough potassium, magnesium, calcium, or vitamin E can cause muscle spasm and pain. Fever, vomiting, diarrhea or use of diuretic drugs (such as some blood pressure medications), can lead to and electrolyte imbalance. Be sure to eat lots of raw fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and to drink 8-10 glasses of distilled or filtered water every day. This will help to maintain your electrolyte balance.
Poor circulation can also contribute to pain. Blood helps bring nutrients to injured parts of the body and flush out toxins. If there is a toxic build up or if a part of the body is not getting enough nutrients, pain can result. A diet high in alcohol, meat, sugar, coffee, soda and artificial sweetener can contribute to hardening of the arteries which can cause a lack of proper blood supply. Coffee and alcohol are diuretics which can cause you to dehydrate and the can lead to poor blood flow as well. Coffee has also been shown to increase you homocysteine levels, which can cause low density lipoproteins (LDL’s) to stick to your artery walls which will lead to hardening of the arteries. It is important for many reasons to be sure you keep your well hydrated, especially if you partake in diuretic foods or medications.
There are some foods that you can add to your diet that might help with pain management. Green leafy vegetables are loaded with nutrients that can help with muscle relaxation and healing. Nutritional yeast is a wonderful, flavorful and healthful topping for salads, and even popcorn and is high in nutrients that can help heal the body and reduce pain. If you do take diuretic medications, be sure you supplement with potassium, unless the medication is “potassium sparing”, which means it does not drain the body of potassium. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to be sure.
Valerian root taken at bed time might help you sleep and allow the body to get the rest it needs to heal. Be sure you get at least 1 tablespoon of omega-3 rich oils such as flax seed oil for every 50 pounds that you weigh every day. (For more information on how fats can affect your pain level, see my web site drjoeesposito.com for the article entitled Can what you eat determine how much pain you feel?)
Essential fats such as omega-3 fatty acids act as cox-2 inhibitors, much that same way some prescription drugs do. You can also rub flax seed oil directly on the area of pain or put about 25 drops of flax seed oil in a bath tub of w arm water and soak in it. Potatoes and bananas help to build up your levels of serotonin in your brain, which can help you relax and get that much needed sleep your body requires in order to help you heal properly.
Ginger is an anti inflammatory and can be taken in a pill form or in a ginger tea. (see my web site www.drjoeesposito.com for a great ginger tea recipe under the “articles” section).
Boswellian is an herb that has anti inflammatory properties as well.
Bromelain is an enzyme found in raw pineapple and can also be taken in a supplement form. It, too, has anti inflammatory properties.
Glucosamine Chondroitin Sulfate has been shown to help rebuild cartilage. Most people have some cartilage damage and would benefit from supplementing with Glucosamine Chondroitin Sulfate. Some formulas have MSM as well and this is a good thing. I would suggest the vegetarian version of the Glucosamine supplements.
Creams are also available for use in pain control. One very effective type of cream has cayenne pepper as an ingredient. Cayenne pepper will increase circulation and help reduce swelling and pain. You can purchase pre-made creams or make your own. Mix 1 teaspoon powdered cayenne pepper with ¼ cup oil. Try flaxseed oil for a double dose of goodness. Rub the oil over the area of pain. If the pain has been there 3 days or less, it would be wise to use ice applied for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes or more off 3-6 times a day. Ice will help decrease swelling which can help decrease pain. After 3 days, you can use the cayenne cream or moist heat. If the cream, moist heat, or for that matter, any treatment, makes the problem worse, stop that treatment and see your doctor. If you do use cayenne pepper, be sure to handle it with care. Wash your hands after handling the pepper with oil to help dissolve the pepper oils, then use soap and water. The hot part of the pepper is an oil and you will need oil (remember from high school chemistry, likes products dissolve like products, which means that oils will dissolve oils) to dissolve the pepper oil. Any oil will do, olive, vegetable, coconut, etc.
All these suggestions are to help reduce the pain, but it is imperative to treat the cause of the pain. If pain lasts for more than a few days, see your doctor.