8 Foods That Fight Pain
Can you find pain relief on a plate? What you eat can help -- or hurt. Here are eight soothing foods to include in your chronic-pain-management strategy.
No single food can zap chronic pain, but a healthful diet is an important part of your pain-management strategy. The Mediterranean diet, for example, is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthful unsaturated fats. These edibles can help build strong bones and muscles, and -- in some cases -- can even short-circuit pain. A wholesome diet also helps prevent pain-aggravating weight gain and boosts your energy levels and mood so you can cope more comfortably.
Whole grains are rich in fiber, a good-for-you ingredient that curbs appetite and helps you manage your weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight is important to keep chronic pain at bay. Another benefit: Whole grains are a good source of magnesium, a mineral that has been shown in animal studies to short-circuit muscle pain. Enjoy a wide variety of whole grains -- from whole wheat bread to fast-cooking quinoa and bulgur.
Reeling more salmon into your diet is a good bet for managing chronic pain. Salmon is rich in ache-busting omega-3 fatty acids, but it's also a great source of another potential pain fighter: vitamin D. There's a strong link between low levels of the sunshine vitamin and chronic pain, and emerging research suggests supplementing your diet with vitamin D may help ease the discomfort. A 3-ounce serving of salmon has nearly half the RealAge-recommended daily dose of vitamin D: 1,000 international units (IU), or 1,200 IU if you're older than 60.
Olive oil is liquid gold when it comes to fighting pain. This elixir is rich in antioxidant polyphenols that help inhibit a common pain-causing mechanism in the body. Plus, olive oil makes a great substitute for butter, which is high in saturated fat. That's great, because too much saturated fat in the diet has been shown to erode bone strength and trigger pain. So enjoy this Mediterranean alternative in your next pasta sauce, salad dressing, or saute. But use it judiciously. Olive oil has 120 calories per tablespoon.
When it comes to spices with potential pain-relieving properties, go for the gold: ginger and turmeric. Ginger contains a quartet of substances (gingerols, paradols, shogaols, and zingerone) that have analgesic qualities similar to aspirin or ibuprofen. Turmeric -- a spice used in Indian and Thai curry dishes -- contains curcumin, another ginger-family member that may also help nip pain in the bud. So, next time you're feeling extra achy -- brew a cup of ginger tea or order some Thai takeout for dinner.
Grab a basket of sweet, juicy strawberries next time they're in season (or use frozen ones anytime). These red treats are chock-full of vitamin C, an antioxidant with powerful pain-reducing properties, according to research. Some studies suggest vitamin C may help people experience less pain after breaking a bone or having orthopedic surgery. Similar research indicates vitamin C may hinder arthritis-inducing cartilage loss and the formation of bone lesions in the joints.
Toss a spinach or arugula salad for a jolt of vitamin K -- a nutrient with potential pain-soothing properties, according to some preliminary research. Vitamin K also helps maintain strong bones and healthy joints. In one study, older adults with ample blood levels of K were less likely to develop osteoarthritis, compared to a low-in-K control group. You can get all the K you need from dark leafy greens: a cup of raw spinach has 145 micrograms (132% of what you need for the day). Caution: Vitamin K also helps with blood clotting, so if you're taking blood thinners, check with your doc before boosting your K intake.
Can yogurt and other dairy foods dampen pain? Not directly, but they do contain two bone-building nutrients: calcium and vitamin D. Not only does vitamin D do more than buoy bone strength, it may also play a role in diminishing chronic pain, according to some study findings. So, load your grocery cart with yummy, creamy (but low-fat) dairy foods fortified with the sunshine vitamin. Can't stomach dairy foods due to lactose intolerance? Reach for calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice or soymilk.
Can a nice glass of Bordeaux help soothe achy joints and muscles? It may help. The resveratrol in wine, grapes, and grape juice may have an analgesic effect similar to aspirin, according to a handful of animal studies. But if you add resveratrol to your list of pain-busting nutrients, just watch how much of it you get from red wine. Experts recommend no more than one daily glass of wine for women. Men can get away with one more. And don't forget: You can dose yourself with resveratrol equally well by eating red grapes or sipping grape juice.