By Shiloh Woolman, Contributing writer
Relief from indigestion, diabetes, headaches and even arthritis may be in your kitchen instead of your medicine cabinet.
Dietitians and doctors are making the connection between food and pain, and say that changing your diet can change the way you feel.
Pain and inflammation are the body's reaction to injury, but foods can reduce them.
Eating To Fight Pain
Shelly Asplin, a registered dietitian at Omaha grocery story Hy-Vee, said Omega-3 fatty acids go a long way toward fighting pain and inflammation. Asplin said she recommends foods that are high in Omega 3s to arthritis and fibromyalgia sufferers.
Fish and seafood are often high in Omega 3, as are flax seeds and walnuts.
"A handful (of walnuts) a day gives you a recommended serving of Omega 3. Fresh, wild seafood from very cold water contains the highest sources of Omega 3 fats," Asplin said. "Flax has to be ground -- the complete seed only delivers fiber, but ground varieties have fiber and Omega 3s."
Asplin said she sprinkles ground flax seed on her morning oatmeal.
Omega 3s and more are also widely touted to lessen arthritis pain and inflammation. A list of additional foods is posted at MetabolismAdvice.com.
Some Foods Increase Pain
Asplin said there are foods to avoid when fighting pain. She said refined and highly processed foods can cause inflammation.
"Whole grains are anti-inflammatory. Make sure the first ingredient is whole grain," Asplin said. "Whole fruit is anti inflammatory, but leave the skin on."
John Mixan, a dietary life coach in Omaha, said his wife has successfully fought knee pain with diet. He advises clients to boost their intake of ginger, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, curry and basil when they're fighting pain.
Mixan said choosing diet instead of medication can create a virtuous circle.
"So much of it has to do with them being empowered. It's the whole mind-body thing. They're taking control, so not only are they putting better foods in themselves, they're taking control rather than delegating their health to someone else," Mixan said. "It's not that there's no place for a doctor, but control can lead to health."
Mixan also said olive oil is a better choice than hydrogenated oils, which can cause inflammation.
Foods Acts Like Aspirin
Salicylic acid is an analgesic -- it is what your body makes out of aspirin. A study in the Journal of Clinical Pathology found that vegetarians had higher natural levels of salicylic acid in their blood than non-vegetarians. Building on that study, Susan Miller, a PhD and registered dietitian, suggests boosting fruits and vegetables that are high in salicylic acid, which includes apricots, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, sweet potatoes and green peppers.
The Cleveland Clinic has found that food may be among common migraine triggers. Some chemicals and preservatives in foods set off some migraines, while other sufferers may notice that "foods and beverages, such as aged cheese, alcoholic beverages, and food additives such as nitrates (in pepperoni, hot dogs, luncheon meats) and monosodium glutamate -- commonly found in Chinese food -- may be responsible for triggering up to 30 percent of migraines," the clinic reported on its Web site.
On the other hand, caffeine is sometimes used to treat acute migraines.
Also, water traditionally used to wash down a couple of pain pills -- may itself may fight regular headaches. In a study that debunked a slew of myths about drinking water, University of Pennsylvania doctors Dan Negoianu and Stanley Goldfarb found that one small trial did find that participants who drank more water experienced fewer headaches than those who did not. However, the doctors said the results were not statistically significant.
Intestinal Pain Can Be Controlled With Food
The pain from both gas and some bowel diseases, like irritable bowel syndrome, can often be fixed with food, some say. The Mayo Clinic said gas pain is produced by air in the digestive tract. High-fiber foods and raw vegetables can be the culprit, so introduce them to your diet slowly. Mayo also said certain artificial sweeteners cause gas in some individuals, so try checking your gum or candy labels if you're suffering from gas pain.
For IBS sufferers, pain is often triggered by food. The Web site HelpForIBS.com has a laundry list of foods that may make pain and bloating worse, and advises sufferers to try leaving those foods out of their diet for a few weeks to test whether pain gets better.