Top 10 Superfoods to Curb Chronic Pain

Chronic pain, also known as persistent pain, refers to pain that continues for a period longer than three months. Chronic pain can be felt anywhere throughout… Elizabeth Lilian - July 24, 2017

Chronic pain, also known as persistent pain, refers to pain that continues for a period longer than three months. Chronic pain can be felt anywhere throughout the body and ranges from mild to intense and unrelenting. It can be a frustrating experience for many people because it’s often not possible to locate the source of the pain. This is due to the intricacies of the nerves and nervous system, as chronic pain occurs when these systems experience changes that cause the nerves to constantly signal pain.

Whether chronic pain has occurred from an initial injury that hasn’t completely healed, an illness or through no apparent cause, it can become severely debilitating if it’s not managed properly, lowering the quality of life and making the most simplest of things difficult. Chronic pain also introduces the potential to experience other health issues like sleep disturbance, fatigue, decreased appetite and mood changes. There are many different ways to treat chronic pain, such as medication, acupuncture, nerve blocks, surgery or electrical stimulation, but there are also effective foods that can help curb pain when introduced into the diet.

Here are the top 10 superfoods to curb your chronic pain:

1. Ginger

Ginger is the root of the Zingiber officinale, a flowering plant that is native to the rainforest regions in Southern Asia. It’s been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years in many different cultures, treating everything from colds, digestive issues, nausea and motion sickness to pain and inflammation.

Ginger contains a wide array of compounds that hold anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, like gingerols, beta-carotene, capsaicin, caffeic acid, curcumin and salicylate. Ginger is a carminative, meaning it helps to release intestinal gas and relieving bloating, and an anti-inflammatory, which makes it highly effective in the treatment of health issues such as osteoarthritis. It’s also recently come to light that ginger may have anti-diabetic properties by reducing blood sugar levels and lowering the risk of heart disease.

Ginger is renowned for being a powerful pain reliever by reducing inflammation, and studies show that ginger extract is actually very effective in relieving joint pain, especially that associated with rheumatoid arthritis. The chemical makeup of ginger means it can work just as well, if not better, than over-the-counter ibuprofen.

Ginger for pain relief is best ingested fresh, and there are many different ways to enjoy it. You can slice four or five pieces of ginger and brew them in boiling water to make a tea, chop it or grind it and use it in various recipes, or even just peel a piece of raw ginger and chew on that.

 2. Turmeric

Turmeric is a plant related to ginger and grown throughout India, Central America and parts of Asia. It goes by other common names such as Indian saffron and it’s scientifically known as Curcuma longa. Turmeric rhizomes have been used in traditional medicine and feature heavily in Ayurveda to treat various conditions like breathing problems, rheumatism and fatigue. It’s still used frequently these days for the treatment of inflammation, arthritis, stomach and liver problems, skin issues, cancer and more.

Turmeric is often used as a spice in cooking and an ingredient in curry powder. It holds anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiseptic and anti-mutagenic qualities, which provide many health benefits and treatment of different conditions. The active ingredients in turmeric are curcuminoids, which give that vibrant shade of yellow that is used to color food and cosmetics. Curcuminoids, particularly curcumin, are powerful anti-inflammatories and provide strong antioxidant properties.

Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory, and it works by blocking NF-kB, a molecule that plays a large part in the cause of inflammation in cells. It also neutralizes damaging free radicals and promotes the activity of antioxidant enzymes, which offers further pain relief. As such, turmeric is used for a variety of different pains, like eczema, headaches, menstrual cramps and more.

Turmeric can easily be added into different recipes to gain these benefits, but for a more concentrated effect, you can add a tablespoon into smoothies, soups, tea or even just mix it into a glass of milk. To use topically, combine a tablespoon or two of turmeric with the same amount of coconut oil, then mix together until it forms a paste. Apply the paste to the affected areas and allow it to soak in for at least 10 minutes before rinsing off.

3. Onions

Onions are a member of the Allium family and are cultivated and eaten all around the world. They’re a staple ingredient in an enormous amount of recipes throughout different cultures and are full of health benefits like encouraging a healthy cardiovascular system, promoting a strong immune system, improving bone density, regulating blood sugar and reducing problems in the gastrointestinal tract.

Onions are packed full of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as powerful phytochemicals like flavonoids, disulfides, trisulfides, cepaene and vinyl-dithiins. They contain nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, calcium, iron, biotin, manganese, copper, fiber, phosphorus, folate, and vitamins B6 and B1. The main beneficial flavonoid in onions is quercetin, which has antioxidant properties that can delay oxidative damage to cells and eliminate free radicals in the body.

Quercetin is one of the most abundant antioxidants that can be found in the human diet, and it’s believed to be hugely effective in treating chronic pain. It also contains antiviral, anti-microbial and antiallergic agents, and quercetin supplements have become popular in treating various types of pain from autoimmune conditions to infections. Quercetin can be found in onions, apples, peppers, dark cherries, berries, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, leafy greens like spinach and kale, citrus fruits, cocoa, olive oil and whole grains.

To use onions (or one of the above foods) in the treatment of chronic pain, you can include them in higher amounts in your diet. Add them to salads, stir fry, sandwiches, or as a simple side dish to other foods. And if you’re really game, you can make your own onion juice and drink one glass daily for pain relief and other health benefits.

4. Garlic

Another member of the Allium family alongside onion, garlic (scientifically known as Allium sativum) has similar anti-inflammatory benefits, though these are due to the abundant sulfur compounds and the substance allicin, an anti-bacterial. These substances can help detoxify the body, getting rid of free radicals that contribute to the aging process and the development of conditions such as heart disease.

Garlic is also thought to reduce high cholesterol and blood pressure levels, as well as minimize the risk of diabetes, prevent atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the arteries), and even treat the common cold. And, depending on the type of pain you’re experiencing, garlic can be an effective remedy for chronic pain.

It contains vitamins and minerals like manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, copper, selenium, phosphorus, calcium and vitamin B1. But the majority of health benefits come from garlic’s sulfur-containing compounds, such as amino acids, peptides, thiosulfinates (like allicin), sulfoxides and more. Sulfur is believed to play a large role in cellular detoxification, joint and connective tissue health and oxygen-related metabolism.

Garlic can be taken in various ways for pain relief. You can peel a clove of garlic and chew it, lightly sauteed, mince, chop, or slice and add it to foods, or even take powdered garlic as an extract. Fresh garlic is always going to be more potent than garlic powder though, and it’s an easy addition to your diet.

5. Salmon

Salmon are fish that belong to the family Salmoniformes, and they live in the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Salmon are anadromous, which means they are born in freshwater before migrating to the ocean and returning to freshwater later on, in order to reproduce. There are a large number of different species in the salmon family, and some of the most popular ones to eat are pink salmon, Pacific salmon, King salmon, silver salmon and red salmon.

Eating salmon has become so enormously popular there’s become an increase in concern regarding the ecological impact of both wild-caught and farm-raised salmon. In fact, the global production is salmon has increased over 400% in volume since 1980. Salmon can be eaten in a dozen different ways, like fresh, grilled, salted or smoked. There are many health benefits of salmon, as they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients.

Salmon contains essential vitamins and minerals. WIth over 230% of our daily recommended intake of vitamin B12, as well as vitamin D, selenium, vitamin B3, protein, phosphorus, vitamin B6, iodine, choline, pantothenic acid, biotin and potassium, salmon is a healthy addition to any diet. Upping the intake of salmon has been associated with a decreased risk of various cardiovascular problems like heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia and high blood pressure. It’s even associated with improved mood and cognitive thinking, thanks to the omega-3’s it contains.

Some research has shown that omega-3’s can be effective, safer alternatives to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to target both chronic and acute pain. Eating at least three servings of salmon (or any type of omega-3 enriched fish) will provide benefits, but you can also take omega-3 daily supplements to boost your intake even further.

6. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a type of fat made from the olive tree, botanically known as Olea europaea. It originated in Mediterranean countries and as such, it’s a traditional ingredient of the Mediterranean diet. It is also used worldwide, in cooking, cosmetics, medicine, lotion, soap and more. Olive oil is made by pressing whole olives, and there are a few different types, such as extra virgin, virgin and refined olive oil.

Olive oil is rich in healthy, monounsaturated fats, and around 24% of the oil consists of saturated fats and omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, while 73% of oleic acid, a fatty acid linked to health benefits like reduced inflammation, makes up most of olive oil’s content. Oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid and is one of the healthiest sources of fat. It’s also thought to contain potential anti-cancer benefits, and is known for its potent antioxidant properties.

Olive oil can reduce inflammation, with oleocanthal the main antioxidant that provides these benefits. Oleocanthal has been shown to be pharmacologically similar to ibuprofen as it blocks the same pathways that lead to inflammation, and as such it’s an effective food source for pain relief.

Olive oil can be introduced into your kitchen (if it’s not already a major part of it) by becoming the main oil you cook with, rather than other vegetable oils or butter. You can also use olive oil as a massage ointment by simply applying some to the affected area/s and massaging it into the skin.

7. Strawberries

Strawberries can be found growing wildly throughout Europe, Asia, North and South America, though they’re cultivated and enjoyed on every continent. Strawberries are technically a fruit because their seeds can be found on the outside skin instead of the inside flesh – in fact, each strawberry usually has around 200 seeds on the skin.

Strawberries are part of the rose family, and have been eaten and enjoyed for centuries in different cultures, for food or for medicinal purposes such as treatment for depression, fever, fainting, kidney stones, bad breath and sore throats. They’re a source of essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, manganese, fiber, iodine, folate, copper, potassium, biotin, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin B6.

The various health benefits that come from strawberries, like reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and depression, are due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Strawberries contain polyphenols like flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans, tannins and stilbenes, which are hugely powerful antioxidants. Higher intake of strawberries have been shown to potentially reduce the chance of elevated CRP (C-reactive protein). Higher levels of CRP is a sign of inflammation. Anthocyanin, a phytonutrient, is also thought to play a large role in the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in strawberries.

The health benefits from strawberries can be achieved whether you’re buying fresh or frozen. Add them to your cereal, yogurt, smoothies, or just eat a handful for a snack every day.

8. Fenugreek Leaves

Fenugreek is native to the Middle and Near East and is grown across the world, though it’s mainly cultivated in India. It goes by the name of methi as well, and it is an interesting plant because it can be used for three different purposes: the leaves can be used as herbs, the seeds can be used as a spice and the plant itself can be eaten as a vegetable.

Fenugreek can be used for a wide range of health benefits, such as bowel issues, poor liver functioning, bloating, respiratory problems, high cholesterol, blemishes, fever, heartburn, acid reflux and diabetes. In Ayurvedic traditions, it’s prescribed to breastfeeding mothers as a galactagogue to increase milk flow. Fenugreek contains a variety of nutrients like iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, protein and dietary fiber.

The health benefits of fenugreek are thought to stem from these essential nutrients, as well as the powerful phytochemicals it contains, like choline, trigonelline and yampogenin to name a few. These phytochemicals and other nutrients make fenugreek an effective pain relief, and while it’s generally considered safe for consumption, some people can be allergic. Reactions to fenugreek include gas, diarrhea and indigestion, and if you experience any of these after ingesting fenugreek, it’s best to avoid completely.

Fenugreek can be eaten in a number of ways. The seeds can be eaten whole, used as toppings in soups and other dishes, or ground into a spice and used as a flavoring agent to food. The leaves can be used as an alternative to other leafy greens, like spinach or kale, and the powder can be brewed into tea.

9. Hot Peppers

Chilli peppers are the fruit of the chilli plant, a member of the nightshade family, of the Capsicum genus. Chilli peppers are native to Central America, and used heavily throughout many different cuisines, such as Mexican and Asian. There are almost 3000 different cultivars of chilli grown all over the world, including the more common varieties like habanero, jalapeno, cayenne and bird’s eye.

No matter what your favorite type of chilli pepper is, they all have a wide array of various health benefits. This is largely due to the presence of capsaicin, the chemical responsible for the heat and spice of a chilli pepper. Capsaicin can lower blood sugar levels, improve heart health, boost circulation, reduce risk of stroke, clear congestion and act as an analgesic, relieving pain and reducing inflammation too.

Capsaicin is a molecular compound that has no calories or dietary content, and is found in every part of peppers except for the seed. It’s an effective treatment for chronic pain as it lowers levels of ‘substance P’, a neurotransmitter that is released by the brain and thought to contribute to pain by transmitting signals from the sensory nerves to the central nervous system.

You can easily add chilli peppers to your diet by chopping them up and using them in meals, or sprinkling chilli flakes over your food as a garnish. But do be aware that eating large amounts of chilli can potentially cause nausea, stomach pain and diarrhea.

10. Yogurt

Yogurt is a delicious food produced by a not-so-delicious process: the bacterial fermentation of milk product. By heating the milk and adding cultures of the bacterium Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, the yogurt begins to ferment and curdle as the bacteria turn the milk sugars (lactose) into lactic acid, thickening the milk even further and giving it that tangy, yogurt taste.

Yogurt is highly nutritious. It’s a rich source of protein, calcium and potassium, and contains essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, phosphorus and riboflavin. Yogurt also contains probiotics, which are known as ‘friendly’ live bacteria that can provide health benefits like an enhanced immune system, reduction in cholesterol levels, an improvement in gut health and digestion, a decrease in the risk of osteoporosis and other bone density issues and a reduced risk of suffering from hypertension (also known as high blood pressure).

Some research suggests that these probiotics also act as an effective analgesic for some types of pain, especially that which occurs with irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal problems. Make sure when you’re choosing yogurt, to go with the products that contain ‘live and active cultures’.

Chronic pain can be very debilitating, but it’s something that can be managed with ease once you find the right treatments. Eating a healthy, well-rounded diet is a major part of easing chronic pain, and with this top 10 list, you’ll know where to begin.