I have personally experienced chronic pain for over 10 years. At times, it has been so intense I couldn’t walk or change positions while sitting or lying down. It has affected my ability to get a good night’s sleep. I have gone for long periods of time without being able to exercise, stand or sit for any extended period. Mostly the aching just lingered enough that I was uncomfortably aware of it. As a nutritionist, I eat a healthy diet and maintain good sleep and exercise habits. I felt like I was doing everything right, so why was I in so much pain? This was so frustrating and I felt like I was never going to know what it was to be pain free again.
I have had many types of treatment that have helped, from massage therapy, to chiropractic and osteopathic treatments and physiotherapy. All of these can be extremely beneficial, but on their own, they may not be enough for everyone. This was the case for me. I needed to understand what it was that I was doing that was keeping my pain going. First, I realized that over time I had become obsessed with my pain and was always stretching and moving in ways to “feel” where it had moved to that particular day. In fact, I was overstretching and keeping the inflammation going. I began to make a consistent and conscious effort to not think about my pain and to keep my body relaxed and calm. Also, through food and activity journaling, I was able to pin point my own contribution to my pain issues so that now I feel so much more in control!
Because I have had success in finally finding relief from my pain, I would like to share what I have learned.
What Causes Pain?
Pain is divided into 2 categories: chronic pain and acute pain. Acute pain is designed to send a message of warning to the body of immediate trauma that requires attention (kidney stones, childbirth, broken bone) and this pain subsides when the cause is addressed. About 50% of cases of acute pain will develop into chronic pain if not addressed.
Chronic pain refers to pain that is continuous and lasts for more that 6 months:
Pain that lingers after an injury has healed
recurring pain from migraines
back and neck pain
disease such as cancer or autoimmune diseases
There are 4 underlying causes of health issues that natural health practitioners will examine in understanding the cause of pain or disease:
Diet and Lifestyle
Stress and Emotions
Exposure to Chemicals and Metals (air pollution, smoking, cookware, pesticides, etc)
Exposure to Electromagnetic Frequencies (ie your cell phone, computer, etc)
We all have nerve endings in our body that respond to irritation, pressure, hot and cold temperatures, injury, stress and disease; but each of us perceives pain differently and we are influenced by our emotional and mental attitudes, previous experiences and other health conditions. What we think about pain and how anxious we are about it will greatly shape our experience. Many of us experience pain and feel like a helpless recipient of someone else's efforts and become frustrated when it isn't being relieved. This was my story; I would go for a massage or osteopathic treatment and feel great afterward, but then the pain would return. This caused me so much anxiety and I felt like my pain was my entire existence.
Conventional medicine which most of us are familiar with will use medications and surgery to manage or alleviate pain, but this system can only take us so far. Oral medications are addictive and show little hope of ever discontinuing use. They damage organs (intestines and liver) and have unwanted side effects (nausea, high blood pressure, gastro issues, nutritional deficiencies, rash and dizziness). Surgeries often have complications, and especially as we age we need to be concerned with this. When these measures fail, what do we do when our Doctors inform us that there is nothing more that can be done? Should we accept this? Hearing that there is nothing that can help will often heighten the feeling of pain, increase blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and muscle tension, creating a never ending spiral. Chronic pain can be difficult to treat with conventional medicine, whereas integrative therapies takes the specialties of different disciplines such as nutrition, osteopathy, chiropractic, physiotherapy, massage, Reiki, breathing exercises, hypnotherapy, etc to benefit the individual. Alternative healing provides pain management without any danger or side effects. Central to any treatment is that the individual must feel in control and empowered to influence the healing process. When the client understands the causes, nature and role of pain, a vital step has been taken in the successful handling of the problem. It was when I began keep a food and activity journal that I was able to figure out the cause of my pain—sitting and feeling stressed! I now know that rotating between my sitting and standing work stations, staying active and maintaining my healthy eating habits keeps my body feeling it’s best.
Pain is very complex with physical and psychological components to it. This is why a combination of therapies must be considered to manage it. Each practitioner educates the client about the nature of their pain and the various methods they can use to control it.
How Nutritional Therapy Can Help:
Detoxifying the body is important to keep the immune system healthy and well functioning which allows your body to heal faster and deal with other factors that may contribute to pain. Our food and environment are becoming more and more toxic with chemicals and our body's natural ability to eliminate these toxins cannot keep up. Many people who deal with chronic pain also suffer from chemical intolerances and sensitivities, so detoxing becomes an important factor in healing. The first step here is to stop putting toxins in as much as we are able to control.
What you eat gives your body the chemistry it needs to create or relieve the inflammation response. Inflammation is what your immune system creates when there is some kind of insult or damage to your tissue. Inflammation is not the only cause of pain, but it can make pain more intense and last longer. Eating foods low in micronutrients (refined, processed, sugary, fatty foods) can make it more likely that your body will produce pain chemistry.
I have put together a list to show different categories of foods and their benefit on managing inflammation and promoting healing in the body:
Fats: Trans fats, refined omega-6 fats (vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola oil, corn oil, etc) and saturated fats are PRO-inflammatory and will worsen inflammation. Monounsaturated fats from olive oil, avocado and some nuts are ANTI-inflammatory. Unrefined Omega-6 fats from whole seeds and nuts are neutral. Omega-3, polyunsaturated fats from fish oil, flax seed oil, hemp hearts, ground flax seeds and chia seeds as well as walnuts are VERY ANTI-inflammatory. However, a balance of saturated, monounsaturated and omega-3 is best for building new tissues. Aim for a ratio of 1/3 of each. Omega-6 fats from raw seeds and nuts can be balanced with omega-3 in a 3:1 or lower ratio. This balance helps increase collagen production and supports healing.
To balance your overall fats without needing a calculator, add in some extra virgin olive oil, mixed seeds and nuts, avocado and ground flax seed every day and this will help to balance out the saturated fats naturally occurring in animal protein.
Extra virgin olive oil and olives
Fish oil and oily fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovy, herring
Flax seed oil and ground flax seeds
All nuts and seeds except peanuts; look for raw, unsalted varieties
Grass fed butter or ghee
Virgin, unrefined coconut oil
Seeds and nuts=1/4 cup
Fish oil=3-9 grams daily
Protein: In order for your body to build new tissues, you will need high quality sources of protein. Most of us eat too much protein and at this time, too much protein will be PRO-inflammatory. You only need about 10-15% of your total calories from protein which is about 50-65 grams. If you eat foods of animal origin, the quality is of utmost importance. Purchasing meats, eggs or dairy products from conventional sources means that your food will be much higher in inflammatory omega-6 fats because this is what the animal feed is made up of. Try to find a local farmer or butcher shop that sources locally raised, small farm meats.
Fresh meats, local, free range, grass fed, organic, antibiotic free, hormone free
Legumes; beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc
Eggs, cage free, pastured
Collagen powder, grass fed preferably
Protein powders from sprouted grains, fermented grains, grass fed cows; avoid ingredient list containing preservatives, artificial ingredients and added sugars or artificial sweeteners
Carbohydrates: Again, the quality of your carbohydrates is very important. Choose unrefined options whenever possible and avoid most breads, pastas and baked goods. There are no specific requirements for carbohydrates during a recovery period, so choosing wisely will help to keep your blood sugar, hormone levels and metabolism in check.
Whole, intact grains like quinoa, wild rice, all of the coloured rice, steel-cut oatmeal, millet, sourdough rye breads
Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips
Herbs, Spices, Polyphenols: These foods contain the essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants to aid in the healing process. All are amazing fighters of inflammation.
Fresh fruits and vegetables should be eaten daily. Choose a rainbow of colours and aim for 1-2 servings at each meal and snack, with a greater focus on vegetables. The flavonoids found in plant foods are natural inflammation modulators. While supplementation can be helpful, they are best taken in moderation and only when the inflammation process has gone too long or becomes too painful. We don't want to stop the inflammation stage, just manage it.
Garlic: 2-4 cloves daily or 600-1200 mg aged garlic extract
Turmeric: 400-600 mg daily from a supplement, but also add to your cooking
Boswellia: 300 mg 3 times daily
Flavonoids: cacao, green tea, fruits, vegetables, legumes – eat several servings daily
Inflammatory Foods To Avoid: There are some foods that are just simply inflammatory in all
situations, but other foods that are specific to an individual or pain condition. For example, pain that is the result of an autoimmune condition or rheumatism is marked by mineral imbalance in the affected tissues. These people would do well to avoid calcium inhibitors or the nightshade
family in addition to the harmful fats. There is also the issue possible food intolerances or sensitivities that can cause chronic pain in different areas of the body and also includes migraines and headaches or pain that doesn't have an apparent cause or diagnosis.
Harmful fats: processed meats, processed foods, refined vegetable oils, trans fats
Calcium inhibitors: excess meat or protein from any source, intoxicants (alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, etc), refined sugar and too many sweets, excess salt, oxalic acid (rhubarb, spinach, cranberry, plum, chard, beet greens)
Nightshades: tomato, eggplant, potato, peppers (tomato is often the biggest culprit here; try avoiding for 6 weeks and then reintroducing 1 at a time. Even if there is no obvious problem, it is wise to limit intake)