Unlike acute pain that arises suddenly in response to an illness or injury and stops on its own or with medical treatment, chronic pain is defined as pain that persists for weeks, months or even years, and is often resistant to standard medical treatments. Chronic pain has a debilitating and profound effect on life and ongoing pain may result in insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, stress, depression, a weakened immune system, and in some cases, total disability.
Medical providers are faced with a challenge, as long-term use of opioid pain medications prevents a number of risks, including increased pain, the need for gradually escalating doses, and addiction due to development of tolerance to pain medications.
Many patients, fearful of becoming addicted, are reluctant to take pain medications, and with good reason – opiate addiction has become a major public health concern, due in large part to a dramatic spike in prescription of opiate pain meds. Drug and alcohol treatment centers and rehabs have witnessed a huge increase in the number of people seeking help for prescription drug abuse and addiction.
Researchers are striving to come up with a safe, non-addictive pain control, but as of yet, no viable medications are available. However, some people find relief from various alternative forms of pain management, such as acupuncture, massage, electrical stimulation, behavior modification, tai chi, biofeedback, meditation or yoga.
Can Changes in Diet Reduce Chronic Pain and the Risk of Addiction?
More and more people are experimenting with diet and elimination of unhealthy foods that may exacerbate or even cause chronic pain. For instance, a documentary entitled Forks over Knives has prompted many people to reassess their eating habits and think about how changes in diet may reduce chronic pain and decrease the risk of cancer and other illnesses.
Forks over Knives focuses on two physicians who advocate a plant-based diet. According to the website, the Forks over Knives eating plan is based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and tubers, while meat, dairy, eggs and highly refined foods are eliminated or minimized.
There are many other eating plans that may improve health and reduce chronic pain. For example, nutrition experts at Harvard Medical School advocate elimination of inflammatory foods such as white bread and other refined carbohydrates, beverages sweetened with sugar, fried foods, unhealthy fats such as margarine and shortening, red meat, and processed meat such as sausage and hot dogs.
Instead, Harvard Health Publications suggest an increased intake of foods that combat chronic pain and inflammation, such as fresh fruits, nuts, tomatoes, leafy greens, olive oil and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines.
Similarly, the Arthritis Foundation recommends a balanced, nutritious diet rich in cold water fish (high in Omega-3 fatty acids), whole grains, nuts, olive oil, beans and an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
Many people report life-changing improvements in fatigue, energy level and chronic pain after committing to dietary changes fully for at least 30 days. It’s important to note, however, that such dietary changes don’t necessarily revolve around weight loss, but on improved health. However, many people benefit from a certain amount of weight loss after making dietary changes, possibly due to increased energy and reduced cravings for carbohydrates.
Diet: A Powerful Tool
Harvard Medical School’s Women’s Health Watch reports that, “One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes not from the pharmacy, but from the grocery store.” Making major dietary changes isn’t easy. However, reduction or elimination in chronic pain – without use of risky prescription medications — may be a lifestyle change worth considering.