Can the Paleo Diet Help Reduce Pain?

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paleo diet for chronic pain

Some proponents of strict fad diets claim that they prevent and cure all of the most serious ailments affecting the population. One thing is for sure – there is no such thing as a miracle cure. There is, however, plenty of evidence on how certain dietary patterns are correlated with lower risks of some illnesses.

For example, the World Health Organization announced that there was enough scientific evidence to definitively draw a causal relationship between the consumption of red and processed meats and certain types of cancer. We have also known for decades that a diet rich in leafy-green vegetables is associated with a lower risk of cancer.

The Paleo Diet has gained a lot of steam over the past several years because it has been known to supercharge weight loss. While experts on the paleolithic period, the era on which the diet is supposedly based, have refuted the validity of the basis for the diet, there is evidence that a high-protein, low-carb diet does, indeed, lead to weight loss.

Of course, the question at hand isn’t about weight loss. Rather, it is about whether the paleo diet can help reduce chronic pain.

First, it is important that we are all on the same page regarding what actually makes up the paleo diet.

Defining the Paleo Diet

There is an entire food and diet industry based on the paleo diet, so there are slight variations in exact definitions of what you should and shouldn’t eat.

In a general, philosophical sense, the Paleo diet is based on the idea that “going back to basics” and eating like our ancestors did will bring a range of health benefits. We should eliminate foods that (supposedly) didn’t exist in the paleolithic period, and limit those that were hard to find.

The foods on the NO list often include:

  • Legumes (including peanuts)
  • Cereal grains
  • Refined sugar
  • Potatoes
  • Processed foods
  • Salt
  • Dairy
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • Root vegetables

The Paleo Diet encourages you to consume pasture-fed and free-range meat, without regard to the source of meat, vegetables, plant foods like nuts, seeds and avocados, which are rich in fats, and fruits. Some Paleo Diet promoters also encourage cutting out fruits, or eating them only occasionally, with the claim that they were much harder to find and only seasonal.

Some of the risks include having a lower calcium intake, due to the limitation of dairy products, and simply not being sustainable in the long run.

The Controversy: Can the Paleo Diet Reduce Pain?

Chronic pain can be caused by multiple factors, but what they all generally have in common is inflammation.

So, the question can be reframed: can the paleo diet reduce inflammation? Unfortunately, there are limited scientific studies that examine this connection.

To help us out in answering this question, we can break down the elements of the paleolithic diet to understand how it might affect us. The increased consumption of vegetables, and healthy fats help to reduce inflammation. Reducing the consumption of processed foods, salt, refined vegetable oils, and dairy, among others, is also good news for reducing inflammation.

The consumption of significant quantities of meat, however, is associated with a range of health issues, including cancer and inflammation.

The Verdict:

Given this evidence, from a nutritional perspective, I would not recommend the Paleo Diet for someone who is trying to find dietary solutions to chronic pain. There is too much evidence that demonstrates the negative impact of the consumption of red meat to health, and not enough evidence to demonstrate that the effects of the Paleo Diet on symptoms linked to different chronic illnesses.

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Sasha deBeausset is a Nutritional Anthropologist with a B.A. from Tufts University, an M.Sc. in Food and Nutrition from the University of San Carlos, and is currently in the process of becoming a licensed nutritionist. She has been awarded for her academic writing and research, and she has been blogging on food, health, and nutrition for over five years. Sasha is passionate about contributing to making quality and research-based information available freely on the web so people can inform themselves and make better decisions for their health.

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