Chronic PainHow Your Diet Impacts Pain Levels

How Your Diet Impacts Pain Levels

Wouldn’t it be great to pop some apple slices into your mouth instead of pills to get rid of pain?

This idea might not be too far from reality.

Of course, this isn’t to say you can simply dismiss your doctor and stop taking your prescribed medications; however, you may be able to adopt good diet habits that can help reduce intensity of pain.

Of course, before making any major diet changes, please first consult with your doctor. Not only does your doctor have a better idea of what you need as an individual, he or she can also guide against taking any foods that might interfere with your medications.

How does food affect pain levels?

First, let’s take a moment to understand why we feel pain. We feel pain thanks to nociceptors, which are specialized nerves that can detect changes in temperature, chemical balance or pressure. Nociceptors tells your brain when there is tissue damage, and your brain “makes” you feel pain so that you react to it by doing something (like moving your hand away from a fire) or by telling you not to do something (like not putting weight on a sprained ankle).

There are four different general types of pain. They include:

  • Somatic pain: felt on the skin (like a cut or burn)
  • Visceral pain: felt in organs and cavity linings (like a stomachache)
  • Referred pain: felt in a different place other than the source of tissue damage (arm numbing during a heart attack)
  • Chronic pain: can be continuous or intermittent, mild or severe (like arthritis or migraines)

In regard to the first three types of pain mentioned above, we don’t want to not feel the pain. In these cases, pain can keep us from damaging our tissue further, and can even save our lives, as it triggers the fight-or-flight response.

The last type of pain on the list above is different. With chronic pain, our bodies become so used to the pain stimulus that the fight-or-flight response is no longer triggered. Often, we are told chronic pain is untreatable, so relieving this pain is where the interest of researchers and medical scientists rests.

Thanks to these scientists, we know more about which types of foods can help alleviate chronic pain.

What Foods Can Help Reduce Pain?

The foods that help to alleviate chronic pain are those that help to reduce cellular inflammation and slow nerve damage.

There are also foods that may be promoting inflammation and making your pain worse. Below we tell you about four pain-fighting food switches you should be making in your diet to help reduce pain caused by inflammation.

Green leafy vegetables instead of starchy vegetables

Green leafy vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which help to combat any nutrient deficiencies we might have, while also helping to rid our bodies of free radicals that may be causing cell damage. Fill at least half of your plate with foods like spinach, kale, collard greens, arugula and fresh herbs on a daily basis, and switch out starchy vegetables, like corn and potatoes, for leafy greens.

Olive oil instead of corn oil

Olive oil is high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids while being low in omega-6 fatty acids, which most of us already get enough of. A healthy omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is important to fight inflammation. Choose olive oil to cook rather than corn oil, or generic “vegetable oil” (and definitely over lard or bacon grease) for most anti-inflammatory benefits. One study even described “ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil,” highlighting its pain-fighting potential.

When you cook with olive oil, be sure that you don’t heat it to the point where it smokes, which is over 350 degrees F. At this point, olive oil can become toxic, so it’s better to cook over low- to medium-heat.

Frozen berries instead of ice cream

Berries deliver the most bang for your buck in terms of antioxidants, thanks to their flavonoid and phenolic compounds, though all fruits deliver important amounts. Berries are also naturally sweet and high in fiber, which make them taste like dessert without the sugar high (and crash). Freezing blueberries or raspberries and popping them into your mouth after a meal instead of ice cream (high in inflammation-causing ingredients) is your best desert choice.

Nuts and seeds instead of chips

Nuts, especially walnuts, almonds and Brazil nuts, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and contain plenty of minerals that can help support a healthy metabolism. As mentioned previously, omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation, and also work to promote healthy circulation. Nuts are savory, like chips and other fried goods, and they also help to fight hunger in between meals. Choose natural nuts, instead of salted or flavored nuts, for the most benefits.


To see a difference in pain levels due to diet, it is important that you examine your entire diet, and make significant changes, if necessary. It is not enough to make the food switches mentioned above every once in a while. Diet is about eating patterns over a long period of time. If you are able to adopt discipline to make these changes; however, you will likely see benefits beyond a reduction in pain. You will likely also see benefits in energy levels, your immune system and even body weight.

If you have successfully changed your diet for the better, please comment below and let our other readers know what has worked well for you.

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