How Your Diet Impacts Pain Levels

foods that affect pain

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.


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