Q. Which foods act as natural pain killers? Do different foods treat different kinds of pain (stomach pain, headache, body ache, foot pain, arthritis etc.) or are these items suitable for all kinds of pain?
A. Pain is an important signal warning us that a tissue has been damaged and needs immediate attention. An injury causes the release of chemicals that alert nearby sensory nerves, which in turn carry the ‘pain’ message to your brain. The brain processes the message and sends a signal to your motor nerves, telling them to prevent any action that will aggravate the ‘pain’. Hence, if you strain a muscle while playing or have arthritis, your motor nerves will not allow you to move the affected part, in a bid to ‘rest’ it, thereby preserving the part from further damage. Your body also has a very natural way of managing pain – it releases endorphins, chemicals that are painkillers and pain-relievers. Human physiology is truly amazing!!!!!
Pain can be classified as ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’ depending on the duration it lasts. An acute pain is momentary – for example, a sudden flare-up of an old back injury or a gout attack or a stomach cramp – and subsides as soon as the ‘cause’ has been treated. Chronic pain lasts for months and even years, and is often because a permanent treatment has not been established.
Pain is also divided into categories according to its source and characteristics – nociceptive and neuropathic pain being the two most prominent. Nociceptive pain is the immediate cause-effect pain you feel in the midst of an injury or illness. Pain relievers such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin) or opioids work well at treating nociceptive pain, because they interrupt the transmission of pain signals from nerves to your brain or from your brain back down to the location of injury. Neuropathic pain is due to nerve damage that makes pain signals continue to fire, even after the immediate cause has been removed. Neuropathic pain can produce unusual sensations, like a tingling or electric feeling. Neuropathic pain can be especially frustrating because it doesn’t respond well to pain relieving medication. Instead, treatments target the affected nerves. One therapy for neuropathic pain, called neurostimulation, sends an electric current to the spinal cord. This creates an alternate sensation that prevents the original pain signals from reaching the brain.
Acute or chronic pain caused due to inflammation of the injured site can be prevented and managed with the help of certain anti-inflammatory foods. Identifying foods that trigger pain is the first step towards a dietary approach to pain management. Maintaining a food diary will help you isolate foods or food combinations or cooking methods that bring on or aggravate pain. Members of the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, brinjal), sugar-rich foods, meats, and high-fat dairy are known offenders of pain, but can behave differently in individuals across the community. Fried, grilled, and processed foods are also best avoided, especially in cases of chronic pain. The following foods have been established as being pain-preventers and pain-relievers, and including them on a daily basis in your diet can help alleviate pain:
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, walnuts, flaxseeds
- Vitamin C-containing foods such as citrus fruits and vegetables and sprouts, which support collagen structure and especially help deal with joint-related pains
- Micronutrient-rich foods, especially those containing Zinc, Selenium, Folic Acid, and Vitamin B6 and A, develop the immune system that helps fight pain
- Spices such as turmeric, and sulphur-containing onion and garlic are known to contain anti-inflammatory substances
- Anthocyanin-rich foods such as berries and cherries also stop inflammation and its associated pain
- Maintaining gut health with the help of probiotics (curds, yoghurt, lassi, buttermilk) is today known to help alleviate pain symptoms
SHERYL AFONSO e D’SOUZA
CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST (NORBERT’S FITNESS STUDIO)
& DEPARTMENT HEAD (M.Sc. Food Technology), CARMEL COLLEGE