Wayne Jonas, MD, executive director of Samueli Integrative Health Programs at H&S Ventures, discusses what foods he recommends including and excluding from patients’ diets to help manage pain.
What sort of impact does diet have on chronic and acute pain management?
So, diet is often overlooked in chronic pain management. It has less of a role in acute pain management, obviously. But for chronic pain patients, I always ask about what they eat. And why do I do that? Well, the reason is that we now know that what we put on our mouth influences a variety of things that can perpetuate or aggravate chronic pain. The main culprit is inflammation. Inflammation, when it’s high in the body, can actually make chronic pain worse by exacerbating signals of the pain to the body. We know that diet can reduce inflammatory signals.
There are certain foods, for example, that are anti-inflammatory. Many of them are spices. For example, turmeric, garlic, ginger have anti-inflammatory properties. There are other foods that increase inflammation, for example, sugar and alcohol. So, one of the things I asked all my patients about is what is their diet, looking for those types of things, and then I provide them with recommendations on how to increase the anti-inflammatory foods in their diet and decrease the inflammatory generating foods, and very often they’ll see a reduction in their chronic pain components when this happens. Sometimes supplements can be useful for this, but I try to rely on diet as much as possible.
An additional influence of diet is on weight and weight management. Weight is a problem. Obesity is a growing problem in our country and people that are overweight or obese have higher incidences of chronic pain. The reason for this is that adipose tissue aggravates the inflammatory processes that I just talked about. But it also produces mechanical issues on the back and on the joints, where many chronic pain conditions are. Simply losing weight and doing that through diet and exercise can produce considerable relief in chronic pain. Patients are often surprised that even small amounts of weight loss can result in reductions in their osteoarthritis pain or their low back pain, for example. And so, I consider diet an essential part of chronic pain management, and I ask all my patients questions about their diet.