We know that food is medicine. But what does that mean for people with chronic pain?
I explain to my patients that the nutrition and pain link typically falls into two categories: obesity and chronic inflammation.
Studies show obesity and pain go together in every age group along the life span, from children to older adults. People who have obesity have more severe pain and that pain is also more likely to come back after treatment. Accelerating that recovery and preventing the pain’s return is a major goal of integrative health care.
One way obesity causes pain is that the extra tissue on the body puts a heavier load on bones and joints. Just like an overloaded piece of equipment, joints can start breaking down faster than normal. They might change shape or rub on each other in ways that cause pain. A person might also stand, sit or walk differently. Fat cells also release substances that cause inflammation in the body. Stretching and manipulation of those fat cells and the connective tissue around them can accelerate the reduction of inflammation and pain by stimulating increases in chemicals called resolvins.
Inflammation also plays a role for both those who have obesity and those who don’t.
What we eat affects both inflammation and obesity. Numerous studies find that improving diet can provide the same, if not better, benefits than medical therapy with less risk, fewer side effects, lower costs, and shorter hospital stays.
Most major medical guidelines include nutrition as a key part of managing chronic disease. But we need to put that into practice. To my fellow providers: next time someone comes into your office or clinic suffering from chronic pain, tell them about the connection between what they eat and how they heal. Ask them what they had to eat the day before. Give them my guide and refer them to a nutritionist. It’s evidence-based and just good medicine.
P.S. There was some confusion last month about the news on ear acupuncture. Unfortunately, after I’d read the article on Military Times, they narrowed the scope of the coverage. Although I’m disappointed, it is still a step in the right direction.