Beating Chronic Pain with Proper Nutrition

Q. How Can the Foods We Eat Cause Pain?

A. In three ways:

Physical – Heartburn, Disability due to Obesity, Feeling So “Full” You Can’t Move

Chemical – Inflammation (Omega-3’s), Ulcers

Emotional – Pain leads to Overeating leads to Fatigue & Inactivity leads to Depression leads to Overeating

The foods you eat can actually cause pain. Typically, the kind of pain food is known to cause is pain from maybe having gas, or from eating really spicy food. Other ways food can physically cause you pain include from heartburn, getting acid coming out of your stomach into your esophagus. If you are overweight so that you can’t exercise or get adequate activity, then a sedentary lifestyle will lead to many health problems, all of which can lead to painful conditions [ex. osteoporosis can lead to a compression fracture or a hip fracture].

Pain can also be caused chemically, and by this I am talking about inflammation, which is a biochemical process in the body that is characterized by pain. You can have an ulcer, where a physical problem is caused by overly acidic stomach juices, or by chemical things like NSAID’s and aspirin use. You can have generally high inflammation levels in the entire body, as well, if you have an unhealthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 Fatty Acids.

So, just like the wrong type of diet can CAUSE pain, the right kind of diet can DECREASE pain. One of the main ways pain is caused is by inflammation, which is a natural process in the body that occurs whenever something happens that the body senses as some sort of insult – like bumping into something, an allergic reaction, a germ getting into the body, or a paper cut. Blood flow increases to bring repairative substances to the injured area, and the swelling and even some of those repairative substances actually stimulate the nerve endings that cause pain.  In many cases, if not most of them, inflammation is a good thing and the proper reaction to whatever the body is responding to. But, when inflammation is not the being triggered by a less-than-adequate diet this is not a good thing.

Well, that same inflammatory process that happens in specific injured areas of the body, and that lead to a whole body rash when you eat something you are allergic to, will cause low-level chronic inflammation throughout the entire body when the things you eat throw you out of balance and feed into this inflammatory process.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids, when part of your healthy diet, can change the inflammatory balance in your body and therefore decrease pain. In fact, Omega-3 Fatty Acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and pain associated with arthritis, to help combat depression.

Inflammation causes pain

Omega-3 Fatty Acids vs. Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Both are essential to health, neither are made by the body naturally – they must come from your diet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are natural anti-inflammatory agents, while Omega-6 FA’s are pro-inflammatory agents.

The American Institute for Cancer Research reports that the current ratio of Omega-6 Fatty Acids to Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the average American diet is about 15-to-1.

An ideal ratio would be 4-to-1.

Omega-3’s are found in:

  • Flaxseed or flaxseed oil
  • Cold water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and trout
  • Fish oil
  • Other seeds and oils.

OMEGA-6’s are found in:

  • Red meat
  • Pork
  • Dairy products
  • Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids such as soybean oil, canola oil and corn oil (often found in processed snacks, baked products and commercial salad dressings).

Pain can even be caused by emotional factors. We’ve likely all seen the anti-depressant commercial that says “depression hurts”.

Well, then. What is a good diet that will promote a pain-free lifestyle?

  • Fruits – fruits are tasty and healthy. Don’t eat too many, though, because they are very high in sugar
  • Vegetables – you should have plenty of vegetables, including leafy greens.
  • Fish & Poultry – these are healthy protein sources and are low in fat.
  • 5+ Small Meals – eating numerous small meals help your body smooth out blood sugar levels and prevents overeating.
  • Eat Slowly – if you eat too fast you can miss the body’s signals that you have eaten enough.
  • Not Too Strict – strict diets are hard to follow and are more punishment than strategy.


Dr. Romano is a board certified and licensed chiropractor in Maryland. He practices in Frederick, Md at 1780 North Market Street. He has an interest in the science of pain and it’s relationship to chiropractic. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Doctorate in Chiropractic. Dr. Romano and Dr. Schooley are available to speak to groups about pain, nutrition, the importance of a healthy nervous system, and other health topics.

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