As many as 150 million Americans live with ongoing pain. This usually is caused by such problems as arthritis or injuries to the neck or back.
Being overweight and having a poor diet are crucial factors, too. Fatty tissue is an endocrine (hormone-producing) organ, just like other organs in the body. Studies show that patients who are overweight produce high levels of cytokines, C-reactive protein and other proinflammatory chemicals—substances that promote joint and tissue damage and increase pain.
Good news: Losing as little as 10 pounds can significantly reduce inflammation, pain and stiffness—regardless of the underlying arum: of the discomfort. People who combine weight loss with a diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods (and excludes proinflammatory ones) can reduce pain by up to 90%. The effect rivals that of ibuprofen and similar painkillers—without gastrointestinal upset or other side effects.
The saturated fat in beef, pork, lamb and other meats is among the main causes of painful inflammation. People who eat a lot of meat (including poultry) consume arachidonic acid, an essential fatty acid that is converted into inflammatory chemicals in the body.
Although a vegetarian diet is ideal for reducing inflammation and promoting weight loss (no more than 6% of vegetarians are obese). few Americans are willing to give up meat altogether.
Recommended: A plant-based diet that includes little (or no) meat and poultry...at least two to four weekly servings of fish...and plenty of fiber and anti-inflammatory foods. Patients who follow this diet and limit daily calories to about 1,400 can lose 10 to 25 excess pounds within three months.
Helpful: It takes at least two to three weeks to establish new dietary habits. People who give up meat entirely usually find that they don't miss it after a few weeks—while those who continue to eat some meat may find the cravings harder to resist.
My favorite cookbooks: Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (Marlowe) and Pike Place Market Seafood Cookbook by Braiden Rex-Johnson (Ten Speed).
Here are the best pain-killing foods and beverages. Include as many of these in your diet as possible...
Red nine contains resveratrol, a chemical compound that blocks the activation of the COX-2 enzyme, one of the main substances responsible for pain and inflammation. Resveratrol may be more effective than aspirin at relieving pain from osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Other beverages made from grapes, such as white wine and grape juice, contain some resveratrol, but not as much as red wine.
Servings: No more than two glasses daily for men, and no more than one glass for women.
Alternative source of antioxidants for nondrinkers: Two or more cups of tea daily. Both green and black teas contain epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG). a chemical that blocks the COX-2 enzyme.
Virtually all fruits contain significant amounts of antioxidants. which prevent free radical molecules from damaging cell membranes and causing inflammation. Berries—particularly blueberries, cranberries and blackberries—are among the most powerful analgesic fruits because they're high in anthocyanins, some of the most effective antioxidants. One-half cup of blueberries, for example. has more antioxidant power than five servings of green peas or broccoli.
Servings: One-half cup of berries daily, fresh or frozen.
Bonus: Berries are very high in the antioxidant vitamin C, a nutrient that builds and protects joint cartilage.
Fresh pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, which is in the stem and fruit of the pineapple and inhibits the release of inflammatory chemicals. It has been shown in some studies to reduce arthritic pain. I advise patients with sports injuries to eat pineapple because of its healing powers.
Servings: At least two half-cup servings weekly, more if you're suffering from injuries or an arthritis flare-up. Bromelain also can be taken in supplement form-200 milligrams (mg) to 300 mg, three times daily before meals.
Ginger contains potent anti-inflammatory substances and was found in one study to re-duce knee pain in 63% of patients.
Servings: One teaspoon of ginger daily. Fresh and powdered ginger are equally effective and can be added to food.
I advise patients to substitute oily fish (such as salmon, tuna and sardines) for meat. Fish has little saturated fat (the main proinflammatory), nutrient in the American diet) and is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega. Omega-3s increase the body's production of inhibitory prostaglandins, substances that lower levels of inflammatory chemicals and can reduce arthritis pain.
Servings: Two to four three-ounce servings of fish weekly or 1,000 to 2,000 mg of fish oil (available in capsule form) daily. If you don't like fish, omega-3s also are found in flaxseed, walnuts and soy foods.
Whole Grains And Beans
These are among the best sources of B vitamins—especially important for people who eat a lot of processed foods, which are usually deficient in these nutrients. Studies suggest that vita-mins B-1 (thiamin). B-6 (pyridoxine) and B-12 (cyanocobalamin) may reduce inflammation.
Other B vitamins, such as B-3 (niacin), also reduce inflammation and may increase natural steroid levels and reduce the risk of osteoarthritis.
Servings: At least one-half cup of whole grains and/or beans daily.
Good choices: Brown rice, lentils, chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans.
Bonus: Grains and beans are high in fiber. High-fiber foods promote weight loss by increasing a sense of fullness and maintaining optimal blood sugar levels.