If you suffer from chronic pain, you’re far from alone. Studies show that Americans are suffering an epidemic of chronic pain. And it’s steadily getting worse.
Research at the University of Buffalo demonstrates that, in people aged 25 to 84, the number of those suffering with chronic pain grew dramatically from the start of the study in 2002 to the year it ended in 2018.1 And today it’s estimated that more than one in five Americans suffers from chronic pain.2
If you’re one of them, don’t despair. There’s real hope and it doesn’t start in your medicine cabinet, but in your kitchen.
“You might think that with medical advances we’d be getting healthier and experiencing less pain, but the data strongly suggest the exact opposite,” warns researcher Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk.
I think that some of the factors driving this epidemic of chronic pain are pretty obvious. We spend too many hours sitting as though we’re frozen, hunched over our screens and typing on keyboards while we don’t engage in enough physical movement. That kind of tortured, bent-over posture is bound to lead to pain in muscles, tendons, joints and bones.
Also, the number of people with type-2 diabetes has increased dramatically and that disease often causes various types of nerve pain. Plus, Americans generally gain extra weight every year and those surplus pounds are putting additional stress and strain on joints, often leading to chronic pain.
There’s another factor, too: New research shows that the typical American diet adds to the problem.
The Wrong Kind of Fats Trigger Inflammation
A study led by scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio indicates that the type of fats most Americans consume every day in their meals can increase the chances of chronic pain.
According to these findings, drawn from tests on both animals and humans, our excessive use of omega-6 fats found in vegetable oil causes physiological changes in cell membranes and nerves that exacerbate chronic pain.3
But if you reduce your intake of vegetable oils and get more omega-3s – mainly from fish and fish oil or flaxseeds and walnuts – the Texas researchers report that you may be able to reduce your suffering. According to their research, within about two months of changing your diet to include more omega-3 fats, you may find some pain relief.
Personally, I know a number of people with autoimmune-related pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, that have had great success in reducing their pain by increasing their omega-3 consumption through diet and supplementation.
One person in particular has also found that cutting out gluten made a world of difference in swelling and pain in her hands and feet upon rising in the morning. This isn’t just anecdotal. There are a number of studies that link gluten to inflammation and joint pain.
Gluten Sensitivity and Joint Pain
One such study, published in Europe, found that people with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to have celiac disease (or gluten intolerance) than the general population. Researchers found the presence of anti-gluten antibodies in higher numbers in people with rheumatoid arthritis than in those without the disease.4
Another study, published in the journal Disease Markers in 2019, found a similar overlap of antibiodies in the blood of those with rheumatoid arthritis and wheat-related disorders, including celiac disease. In other words, the study revealed that people with celiac disease frequently have antibody markers for rheumatoid arthritis and that people with rheumatoid arthritis frequently have antibody markers of celiac disease.5
Reducing Headache Pain
Increasing your consumption of omega-3s and reducing omega-6 fats may also help reduce the chronic pain you suffer from migraines according to research at Harvard.
The Harvard researchers explain that the body makes omega-6 and omega-3 fats into compounds called oxylipins, natural chemicals that take part in regulating inflammation and pain. However, the oxylipins that are made from omega-3 fatty acids are linked to pain reduction while the oxylipins formed from omega-6 can make pain worse and even trigger a migraine headache.
In their tests on more 180 people who suffer migraines, the scientists found that while a shift in dietary fat to favor omega-3s didn’t wipe out headaches altogether, they did reduce the time migraine-sufferers spent suffering headache pain each month.6
Vitamins May Fight Arthritis Pain
Osteoarthritis is another widespread source of serious chronic pain. Right now about 30 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis – a type of arthritis that can cause joints to swell and hurt. There’s no conventional medical treatment for this type of arthritis except for pain medications and joint replacement. And to help with osteoarthritis in the knee, just about the only thing healthcare providers can recommend is to keep your weight down and stay active.
But research at Tufts indicates that getting enough vitamin D and vitamin K may help keep this type of pain under control. The vitamin combination may also prevent the debilitating condition that results when arthritic joints become calcified, a condition called calcific periarthritis.7 This occurs when calcium crystals form around the joints and cause inflammation and pain.
The researchers aren’t entirely sure why these two vitamins are beneficial, but they suspect it’s because the nutrients help keep a particular type of protein (matrix Gla protein) functioning properly in keeping calcium out of the joint.
If you want to increase your intake of vitamin K, it’s available in supplements and also found in leafy green vegetables as well as Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Vitamin D is also available in supplements, of course. Plus, getting some sun on your bare skin around mid-day (but don’t get burned!) induces your skin to make vitamin D.
This research really brings to mind the old adage “You are what you eat.” The studies confirm that if you want a comfortable, strong and flexible body you should eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and avoid processed foods as much as possible.