3 ways nutrition can improve chronic pain

By Rachel Allen, MD

If you’re one of the unfortunate 20% of the population who has chronic pain1, you can appreciate how small changes can make a large impact on your body. Patients often comment on the fluctuations in their pain depending on if a storm is rolling in, they’re stressed out, weight goes up, hydration status, or activity level changes. There are so many factors that affect pain. However, what can YOU do about it? You can’t change the weather, weight won’t just come off easily (especially when you’re in pain with mere movement!), and the stressors in your life don’t disappear overnight. We often overlook one of the major things in our control….nutrition. What we put into our bodies becomes the building blocks for the creation of the molecules that will either help or hinder us. It’s like putting premium grade fuel into a Ferrari or quality fabrics to make clothing that will last a lifetime (or least years). If that premium grade fuel isn’t used, your mileage will go down, your engine not run well, and who knows what sounds that engine will make! However, one thing is for certain…we MUST put in fuel! Not eating, is not an option. Eating is necessary and important! We will never all be the same size, nor are we supposed to be. BMI can be a horribly poor calculator of health. So let’s dig down into what fuel we can give our bodies to run well, feel good, and give us the best chance to go farther, feeling the best we can.


1. Choose foods that aid in reducing inflammation and improving function

White sugar and white flour increase white blood cells


Sugar and refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, etc) increase inflammation, spike insulin, and leave you hungry. Why does this matter? Increase inflammation means your body is

working at bringing yourself back into balance, increased pain, and less movement (which our bodies and brain need!). Sure, some people can gorge on platefuls of bread, pasta, and finish it off with cake and then run a marathon and feel fantastic – well, maybe (perhaps they never know how good they could feel if they fueled better). We’d all love to be that person. Problem is, not only will that not last, but those cells that are starved for true nutrition will burn out faster, create more inflammation, and not be able to build the cells we need. Here’s the short on eating foods the reduce inflammation:

-Cut those refined carbohydrates out: no refined sugar, breads, pastas, cookies,  cakes, etc). Choose carbs in the forms of sweet potatoes, cassava, tigernuts, fruits, and vegetables.

Berries for your belly


-Eat berries: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries. These are packed full of antioxidants and so good for our bodies). Berries are full of antioxidants, they are packed with nutrient dense vitamins and minerals, and are just delicious. We often use them in our family as dessert!

The solution to pollution is dilution!


Drink water: Flushing toxins, and unwanted substances/chemicals out of your body through staying hydrated is so important. Not to mention, 60% of the human body is water…we all need it to stay healthy and functioning properly. There is even data, showing not hydrating can play a role in obesity and chronic diseases.2 Go for 80-100oz/day.

Anti-inflammatory supplements?

Try some tumeric3: Turmeric is a root with some data showing some possible improvement in reduction of inflammation and maybe even memory. There is scientific evidence that supports the efficacy of turmeric extract (about 1000 mg/day of curcumin) in the treatment of arthritis and inflammation.

2. Balance

We need a variety of different foods. Think the rainbow. If we only lived off of one food, we wouldn’t get the nutrients we needed. We need protein from healthy sources such as fish, grass fed animals, hemp hearts, and nuts. The healthy fats from avocados, nuts, olive oil, etc….the vitamins from fruit and vegetables and trace minerals from legumes, nuts, sea salt, vegetables, fruits, seafood, etc.


3. Quantity

In one word, goldilocks. Not too much, not too little, but just enough. Our bodies need energy. Not eating, is not an option! However, too much of anything is not healthy as well. It’s a small but important difference to recognize the difference between feeling “full” and “no longer hungry”. Rarely do we need to feel “full” – perhaps on special occasions such as Thanksgiving, birthdays, and New Years! We can’t be so rigid we forget to live. On average, we should be shooting for the “no longer hungry” marker though. Our stomachs and brains can take some time as we navigate this difference. Be kind to yourself as you figure this balance out.


In short, if you’re reading this, you care – and that is amazing! Be proud of yourself for that. Changes are, well, changes! We are wired to think changes are threats but they are also what allow us to grow, improve, evolve and becomes the better versions of who we are.  Here’s to evolving into the better versions of ourselves!


Tips & Tricks


Look at the ingredients and labels of everything. Even certain foods that should be good for you, can have lots of sugar. (ex. Some yogurts have 40+ grams of sugar!)


Use a smaller plate to find that balance in quantity and trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more!


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6736a2.htm
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7230456/
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