Digestive Health for Reduced Chronic Pain

It may come as a surprise to many, but digestive health is in fact one of the most important steps to achieving a pain-free life. What is digestive health? According to Elizabeth Lipski’s book, Digestive Wellness, faulty digestion is directly responsible for a large number of seemingly unrelated illnesses including arthritis and migraines.

In 2013, the Lancet Journal published the Global Burden of Disease study that stated that low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide. The major common denominator between chronic back pain and poor digestive health is inflammation. Inflammation is at the root cause of disease and illness.

How can we reduce chronic pain through digestion? By reducing inflammatory foods. Inflammatory foods are foods that contribute to greater inflammation in the body when we ingest them. Here is a list of some foods that are particularly inflammatory and some basic steps towards a pain-free life:

1. Eliminate Gluten: Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley, and often oats. It is a ‘pro-inflammatory food’, which means that when we eat foods that contain gluten, we create more inflammation in the body. By avoiding gluten in our diet, we can make great strides in our health. There have been countless reports of reduced joint pain, headaches, and other inflammatory symptoms such as arthritic pain following elimination of gluten in the diet. There are many substitutes today as well as increased awareness in local restaurants about options for meals. For more information on how to perform a gluten-free diet, you can visit: https://www.gluten.net/.

2. Avoid Processed Foods and Preservatives: Processed foods and preservatives are largely comprised of chemicals that are difficult for the body to digest. When we eat a lot of processed foods, our body becomes more inflamed, which leads to common joint pain as well as other chronic issues. By maintaining a diet full of fresh foods, we can create an environment in our body that is more optimal for healing.

3. Refined/Processed Sugar and Sugar Substitutes: Some examples of sugar substitutes include Aspartame, Nutra Sweet, Splenda. Refined sugar would include cane sugar or brown sugar, as examples. Refined sugars can be very toxic to the body. The incidence of diabetes in this country is rising dramatically. This is largely due to elevated consumption of refined sugar in our diet. Sugar substitutes often contain chemicals that can be carcinogenic and highly toxic. By avoiding refined sugar and sugar substitutes, we can improve our health and longevity significantly. As an added benefit, by avoiding refined sugar, pain is often lessened.

4. Drink Lots of Water: Water is a true panacea! In fact, for many Americans, dehydration is a status quo. Without proper hydration, our body fails. Commonly, joint pain is accompanied by swelling in the joint. By drinking lots of water, it helps to filter the fluid in our body, which can be helpful in reducing chronic joint pain.

5. Reduce Grain in Your Diet: Grain is essentially rice, wheat, barley, couscous, pasta, bread, baked goods, etc. There is growing research showing that many of the diseases that are affecting our culture in later life are contributed to by high intake of grain throughout our lifetime. A prominent voice in this community is David Perlmutter, MD, a board-certified neurologist. In his book, Grain Brain, he lays out research on how a lifetime of grain sets the stage for neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. There are many grains that have been touted as healthy, such as brown rice and quinoa. The key to avoiding the inflammatory aspects of grain is to remove it from the ‘center stage’. There are, in fact, some benefits from eating some grains but unfortunately, there are also inflammatory consequences with eating too much. Once we are at the point to implement this step, it is helpful to completely avoid grain for a 2-month period and then to assess how we feel when we eat small amounts of healthier grain.

6. Eat Low Glycemic Food: The glycemic index is a rating scale, which determines how quickly our blood sugar is spiked after eating certain foods. For example, white potato or white bread is very high on the glycemic index because after we eat these types of foods, our blood sugar spikes quickly which is not good for our body. Sweet potatoes are lower on the glycemic index and don’t create that type of spike when we eat them. An example of fruit that is found to be lower on the glycemic index includes berries. There are other fruits as well. You can visit the following link for a more complete list of foods and their corresponding glycemic index: http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php.

When choosing to implement these types of changes in your life, in most cases, it is helpful to take ‘steps’ leading to an optimal diet rather then trying to make all the changes at once. Tackling too many dietary changes at once can be overwhelming for many people. Consider instituting each of these steps over a period of time. As you reduce these inflammatory foods from your diet, the benefits in reduction of chronic pain will be hard to ignore.