I’ve seen a surge in people wanting help with chronic pain in the last few years. Perhaps it’s the public mind becoming aware of some of the more recent research on pain and inflammation and their connection with diet. Perhaps its the fact that many people are tired of traditional methods of treatment which leave them hooked on a pill that doesn’t fully work.
Regardless, the latest research into chronic pain is recognizing the link between our diets and these symptoms (like pain) which might seem unrelated.
Here’s how it works: 80% of your immune system resides in your gut. Your gut is then connected with a direct line to your brain by a nerve called the vagus nerve. All those pain signals coming from the brain to the body are deeply connected to the functioning of your gut. Since your immune system resides there, we need to look at the gut and it’s overall health to see if there are any imbalances.
The main factor in gut health is nutrition. Nutrition includes everything you “take in” to the body, food, liquids, supplements and even medication. Food is the biggest factor because you take it in, in large quantities, multiple times everyday.
We know there are foods that break down the natural gut barriers and we know there are foods that provide important nutrients to the many bacteria that live there. The key is balance. When too many break down foods are consumed over a span of time, the gut can develop something called permeability. This permeability then causes inflammatory molecules and food sensitivities to develop. Consuming foods you are sensitive to then flares up the immune system, causing systemic inflammation. (I’ve written many, many articles about intestinal permeability so I won’t go into more detail here but see the following and others for more detail( Nutrition for Autoimmune Disease? A Functional Approach can Reduce Pain and Suffering 5 Signs You Have Gut Issues, Even If You Don’t Have Gut Issues, )
Your body has a memory for pain. So when your body is overwhelmed with inflammation, it will send pain signals to those memories first. You might notice when you have pain symptoms, they flare up in the same areas. Sometimes this is connected with a car accident or past trauma and sometimes it is just a place the body picks, but usually there is some consistency with WHERE you feel the pain because of this memory.
On a side note, sometimes there are no noticeable gut issues so people think it isn’t a problem. But your pain could be a symptom of a gut issue!
Chronic pain is often triggered by stress and people often connect the dots there and therefore think diet plays no role. What I try to explain to my clients is that nutrition’s goal is to reduce the chronic, systemic inflammation in the body so that the normal stressors of life do not have the power to push the body over the edge into a flare. This reduces the flares in the long run, reduces the severity of them, and helps keep things like stress and even weather from playing such a major role in pain.
We have no control over the weather and little to no control over stress in our lives. But we do have control over what we eat and drink.
Here’s what to do: There are several important steps for working on chronic pain and it is best addressed with a professional nutritionist who specializes in a functional approach. I have seen many clients who have tried this work on their own and gotten lost in the weeds. It is very difficult to be objective with a complex problem like pain, especially when the diet approach can be so difficult, so having someone in your corner is HUGE.
However, my best tips for addressing this as well as you can on your own are as follows.
2. Work on gut repair. Prebiotics, Probiotics, Mucosal Builders, all of these are important for the long term success. You may experience loss of pain without them but in order for that to work after the foods are reintroduced, you need to work on repair. In my practice, I work with doctor grade supplements that are not available to non-clients and can’t be purchased through amazon. However, there are some decent places to start (Probiotics, here. A good prebiotic. Mucosal Builder here)
3. Reintroduce foods one at a time and slowly. One food per week so that you can see if any of them flare your issues.
Learning about your body and it’s responses to food is a big part of recovering from chronic pain. If you struggle to get to the root of these issues and need help, please consider contacting me for a consult.