Nutrients and Pain Control
This topic will explore nutrients and pain control. Food is made up of macronutrients and micronutrients. Your body needs macronutrients, like proteins, carbs, and fats, in large amounts to survive. Micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts. These are your vitamins and minerals.
Overall, your body needs each of these to survive. The proportion of each macro- and micronutrient in your diet can affect your pain. In the following sections, we’ll explore how.
Protein is a super star in your health. It is a jack of all trades. Further, it plays a vital role in how your body heals, grows, and functions. Your proteins are in your tissue structures, cell membranes, hormones, and metabolic enzymes. Without protein in your diet, you can’t support any of these processes.
Protein is mega important for people with chronic pain. Yet, many people with chronic pain have low protein-intake.
Many of the pain-relieving molecules in our body are made from protein. When we eat protein, it gets broken down into amino acids. These amino acids are then used to build molecules that are essential for pain relief (e.g., endorphins and dopamine).
Do you suffer from muscle weakness or stiffness? Many people with chronic pain do. Protein intake is necessary to maintain muscle mass. Your body needs certain amino acids that it cannot make itself. Without enough protein in your diet, you can’t maintain and build muscle. Also, collagen, a major component in skin and cartilage, requires protein intake.
Eating protein prevents low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). It stops cravings for carbs and sugar. Protein intake signals the pancreas to secrete glucagon. Glucagon is a hormone that opposes insulin and prevents the storage of extra glucose as fat.
Further, several high-protein foods have anti-inflammatory properties.
In summary, you need protein for pain relief, muscle strength, blood glucose stability, and inflammation control. These are all vital for people with chronic pain.
Some high-protein foods include:
- Meat, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, soy products, and leafy green veggies
Carbohydrates (carbs) are your body’s quick source of energy. You use carbs as fuel during high-intensity exercise. Also, your brain uses glucose as a primary energy source.
When you eat carbs, they are broken down into sugars, which are stored as fat if they aren’t used as energy. So, if you are more sedentary, you should eat less carbs. This is especially true for high-sugar food items. Think sweets and sodas.
Eating carbs signals the release of insulin. This triggers the body’s cells to absorb glucose from the blood. Some carbs can cause a spike in insulin in response to the resulting blood sugar. For example, high-sugar foods or white-carbs. This can lead to excess glucose storage and cause a blood sugar crash. Low blood sugar will make you tired and hungry for more carbs.
When carb-intake is high, it stops you from using your fat storage as energy. So, this prevents weight loss. Further, your body might struggle to control your blood sugar levels if you’ve been eating a high-carb diet.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) has been linked to pain flare-ups. Conversely, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can make it difficult for your body to heal. Each of these processes contribute to pain pathways. This is why it is important to maintain healthy blood sugar regulation.
These risks are higher with processed and refined carbs. Healthier carb sources are harder to break down. They don’t cause your blood sugar to spike as rapidly.
Some examples of carbohydrates are as follows:
Healthy Carbs (complex carbs): vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains.
Carbs to avoid (refined carbs): white bread and pasta, sugary drinks, soda, candy.
We’ve been taught that fat is bad. This is so untrue. Actually, eating healthy fats can do wonders for pain.
You cannot survive without fat. Fat provides long-term energy, protects your organs, and regulates your temperature. Further, there are some vitamins (A, D, E, and K) that are fat-soluble. To be digested and used properly, they need fat.
Yes, it’s best to avoid foods that are processed and high in saturated fats. These have high cholesterol. So, they can contribute to plaque build-up in your arteries. A diet high in saturated fats is a risk-factor for heart disease and stroke. However, eating healthy sources of fats can be lifesaving.
Here is a good trick for choosing healthier fats. Look at how solid the fat is in room temperature. Fats that are solid in room temperature (butter, margarine, lard) are saturated fats. These fats have high cholesterol and can contribute to heart disease. Conversely, fats that are liquids (oils) at room temperature are unsaturated. They are usually healthier.
The star of the show is omega-3 fats. In several studies, they were shown to work better than anti-inflammatory drugs, without the side effects. Eating foods with omega-3s can improve pain and inflammation. Also, they’re great for heart health and brain functioning.
You can get omega-3s in cold-water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or mackerel. Flax, pumpkin, or chia seeds, avocados, walnuts, and pistachios are also great sources of omega-3s.
Important Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that perform hundreds of roles in your body. They support your body’s processes from healing to building bones to using energy.
Vitamins are organic molecules that can be broken down. There are two types of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble. This refers to where the vitamins are stored in food.
Water-soluble vitamins can be absorbed directly into your blood as your food digests. They circulate easily and are regulated by your kidneys. In other words, if you have too much, you’ll pee it out.
Fat-soluble vitamins hang out in healthy fats and oils. They have more of a process to enter your bloodstream. This process involves several steps, different organs, and various protein-carriers. Then, your body stores these vitamins in your fat tissues and liver. When your body needs any fat-soluble vitamin, it will release them into your blood.
Minerals are inorganic and maintain their chemical form. They are vital for water-balance. Further, some are major components of healthy bones and protein structures.
Vitamins and minerals are excellent in very specific amounts. However, you can damage your body if you have too little or too much of any vitamin or mineral. Also, they can counteract each other or certain medications. Make sure to consult your doctor if you decide to take any supplements. Getting vitamins and minerals from food-sources usually ensures that you are not overdoing it.
Vitamins and Minerals that are important for chronic pain
This mineral plays a part in relaxing smooth muscles and blocking pain receptors. It is also vital in nerve conduction. Magnesium activates Vitamin D. When it is low, numbness and muscle cramping occur. It can be found in spinach, beans, nuts, and whole grains.
This fat-soluble vitamin helps you to absorb calcium. Without it, you cannot build strong bones. This is important if you take opioids to control your pain. Opioids can disrupt your ability to build bone. Vitamin D can be found in mushrooms, salmon, egg yolks, and fortified milk. Also, your skin makes Vitamin D when you’re in the sun.
This mineral is necessary for bone strength. It also is a major part of nerve transmission and muscle contraction. Similar to vitamin D, calcium is important if you are taking opioids. Low calcium can cause muscle cramping and fatigue. It can be found in milk products, leafy-green veggies, beans and nuts.
This fat-soluble vitamin has several pain-relieving properties. It is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic (pain reliever). It can be found in sunflower seeds, spinach, fish, mangos, avocados, and almonds.
Vitamin B Family
There are many vitamins in the B-family. They are water-soluble and are required for energy metabolism. They help protect your nerves and can reduce inflammation. Whole foods have various types of B-vitamins in them. This includes meat, fish, dairy, leafy-greens, nuts, beans, and eggs.
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