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Nutrition: Influence of Diet on Inflammation and Chronic Pain

Harvard Health Researcher Outlines Effects of Certain Diets on Immune System

An article appearing last week in Harvard Health Online explores the impact of dietary choices on chronic pain by way of the inflammatory effect of certain foods. Dr. Fred Tabung, PhD, MSPH, visiting researcher with the Department of Nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health commented "A lot of chronic pain is the result of chronic inflammation, and the evidence is quite strong that your diet can contribute to increased systemic inflammation. But your diet is also one of the best ways to reduce it." Chronic inflammation that persists after resolution of the triggering event can cause pain in joints, muscle and tissue, as well as elevate the risk for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease. As has been detailed at past PAINWeek conferences, dietary choices can support the proper functioning of the immune system’s inflammatory response or can contribute to persistent inflammation.

Dr. Tabung referenced evidence suggesting that diets with micronutrient deficiencies including zinc, selenium, iron, folic acid and some vitamins may impair the functioning of the immune system. Processed foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and high-fructose corn syrup should be avoided for this, as well as other health reasons. Foods containing the antioxidant group polyphenols can be beneficial in promoting an anti-inflammatory effect. Examples would include berries, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and dark green leafy vegetables. Tabung also emphasizes the long-term nature of a dietary approach to pain, noting that "Your diet is not a quick-fix pill, but it has high potential to help manage and even prevent inflammation, which can help soothe chronic pain."

Read the article.

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