By Dave Grotto, RD, LDN
Spring is in the air and hopefully for many of us, that spurs the desire to move more. Unfortunately, more movement can spell more pain, especially for joints that haven’t moved in a while or are subjected to abuse. Although millions of Americans use prescription and non-prescription drugs daily in an effort to control inflammation and pain however, studies are ongoing to see if what we eat can help with pain relief.
Here are some foods that look promising:
- Cherries are packed with anthocyanins which have similar pain-reducing effects as anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that tart cherry juice before long distance running can reduce post-run muscle pain. Several studies support the pain relieving effects in joints, too!
- Ginger is loaded with powerful antioxidants such as shogaols, zingerones and gingerols which are all effective anti-inflammatories. In the science Journal of Pain, a randomized double blind placebo-controlled study found that subjects who either ate about ½ teaspoon of raw or cooked ginger for 11 days prior to muscle injury from exercise saw pain reduced within 24 hours compared to the control group. In another related study, ginger was not effective for reducing pain when it was taken 24-48 hours after an injury. The study’s authors emphasized the importance of consuming ginger daily for maximum pain relief.
- Hot Peppers cause pain to the tongue and any other mucous membrane. But surprisingly, it is effective for halting pain in other areas of the body. Hot peppers are extremely rich in vitamin C which helps repair wounded tissue that causes pain. They are also abundant in the type of phytochemicals which reduce pain-causing inflammation such as flavonoids and capsaicinoids, including capsaicin, which has become part of salves and ointments for aching joints and muscles. A randomized double blinded study of 30 patients with chronic dyspepsia (upset stomach) found that those who ingested about ½ teaspoon of red pepper (2.5 g) daily for 5 weeks had 60% reduction in reports of stomach pain, fullness and nausea compared to the placebo group who experienced a 30% reduction of complaints. Long-term ingestion of hot chilis was found to improve dyspepsia and GERD symptoms in small randomized, controlled studies.
- Salmon is one of the best fish sources of omega-3s and also a source of vitamin D. These nutrients help with aches and prevent arthritis and joint soreness. Omega-3s help to reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines and enzymes that cause painful joints, muscles and nerve endings. Clinical studies have shown that intake of omega-3 fats found in foods like salmon result in reduction in pain associated with arthritis, dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual cramps), inflammatory bowel disease, and neuropathy (nerve pain).
- Turmeric is loaded with the pain and inflammation-fighting plant nutrient called curcumin. Several animal and human studies have demonstrated effectiveness of Turmeric as an effective pain reliever. A double blind placebo controlled study found that turmeric was effective for relieving post surgical pain and fatigue.
Turmeric, fresh grated ginger, diced hot peppers and tart cherry preserves, all mixed together, makes a wonderful glaze for salmon. Add a little ground pepper and salt to taste. Dust off the grill and try it as your season opener entrée to a pain-free spring and summer. Any other ideas for combining these ingredients or any other foods that you have found helpful in controlling pain would be most welcomed!