Nutrition, Inflammation, Pain, Oh My!...
Hope all is well. One of my favorite parts of this job is educating. Helping you understand your body a little bit better, in hopes that you can make the necessary changes to reach your life goals. Every month, I notice a common trend when talking with each of you. Sometimes, it’s a common misconception; other times it’s a common barrier we all face in achieving a health goal. What I’d like to address in this note is something that I think is often overlooked in health care when a person is in pain or overcoming injury:
How what we eat affects pain and inflammation in the body.
If you’ve been told before that what you eat will have little effect on how you feel or how you heal, I would have to call BS on that. I mean, think about it, how can the fuel that you are putting into your machine NOT have an effect on the efficiency of the machinery?!
Let’s start by addressing inflammation and our immune system.
Our immune system is complex and made up of many cells serving many purposes with one goal in mind, keeping our body safe and functioning. When something is wrong in the body, let’s say a cut or muscle tear, the body will create a signal, which triggers inflammation and gets immune cells to start producing chemicals and other signals. This cascade allows the body to start working it’s way to healing this injured tissue. This inflammation can also (most times, not all) trigger pain, which is helpful and protective so we don’t worsen the damage.
Hope you’re still with me. Here’s where things get tricky. Inflammation cannot only be triggered by injury or damage but also by certain chemicals/molecules we ingest. Our food is mostly made up of carbohydrates, fatty acids and protein. Certain fatty acid molecules are known to trigger inflammation and others are known to dampen or inhibit inflammation. Though certain inflammation is good when we are injured or fighting something, too much of it over time at the wrong times, can be detrimental for our health and theoretically increase the pain we feel day-to-day.
Back to the fatty acids… Omega-6 fatty acids (O6FAs) are the type that has been demonstrated to increase inflammation in the body. While O6FAs are still important to consume, too much can be a bad thing for our inflammation levels (especially, if we are already dealing with things that ramp up our inflammation, like stress and sleep deprivation). On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids (O3FAs) have been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory properties; these are the good ones! You’re probably already wondering, what foods contain O6FAs and you guessed it, all the foods we LOVE! Now, this article is not meant to preach eating any certain way, it is simply to create awareness that our food choices really can impact what’s going on in our body, how much inflammation is occurring and potentially how much pain we feel (inflammation can trigger pain but this topic is still arguable).
See below a brief chart for Omega-6 vs Omega-3 rich foods. I hope this is helpful and please send me an email if you have any further questions on this topic.
Omega-6 Rich (pro-inflammatory)
High fructose corn syrup
Grapeseed, corn, sunflower, peanut oils
Heavy alcohol use
Fruits with higher sugar content (fruit juice)
Omega-3 Rich (anti-inflammatory)
Dark, leafy vegetables
Fatty fish, seafood
Olive, coconut oil
Almonds, walnuts, cashews, flax/chia seeds
Green herbs (basil, rosemary, parsley, cilantro)
Berries, cherries, grapefruit