Chronic pain is probably one of the most prevalent causes of visits to the doctor’s office. (1) Most often, chronic pain is accompanied by a long list of other annoying problems, including low mood, poor concentration, and irritability. Often there is difficulty with work or family life.
The root cause of pain is often poor functioning of cells, the basic building blocks of our bodies. The root cause of poor functioning of cells is increased inflammation, strained mitochondria, and hormonal disruption caused by plastics, solvents, and other man-made chemicals in the body. (2,3) But the biggest factor contributing to chronic pain is poor diet quality.(4)
I’ve seen firsthand the healing power that changes in diet can have on chronic pain. For decades, I suffered severe pain due to progressive multiple sclerosis and was confined to a tilt-recline wheelchair, despite seeing the best physicians at the Cleveland Clinic and taking the newest drugs. I declined steadily for seven years, but once I created a diet and lifestyle program based specifically on what science says brain cells need to thrive, my symptoms steadily reduced. The fatigue and pain completely resolved. I could walk easily without a cane and even bike 18 miles with my family. I’ve changed the focus of my research–now I study how diet and lifestyle choices can treat disease. (5,6) And most importantly, I have changed my clinical practice.
If you have chronic pain, there’s little to lose and much to gain. Eliminate the sugar and flour-based products from your diet. Eat more vegetables. Move your body. Simple diet and lifestyle changes can restore health and vitality to your life.
Here are the top 3 food-related changes you can make to decrease your pain.
- Stop eating gluten-containing grains.
Food allergies, such as peanut allergies, are antibody-mediated and can lead to death within minutes. Food sensitivities are not acutely life-threatening but can lead to excessive inflammation through over-activation of the immune system. The most common unrecognized food sensitivity is gluten, which is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten sensitivity has been associated with a wide variety of problems, including but not limited to allergic rhinitis, asthma, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, seizures, headaches, mood disorders, and autoimmune disorders. (7) If you have chronic pain, try going gluten-free. Do it for 100 days at 100% to really know whether going gluten-free reduces your symptoms.
- Eat more vegetables, especially the non-starchy ones.
Vegetables have a lot of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that our cells and mitochondria (the power plants of the cells) need to thrive. They also have a lot of fiber that the bacteria living in our bowels need. The goal is to eat 6 to 9 cups (measured raw) of vegetables each day. More plants in the diet increases plant phenols (antioxidants) and reduces inflammation.(8) This will also help quiet the irritability of nerves and pain receptors. The link between the bacteria in our gut and the health of the brain continues to become clearer. A healthy mix of bacteria is associated with better mood, better thinking, fewer autoimmunity-related problems, and less pain. (9)The goal is to eat enough fiber to have one soft bowel movement per day. If constipation persists, eat chia pudding or flaxseed puddings to add more fiber to your diet.
- Make more home-cooked meals.
Begin cooking at home again, using recipes, not pre-packaged mixes. Meals cooked at home are more healthful and less expensive. Make meals from ingredients, using a recipe, and eat them with your family. Ask your children to help prepare the meals and clean up afterward. If your kids can manage a smartphone or a video game controller, they can assist with meal prep and clean up. Family bonding around a home-cooked meal improves children’s performance in school, their social skills, and their future health. Cooking at home is one of the best ways to improve the quality of the food you eat and reduce the cost of meals. (10)
Time and time again people who come to our therapeutic lifestyle clinic adopt our recommended food strategies and get steadily younger looking and healthier. Blood sugars and blood pressures normalize, reducing the need for prescription medication. Pain levels drop. Mood improves. Brain fog resolves. Energy improves and the need for medication steadily declines
Every day we decide what to eat. Improving the quality of the food you eat is one of the most powerful actions you can take to reverse poor health and get your life back. I got mine back that way. I have seen thousands of others get their life back that way too. You could be next
Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where she conducts clinical trials. She is also a patient with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, which confined her to a tilt-recline wheelchair for four years. Dr. Wahls restored her health using a diet and lifestyle program she designed specifically for her brain and now pedals her bike to work each day. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles (paperback), and the cookbook The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life: The Revolutionary Modern Paleo Plan to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions. If you want to learn more about what I do, visit www.terrywahls.com. Pick up my new cookbook, The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life, to jumpstart your healing journey and get your life back.