Food as medicine - dietary approaches to pain management

For most women living with some kind of pain is a fact of life. To our credit though we are a hardy bunch and, of necessity, the pressure of many competing roles has meant that we've always had to  find some way of getting on with the business of living.

With regards approaches to health, however, over the last 20 years advances in complementary therapies, over the counter remedies and greater access to medical information mainly via the internet, has meant that millions of women have been able to take control over their own lives and bodies. Of course  for many conditions - particularly life threatening diseases  like cancer - the conventional medical model is entirely appropriate.  However, for millions of others - who live with non specific pain issues mainly associated with advancing age - conventional pain management is maybe not the best or only option.

To some extent the approaches to pain management have mirrored the changes seen elsewhere in health and, at least in the USA and Western Europe,  there has been a  shift towards self help.  Much has been written about the role of  various types of therapies and supplements. And a variety of over the counter products are now readily available on the high street. However,  for reasons that I'm not clear about, dietary approaches to the management of pain seem to have taken a back seat. This puzzles me as, since the dawn of time, ancient healers and physicians have been successfully using food to treat and cure people. For instance in ancient Egypt Pliny declared that the consumption of cabbage would cure as many as 87 diseases. Garlic was considered a holy plant and it's consumption was thought to cure 28 conditions. Cruciferous vegetables, such as g broccoli and cabbage, were purely cultivated for their medicinal qualities and were used therapeutically for headache, gout and stomach disorders.

Of course the ancient healers knew nothing about pathogens, the role of  insulin or how neuro-transmitters worked. Their knowledge was based on anecdotal evidence passed down through the ages. It's taken hundreds of years for modern science to catch up with these ancient practices.  In a world where we place great emphasis on evidence based medicine, fortunately,  we now have the scientific evidence that supports the medicinal properties of plants, fruit and vegetables. That, coupled with a better understanding of the disease process, bodes well for the concept of food as medicine; a subject that I've been interested in since the 1990s.

Ok,  that's all the background. So, what about the nitty gritty about what and what not to eat? According to Jean Carper in her best selling book - Food Your Miracle Medicine - the foods most likely to trigger or aggravate joint pain are corn, wheat, meat, milk and Omega 6 vegetable oils. Overall, the experts are now saying that, when it comes to joint pain, a largely vegetarian diet with some fish is best.  There are also some foods with pain killing properties  eg  coffee (caffeine), chilli peppers (capsaicin) clove, garlic, ginger, cherries, liquorice, onion and peppermint.

A word about Salicylates -  a substance similar in action to aspirin. Found in many foods Salicyates have anti-coagulant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving ) effects. Therefore, anyone with a condition causing pain might want to have a diet rich in the following foods -

Foods high in natural Salicylates are - blueberries, cherries, dried currants, curry powder, dried dates, gherkins, liquorice, paprika, prunes and raspberries.

Foods moderately high in natural Salicylates are - almonds, apples (particularly Granny Smiths) oranges, peppers, persimmon, pineapple, tea.

Generally it is thought that fruit contains more naturally occurring Salicylates. Also, it seems that neither heating or canning fruit reduces the Salicylate concentration.

If you're looking for alternative ways to get the foods you require in high concentration then I urge you to give juicing a go.  A big bold carrot juice packed with granny smith apples, fresh lemons, oranges and fresh root ginger is a thing of great joy. Invest in a juicer, a basic juicing recipe book  and you will never regret it.

To get you started here's a simple recipe for a basic carrot juice (serves 4-5 people)

Ingredients -
1 kg carrots
6 granny smith's apples
2 lemons
2 oranges
I generous chunk of root ginger

Remove the carrot tops, then peel the carrots and ginger before  rinsing in a colander with the apples. Squeeze the citrus fruits and set to one side. Place all but the citrus fruit in a centrifugal juicer and juice until the process runs dry. Then mix in the citrus juice. Add the lot to a tumbler full of ice and enjoy! Heaven in a glass.

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