Chronic pain affects 116 million American adults. That’s more than a third of the US population. And while pain pills reduce suffering, they can be addictive and produce side effects. Worse, they often fail to eliminate the true cause of the pain.
“No matter how well you prescribe medication, chronic sufferers don’t get complete relief,” says James N. Dillard, MD, author of The Chronic Pain Solution. “It’s an enormous problem, and the medical community is doing a bad job solving it.” But there is an alternative, and it’s right in your kitchen. Certain foods ease aches by fighting inflammation, blocking pain signals, and even healing underlying disease.
“Almost always, if we find pharmaceuticals doing the trick, we’ll find a plant doing the same trick—and doing it more safely,” says botanist James A. Duke, PhD, author of The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods. But before you can reap these rewards, you have to quit the junk food that riles up your body’s pain system. The typical Western-style diet is heavy on foods that promote inflammation, including highly processed foods and refined carbs. No fruit, vegetable, or herb by itself can alleviate your pain if you don’t change the pattern of your diet to reduce processed food and increase whole foods.
This may not be easy, says Peter Abaci, MD, medical director of the Bay Area Pain and Wellness Center in Los Gatos, CA. “But if you stay committed to a good nutrition plan, you may be able to say good-bye to pain.” Click through these 10 pain-fighting foods.
Find more all-natural healing foods in Foods That Fight Pain by Dr. Neal Barnard.
Compounds in cherries called anthocyanins—the same phytonutrients that give cherries their rich ruby hue—are powerful antioxidants that work in two ways to tamp down pain. “They block inflammation and they inhibit pain enzymes, just like aspirin, naproxen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories,” says Muraleedharan Nair, PhD, natural products chemist at Michigan State University’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources. One study in theJournal of Nutrition showed that people who ate a bowl of cherries for breakfast reduced a major marker of inflammation by 25%. Other researchers found less muscle pain in runners who drank 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days before a distance run.
This spicy root is a traditional stomach soother, easing seasickness and nausea. It’s believed to work by breaking up intestinal gas and possibly blocking a receptor in the gut that induces vomiting. But there are good reasons to eat ginger even when you’re not doubled over. Another natural aspirin impersonator and anti-inflammatory, it can offer relief from migraines, arthritis pain, and muscle aches.
There are plenty of ways to include ginger in your diet. Add it grated into Asian dishes, smoothies, and juice. Or make ginger tea by placing sliced, peeled gingerroot in boiling water and letting it steep for 15 minutes. For ginger lemonade, combine grated gingerroot, lemon juice, and honey with ice water.
Ulcers are the result of a pathogen called H. pylori, which attacks the protective lining of the stomach or small intestine. Antibiotics are the usual cure, but you can help prevent ulcers in the first place by drinking cranberry juice, thanks to its ability to block H. pylori from adhering to the stomach lining. One study found that just under a cup a day for 3 weeks eliminated almost 20% of all cases of H. pylori infection—without drugs. But the juice becomes inflammatory when it’s loaded with sugar, so grab a bottle of 100% natural cranberry juice. If it’s too bitter, add water or a natural sweetener such as stevia.