Foods to fight pain? (07.11.2017)
In bioethics, ‘risk-benefit’ analyses or calculations usually refer to patient decisions. When I worked in clinical (medical) research ethics, the best example was when a patient would consider whether or not to participate in a clinical trial.
But each of us, patient or not, makes many of these risk-benefit decisions each day. And we complete most of them almost intuitively, without consciously thinking about them.
Imagine that you’re driving to work, almost running late, and you’ve just heard on the traffic report that there’s a stalled car slowing traffic ahead. The car’s low fuel warning light comes on, and you’re a block away from the last gas station that you’ll pass before getting onto the highway…
You may not even be aware of it, but your brain’s already analysing the options – and the potential risks & benefits of each one. Some of these could be:
. I’ll be late for work if I stop for gas, so I should keep going. But then what if the traffic’s really bad; could I run out of gas on the highway? Then I’d really be late! And maybe get a ticket, or have to pay for a tow truck, or even cause an accident…
. Maybe I can get past the heavy traffic area, before it gets any worse, and then stop at the gas station on the highway. It’s not that far away…
. Can I make it all the way to the gas station near the office? I could really use a cup coffee, and theirs is great. I should have enough change for a coffee. Oh, and their oatmeal mini-muffins are fantastic – I could bring some of those to work for the team, and then they’d think that’s why I was a few minutes late…
I’m exaggerating a bit, for fun, but you get the idea – right? ‘-)
So when I read in a few research papers over the past year or so that certain foods might help reduce inflammation, I was intrigued. I’m struggling with a rare neuro-inflammatory disease (which causes severe chronic pain, joint problems, and more), and am always on the lookout for research into inflammation.
What appealed to me about trying to reduce – or possibly even prevent – inflammation, by incorporating certain foods into my diet, was the risk-benefit analysis. I don’t have diabetes, or food allergies, so can safely change my eating habits.
If the foods being suggested weren’t completely off-the-wall (like eating only cheese & crackers, or only carrots!), then adding these foods to my diet could be a low-risk approach. And the potential benefit could be high; reducing inflammation might possibly reduce my pain & other symptoms.
That’s a good – although fairly easy – example of a health-related risk-benefit analysis. So, what did I do?
I tracked down as much research as I could find about foods with suspected anti-inflammatory properties, and focused on those which appeared in the greatest number of reputable medical journals. And from those, I selected foods that I like, and would be willing to eat more often. It turned out that I was already eating many of these foods, so looked for ways to eat more of them.
My target foods were (and remain):
- Blueberries; I buy frozen berries, as they’re less expensive, easier to store, and are fantastic in smoothies, mixed with apple slices, etc.
- Cinnamon; I’m adding this to so many foods, like apple slices, bran muffins, smoothies, toast with almond butter, even sprinkling it on my coffee…
- Chia seeds (raw, ground): added to smoothies and some sauces, and sprinkled onto salads
- Cocoa (raw, unsweetened); added to smoothies and some sauces
- Cocoa nibs (raw, unsweetened; added to smoothies and some salads
- Fish; lucky for me, as I love fish!
- Ginger; I add it to most main courses now, either fresh or ground/powdered
- Olive oil; this is already in every salad I make (my brown-bag lunches), and most of my side dishes
- Soy; although research articles don’t agree on whether soy products might increase or decrease inflammation, I drink 200 ml (a bit less than 8 oz, or a cup) of soy milk for breakfast each day. If nothing else, it provides some protein and calcium as I avoid cow’s milk for other reasons
- Turmeric; I’ve added this spice, ground or powdered, to several main course recipes I make with beans or legumes (e.g. chick peas, lentils)
- Whole grains; I was already buying only multi-grain (and no sugar added) bread, and have now switched almost all of my recipes – except fancy cakes & cupcakes – to whole grain flour. I’ve also switched to kamut or spelt pasta, for the higher fibre content
And then, in a category by itself, = Fibre. I was already trying to get the recommended 25 g per day of fibre (38 g/day for men), so this research encouraged me to hit that target each day. I start with a home-made high-fibre muffin as a morning snack, then eat at least 2 portions of vegetables with my lunch, along with some high-fibre seed crackers. An apple for a snack, and then a few more portions of vegetables with supper. These days I’ll usually also take a couple of fibre pills, to be sure I hit the 25 g/day target.
Research has already shown that: “A high-fiber diet appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, constipation and colon cancer. Fiber is important for the health of the digestive system and for lowering cholesterol”.(1)
An easy way to consume more fibre is to add it to smoothies; ground chia or flax seeds, for example. I’ve added my favorite smoothie recipe, just for you!
I decided to write this post today, because of a research paper that was just published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition. The paper states that some “foods appear to reduce inflammation, as well as joint stiffness and pain” from inflammatory disease. It goes on to say that – for people with this type of disease – these foods might ease joint “pain, swelling and stiffness” and possibly “even slow progression of the disease”(2).
The foods & spices mentioned in that specific article were:
- Green tea
- Olive oil
- Plums, dried
- Whole grains
There’s some overlap with the other research papers I’ve read over the past 18 months or so.
Has adding more of these purported anti-inflammatory foods to my diet made any difference? After more than 6 months, it’s hard to tell. But I’ve lost a few pounds, am trying new recipes and creating new recipes, and my CRPS inflammation hasn’t gotten worse (on day-to-day basis).
And I feel that I’m doing *something* to help my body, to help myself. Feeling more proactive, and less helpless. That, in itself, sure seems like a benefit to me!
(1) UCSF Medical Center: University of California San Francisco. Increasing Fiber Intake. The Regents of The University of California. Accessed 06 Nov 2017. Web:
(2) Robert Preidt. These Foods May Help Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain. HealthDay: MedlinePlus, the National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 087 Nov 2017. Web: