Why it helps to eat against pain, to manage musculoskeletal pain

There are more people than you might think, going about their normal business whilst silently managing musculoskeletal pain, on a daily basis. In the UK alone, over 10,000 GP consultations are for musculoskeletal problems. Such problems can be a catalyst for longer-term pain conditions.  

Musculoskeletal pain can range from simple back pain to osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Where a cure may not currently exist, there are certainly methods offering relief for shoulder pain and other associated aches and pains. For instance, have you considered taking a look at your diet?  

Help ease chronic pain by consuming more protein  

To some extent, chronic pain can be eased somewhat by a high-protein diet. According to one paper, four reasons for this are:  

*Proteins act as the body’s pain relievers — Amino acids make their way into the bloodstream through the intestine (where what you eat is absorbed). They then act as building blocks for compounds that help with pain relief.  

*Musclecartilage grows with the help of protein — Amino acids are needed to build muscle which can go on to protect your bones and build strength. 

*The activation of glucagon stabilises pain — Glucagon increases blood glucose levels and blocks glucose storage as fat. This can prevent a rise in insulin levels, carbohydrate cravings, and pain flares. 

*Reducing inflammation — Protein containing foods such as fish and green vegetables contain anti-inflammatory properties, lowering experiences of pain.    

Why not add foods such as beef, fish, and eggs to your plate to up your protein intake? For vegan diets, make sure you’re eating enough pulses (lentil, beans, and soya products). There are protein supplements out there too in the form of drinks and snack bars.  

Calories and carbs: be mindful  

Be aware of the amount of carbohydrates and calories you eat each day. Consuming excess calories by eating unhealthy foods, or overeating, can cause weight gain. This can then lead to excess weight carried around the waist and obesity — both of which can make musculoskeletal pain worse. This is due to extra pressure on joints and inflammation.  

Why do your joints get inflamed? In general, it’s part of the body’s immune response to fight infection. But, there are cases when inflammation doesn’t shut down — this becomes chronic inflammation. It is this which is the underlying cause of many diseases, health problems, and pain.  

Monitoring calories and eating the appropriate amount can therefore lead to weight maintenance or weight reduction which could help musculoskeletal issues. In fact, one study found that weight reduction of more than 10% has the potential to lead to important changes in pain and function.  

Omega-3 fatty acids: key for good joint health  

Do you think you include enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet to stay healthy? Unfortunately, they’re not made by the body, so we need to get them from the foods we eat.  

Research demonstrates how a high dose of omega-3 is particularly useful against conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. Again, this is an anti-inflammatory which deals with the issues mentioned earlier. Where can omega-3 be found? Omega-3 can be found in oily fish (such as salmon and tuna), calamari, olive oil, and some plants and nuts. A mixture of these things should ensure that you’re getting enough of the fatty acid.   

Vitamins have many benefits 

Some musculoskeletal conditions are a result of vitamin deficiencies, and certain vitamins can keep pain at bay. Making sure we get plenty of vitamins in our diet is very important. 

For calcium absorption and bone growth, you need vitamin D. Eggs are a great source of this vitamin and are easy to incorporate into your diet.  Another way to up your intake is with safe levels of sun exposure. 

There’s also Vitamin K to consider – highly important for cartilage metabolism and cell survival. Get your intake of vitamin K through green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and beans. 

Also, keep an eye on your intake of foods rich in vitamin B. One benefit of this vitamin is that it keeps amino acid homocysteine under control. High levels of this could be linked to lower bone density and therefore musculoskeletal issues. Increase your intake of vitamin B through chicken, turkey, fish, oats, and more. 

This guide aims to offer a starting point to help you think about the ways a change in diet can assist you with managing musculoskeletal pain. Always speak to your GP and nutritionist before changing your diet and for more advice on how the foods you eat can ease chronic pains.

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