COMMENTARY: The relation between nutrition, inflammation and pain

The word inflammation is derived from the Latin root “inflammare,” which means “to flame within.” Inflammation is part of the human body’s immune system defense against injury, infection, or allergens. When tissues are injured or irritated (like a paper cut) they undergo inflammation which causes an increase in white blood cells, redness, swelling, pain, and sometimes loss of function to the affected body part.

Inflammation may cause pain and can also make any pain you experience feel more intense and last longer. Acute inflammation is the body’s immune system response to injury, infection, or irritation and usually is of short duration.

Debra Dobies

Debra Dobies

Chronic inflammation is a physiologic response to environmental toxins such as pollution or second-hand smoke; microbial or viral infections; stress, poor dietary choices; a sedentary lifestyle; and/or the aging process. With chronic inflammation, the immune system releases inflammatory chemicals almost continually, resulting in damage and health consequences. This long-term inflammation is a risk factor for many health conditions including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or Rheumatoid arthritis.

Nutrition has a significant role regarding the amount of inflammation that occurs and how it affects pain. Research suggests individuals who consume a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and fatty fish, may have a reduced risk for inflammation-related diseases.

The Mediterranean Diet includes the foods previously mentioned with a very limited intake of red meats and whole-fat dairy products, The Mediterranean eating pattern is rich in fiber, antioxidants, polyphenols, and omega-3-fatty acids while low in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates which reduce plasma levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers.

One of the best defenses against chronic inflammation is eating nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day. They are rich in antioxidants which help neutralize free radicals and help quite the immune system. The darker or brilliant-colored produce contain the most antioxidants such as:

• Red or purple berries

• Tart cherries

• Dark green leafy vegetables (Swiss chard, kale and spinach).

Other vegetables that also reduce inflammation are:

• Cabbage

• Brussels sprouts

• Bok Choy

• Broccoli

• Lettuces

• Tomatoes

• Garlic

• Shallots

• Red or yellow onions

• Beets

• Citrus fruits.

Those with arthritis are often recommended to avoid nightshade vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos because a small number of individuals are sensitive to solaine which could increase joint pain. Avoiding nightshade plants for two weeks and documenting your pain will determine along with your health care providers advice if you have this sensitivity.

As you can see, there are plenty of foods to enjoy even if you are on an anti-inflammatory diet. Stay tuned for next week’s column for part two of this series.

Always consult with your physician or healthcare provider before making any dietary/nutrition changes or commencing or changing your physical activity.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Debra Dobies, MA, RD, LDN, is Beebe Healthcare’s Ornish Reversal Program registered dietitian and medical nutrition therapist. Beebe Healthcare’s Ornish Reversal Program is in the Beebe Medical Arts Building at the Rehoboth Beach Health Campus. For more information, go to

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