Monday, November 7, 2011

PAIN: How to Treat Everything From Arthritis to Back Strain With Food (Part 1)

About a year ago I was in a car accident and herniated a disc in my neck.  It caused me excruciating constant daily pain.  After 6 months of daily high dose anti-inflammatory medications (I was on Mobic), 2 cycles of physical therapy, 30 acupuncture sessions and a ridiculous amount of money spent on massages, my doctor (another Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Doc) told me rather sadly that he thought I had now completely exhausted conservative measures and it was time for me to think of "facet injections" (steroid injections) to my cervical spine.  This terrified me.

I had been in the OR during many of these procedures with highly skilled attending (senior) physicians specially trained in interventional pain.  These procedures were relatively routine in my world, but every time I thought about getting the injections I thought about the (rare) complication of injury to the spinal cord.  Working in rehab, I've worked with spinal cord injury patients, and I really didn't want to become one myself.  While their stories are often inspiring, no one would willingly choose to sit in their shoes for even one day.  I started doing some research to try to find another way.

Late one night I found a website of a woman sharing her story of how she healed her neck pain with a combination of physical therapy, stretching regimens, acupuncture, massage and "eating an anti-inflammatory diet."  What the heck did that mean?  An "anti-inflammatory" diet??  I had already lost 70lbs, wasn't that enough alteration in my eating habits?

So I started reading, and then I started doing, and now--I am a passionate believer in the power of dietary change to reduce and eliminate inflammation. And by eliminating inflammation I've eliminated pain. 

Two months after starting an anti-inflammatory diet in conjunction with a third round of PT, I was able to get off the Mobic (my daily NSAID medication).  One month later, I no longer had constant pain throughout the day.  

Now, 6 months after starting to reduce the inflammatory foods and increase the anti-inflammatory foods I consume I can honestly say that I can have several days go by without pain--with an even more noticeable improvement in the last 2 1/2 months since becoming Vegan.  Yes, I do sometimes feel the pain--but it hurts when it makes sense to hurt--I'm doing a repetitive action with my neck or back, using muscles that I hadn't strengthened sufficiently.  So duh--I was hurting!

I've been so impressed with this amazing (miraculous to me) transformation in how my body FEELS that I've done even more research and really want to share what I've learned!  In my next post I'll talk about the medical science that backs it up and how to more specifically treat diseases of inflammation, particularly Arthritis, Muscle Strains, Fibromyalgia, and more!  Over this week I'll also post a third post talking about other diseases of inflammation that I do not treat in my specialty--diabetes, heart disease, cancer.

I want to particularly recommend two amazing books with highly relevant information:
1) The Anti-Inflammation Diet by Dr. Jessica Black, N.D.  AMAZING Book--soooo worth the $12 price on Amazon--particularly the table on p.42-43

2) SuperImmunity for Kids! by Dr. Leo Galland (yes its about kids at every lifestage, but if you read through it you can find a whole heck of a lot of good data for adults too!!)  Dr. Galland is what got me interested in nutritional healing of all kinds--I've been reading this book cover to cover for about 10-15 years!!

In closing though, I won't leave you without a carrot for next time (no pun intended):-). 

Here is a GENERAL table of known inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods.  In Part 2 I'll talk more specifically about which of these foods is most important for Arthritis vs Acute Muscle Strain vs Fibromyalgia, etc.  

The degree of inflammation in each individual can be variable--Jessica Black's book does an excellent job of mapping out a plan for how to do a complete elimination diet (she has more foods listed & substitutions for each one) in her book.  If you are interested in embarking on this path, get her book and read it because she is FAR more knowledgeable than me on this!!  

That said, here is a list of Anti-Inflammatory and Inflammatory Foods synthesized from lists by four leaders in this field:  Dr. Jessica Black, N.D.Dr. Andrew Weil; Dr. Leo Galland and Dr. Neal Barnard.  **Please see the notes below the table--one of my readers shared with me some more information on other potential inflammatory foods!!**

Inflammatory Foods
1.         Sugar (particularly white refined sugar & high fructose corn syrup)* 
2.         Dairy Products*
3.         Meat (beef, pork, chicken, 
          turkey, fish—except wild      Salmon)*
4.         Corn*
5.         Wheat (gluten)*—more on 
         this later
6.         Caffeine*
7.         Sodas—even Diet sodas* 
       (Diet sodas manipulate the fat in your body to actually make it harder to lose it!  More on this in a later post)
8.         Tomatoes & Peppers
9.         White Potatoes
10.      Citrus fruits
11.       Alcohol
12.      Peanuts 
13.  Peanut butter
14.  Tofu and Soy

{* items are for most of the population—items 8-14 inflammatory foods are individually problematic)

Anti-Inflammatory Foods
      1.     Omega-3 Fatty Acids (ground flaxseed meal)
      2.     Pineapple (more on this later)
      3.     Blueberries (see note below), raspberries, cherries, prunes
      4.     Papaya
      5.     Kale, Spinach, Collards & other dark leafy greens
      6.     Broccoli & Cauliflower
      7.     Other Fruits & Vegetables—except tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers
      8.     Garlic
      9.     Ginger
     10. Turmeric
     11. Most nuts & seeds (not peanuts)
     12. Teas (particularly Roobios, Macha, decaffeinated green tea)
     13. Shiitake, Oyster & other Asian Mushrooms
     14.  Sweet Potatoes
     15.  Quinoa, buckwheat (not a wheat product), wild rice, barley, steel-cut oats
     16.  Wild Salmon

Additional Notes: One of my readers shared the following information with me from  Dr. Norman Childers: Arthritis Nightshade Research Foundation,  She got outstanding relief from her pain by removing all foods and products that contain "solanine.":  "blueberries, apples, artichoke, okra, sugar beets and all products that contain paprika/chili spice and potato starch (PS is commonly found in bakery products, thickeners for soups/sauces, excipient fillers in vitamins/supplements/medications)."  I have not had an opportunity to investigate this material myself, but she has been kind enough to provide some citations from the ANRF website (above) and Michael Fowler's e-book "Nighshade Free, Pain Free" which she recommends.  Thank you Jen Siskind!!  I'll look forward to checking the citations out myself in the coming future! :-)

The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.  Please consult your health care provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. The Happy Rehab Doc expressly disclaims responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury, or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained in this site.  By visiting this site you agree to the foregoing terms and conditions.

NEXT:  COOKING IN BULK TIPS #1!  This week with recipes from The Happy Herbivore

Coming Soon:

  • How To Get The BEST Medical Care: Tips to Patients from a Doc
  • RECIPES & Ideas:  Snacks!  YUMMY & Portable Plant-based Snack Food--all Sugar-free, Gluten-Free, & Without Added Oils or Fat!!


  1. I found your blog through Healthy Girl's Kitchen.

    Please consider changing your lists and highlighting blueberries, apples, artichoke, okra, sugar beets and all products that contain paprika/chili spice and potato starch (PS is commonly found in bakery products, thickeners for soups/sauces, excipient fillers in vitamins/supplements/medications).

    The above-listed food items contain solanine. People who are sensitive to nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant) will also react painfully to "hidden" sources of peppers, potatoes and these non-nightshade plants. Also, the new "super foods" gogi berries and ashwaganda are also nightshades to be avoided.

    I recently discovered that these foods were causing debilitating flare-ups. After I eliminated all potential sources of solanine, my pain scale dropped from 10+ to 2-3 in about 36 hours. (In my case, I had been ingesting large quantities of solanine. From what I've read, some people are sensitive to minimal amounts. Some react immediately when solanine levels are reduced, others take 3 mos for it to leave their system.)

    I credit this recovery to stumbling onto the Forum Page for the Arthritis Nightshade Research Foundation and read numerous accounts of other people who resolved their pain. ANRF was founded by Dr. Childers, who first pointed the finger toward nightshades causing painful reactions. Unfortunately, his research never looked at plants outside the Solanacea Family that also contain solanine, so there are now multitudes of incomplete anti-inflammatory lists avail in print & on the web.

    In addition to the ANRF website, Michael Fowler's e-book, Nightshade Free, Pain Free is an interesting read, though again incomplete about non-nightshades that have solanine. He highlights additional "hidden" nightshade food sources and also has information about scopolamine and atropine, nightshade derivatives that are used medicinally.

    With regards to yesterday's blog, last year I switched to naturally sourced vitamins instead of synthetically produced ones. The brand of vitamins made by MegaFoods does not use potato starch. They have a B-Complex and a Cal-Mag-Potassium. I stopped using their Multi as it has artichoke added.

  2. Jen, first of all I'm so happy to hear that you have been able to use food to heal in such a powerful way!

    Thank you SO much for your comments and for coming here from Healthy Girl's Kitchen (awesome blog!) As I mentioned in the post I am still learning about this and any additional information is incredibly valuable. I was not familiar about the Solanacea family as a source of inflammation beyond the multiple sources I researched that cite specific nightshade vegetables as being tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant (as I listed above.)

    If I'm understanding you correctly, based on your research using the ANRF site & Dr. Fowler's book the following foods should be moved to the "inflammatory" list: blueberries, apples, artichoke, okra, sugar beets and all products that ocntain paprika/chili spice and potato starch?

    This is such a surprise to me as the majority of reading I've done on anti-inflammatory foods actually encourage the consumption of blueberries, apples & paprika/chili. Potato starch definitely makes sense to me however.

    What a fantastic comment to share--I will definitely look into Dr. Childers' site as well as Michael Fowler's e-book myself. Before I put anything up in my general blog table, I'd like to do a little more research with your sources and crossreference them to peer-reviewed journals to feel comfortable with how the data are supported. For now I'll DEFINITELY add an additional table to this blog when I get home tonight with your suggestions (so people can benefit now)!

    Fascinating--I love learning more everyday. These intolerances/allergies are so individual, its important to make everyone aware of other potential healing sources. Thank you.

    Please keep coming back and commenting--what an education to learn from my readers!! The best part of medicine is what I learn from my colleagues and patients so this is wonderful!

    On your comment about naturally sourced vitamins--that seems to make SO much sense but are you aware if there a benefit beyond reduction of allergic potential? I've just gone with the cheapest option for a multivitamin that has the highest rating by consumer review for accurate vitamin amount on laboratory testing.


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