With regards to diet, there’s a direct and an indirect relationship to pain. People might be overweight to begin with. Regardless, when people start to deal with chronic pain, they find it more difficult to exercise. Unless they adjust their caloric intake, it’s easy to start gaining weight — which only worsens the underlying pain problem.
On the first level, it’s important to eat properly and be very conscious that if you’re reducing your level of activity due to pain, you also have to reduce your caloric intake. On the second level, there’s some evidence that certain foods are more pro-inflammatory and that other foods are more anti-inflammatory. We recommend that when people are dealing with chronic pain, they become aware of the research on how different foods — particularly certain fatty acids — can either enhance the production of these pain-inflammatory producing chemicals or reduce it.
The main evidence is for these Omega-3 fatty acids, which are generally not as high an intake in the standard western diet as in some cultures. The highest concentrations of the Omega-3 anti-inflammatory fatty acids are found in flaxseed, cold water fish, and to a lesser but still significant extent, in walnuts.
You want to make an effort to reduce the intake of foods that are higher in the Omega-6 fatty acids, which are the more pro-inflammatory fatty acids and those predominately found in animal sources of fat. If people are eating a lot of red meat, we encourage them to move toward a vegetarian or vegetarian and fish-based diet. We then encourage them to add flaxseed and nuts to their diet, as a way of trying to take advantage of these anti-inflammatory, natural chemicals.
David Simon, M.D., is a board-certified neurologist and ayurvedic practioner; co-founder, CEO, and Medical Director of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing; and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Neurosciences at The University of California. Dr. Simon has authored popular wellness books including his newest book, Free to Love, Free to Heal: Heal Your Body by Healing Your Emotions and Grow Younger, Live Longer: 10 Steps to Reverse Aging (co-authored with Deepak Chopra, M.D.). Dr. Simon is a keynote speaker for the March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, California Medical Association, Harvard Medical School, and other prestigious institutions.