So many people deal with chronic pain these days. The opioid crisis is proof of that. Around the world, people are struggling with muscle soreness, joint pain, upper or lower back pain, and other types of discomfort. But can our nutrition and diet choices influence pain levels? Absolutely. What you eat has an enormous impact on how you feel, whether that’s pain, mood, or energy levels. The Wellness Way emphasizes the Swiss Watch Principle – that everything is connected.
How Does Food Impact Health?
Food is never neutral. It either supports or undermines your health. While it provides nutrients, it can also harbor toxins. Depending on your gut and immune health, even healthy, whole foods can cause inflammation and harm. Many times, that inflammation shows up as muscle soreness or joint pain.
Provides Nutrients for Growth and Repair
When you choose foods to eat, you want to ensure that it’s not food made up of empty calories, like so many processed foods available today. Stripped of nutrients, these refined foods provide a hefty number of calories, especially from sugar and bad fats. Yet, they fail to give you much nutrition. Certain modern foods cause more harm than good. Here are 6 foods that cause inflammation.
Food is meant to provide the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, fibers, and phytonutrients we need. The body uses these compounds to repair everyday damage, nourish the gut, and provide a balanced immune response. Regular wear and tear on our joints and muscles from exercise and daily activities can become a bigger issue if we’re unable to keep up with the needed repair. That’s when we end up with chronic muscle soreness and joint pain.
Delivers Food to Your Gut Bacteria
The fiber and starches in fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes, grains, tubers, nuts, and seeds serve as food for your gut microbiome. What you eat influences your gut bacteria for good or for ill. When bacteria digest healthy, prebiotic foods, they create short-chain fatty acids, which nourish the brain and are highly anti-inflammatory. However, if you give them high amounts of sugar and processed carbs, unhealthy, inflammation-promoting bacteria can grow out of control.
Scientists and researchers are beginning to acknowledge the connection between gut health and joint and muscle pain. Check out these headlines:
- Forbes: Could Your Diet Be The Cause Of Your Arthritis Pain? 
- Runner’s World: What Are the Benefits of Prebiotics in Your Diet: We talked to two gut-health experts to find out how they can improve your running performance. 
Your diet influences the composition of your gut microbiome, which influences your pain levels. Muscle soreness can certainly impact running performance, as can joint pain.
Can Either Cause or Reduce Inflammation and Pain
Healthy, whole foods can provide the compounds the body needs to stay balanced, reducing its susceptibility to inflammation and pain. Foods can also cause harm – in three different ways:
- First, the body was not designed to eat highly processed or synthetic foods. Eating foods the body doesn’t recognize and that are low in nutrients causes inflammation and nutritional deficiencies. Over time, this undermines health. When body tissues are inflamed or lack the nutrients they need, processes related to the growth, repair, and breakdown of damaged cells don’t occur as they should.
- Second, healthy foods, like fresh produce, fish, and legumes, may be contaminated with bacteria, parasites, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals. These toxins cause inflammation and add to the body’s toxic burden. The body then has to spend more time and energy fighting infections and supporting detox pathways. When it can’t keep up, it leads to degeneration, pain, and disease.
- Third, organic, whole foods may not be good for you due to food allergies or an inability to break down certain food components like histamines or oxalates. If your microbiome has a reduced production of the enzymes needed to break these down, they can irritate the gut and alter the immune system.
Ultimately, these things can lead to inflamed and painful muscles and joints.
How Can Your Nutrition Status Impact Your Pain Levels?
When the body is missing key building blocks or has an overload of irritating toxins, it causes inflammation and dis-ease.
Your Muscles and Joints Need the Right Nutrients to Repair
Our muscles and joints are stressed every single day – just by our regular daily activities like standing, walking, lifting, and reaching. Each night, when we sleep, our body goes into repair mode, using the nutrients we have consumed in recent days and weeks to build and strengthen tissues.
However, if we’re malnourished in some way, like not having enough protein, minerals like magnesium, or vitamins like B-complex or vitamin C, repair may not be as thorough or efficient. That can mean increased pain levels. Without certain nutrients, your body cannot optimally heal and return to homeostasis.
Sugar Increases Inflammation in The Body
It’s a well-known fact that sugar increases inflammation in the body. It doesn’t take much to get a response. A small study of 29 healthy young men found that adding one 375 ml can of soda a day (40 grams of sugar) increased inflammatory markers and caused insulin resistance, weight gain, and higher LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. 
Sugar in the form of refined carbohydrates like rice cakes, white bread, pasta, and baked goods is also linked to inflammation.  These foods break down in the body to simple sugars, raising glucose and creating systemic inflammation.
Nutrition Impacts Your Gut Microbiome
Nutrition also determines what bacteria species thrive in your gut, impacting inflammation and pain levels. A higher intake of sugars, processed foods, and unhealthy fats will cause your microbiome to be higher in pro-inflammatory species.
An animal study published in 2018 found that the gut’s bacterial composition correlated with arthritis pain in the obese.  Obesity was associated with higher amounts of inflammation-causing bacteria species, which increased joint pain. Adding the prebiotic oligofructose restored their microbiome to one more like that associated with the lean. It reduced inflammation and protected against osteoarthritis.
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by chronic muscle soreness. Researchers have found that those diagnosed with fibromyalgia tended to have a reduced diversity of bacteria, especially those involved in neurotransmitter metabolism. 
Food Allergies Increase Inflammation
Eating foods that you have allergies to causes an immune response. That ultimately leads to higher internal inflammation levels. Common food allergies include gluten, dairy, eggs, yeast, soy, corn, and peanuts. However, you can be allergic to any food. Some people even find they are allergic to lettuce, apples, or black pepper.
Inflammation is characterized by the four cardinal signs, given in their Latin names:
- Calor (heat)
- Dolor (pain)
- Rubor (redness)
- Tumor (swelling) 
Scientists added a fifth one more recently: Loss of function.
These signs are more noticeable in external, noticeable inflammation like a sunburn. When you have a bad sunburn, the skin feels warm to the touch, it’s painful, it’s red, and there might be a little swelling. It’s also more sensitive and less able to provide its usual level of protection.
Because not all inflammation is visible, you may not notice all these signs. For example, if you have inflammation in the gut due to eating foods you’re allergic to, you may not be aware of redness, heat, or swelling. You may just notice some pain and dysfunction.
But even though you don’t see it, inflammation is there, impacting not only the gut, but the immune system, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and more. Due to what we call the Swiss Watch Principle, inflammation can cause pain and dysfunction in any system of the body, including the joints and muscles. It’s all connected.
Inflammation Zaps Your Energy
When you lower your inflammation levels, you might be surprised how much energy you have. That’s due to the decreased burden on your mitochondria, the energy-producing little factories in your cells. If the mitochondria are overwhelmed by oxidative stress from high levels of inflammation, they won’t be as efficient at putting out ATP, the energy currency of the cells. That means less energy for detoxification, growth, and repair.
Inflammation also tanks your hormones, including thyroid hormone and sex hormones. Trying to make it through each week with low hormones is like pushing a boulder around. Since tissues throughout the body have receptor sites for hormones, depleted hormones can mean joint dysfunction or muscle soreness. For example, Osteoarthritis is associated with estrogen deficiency.  As we have emphasized, everything is connected.
The Wellness Way Can Help!
At The Wellness Way, we’ll test to see what’s causing inflammation in your body. We’ll use comprehensive testing and personalized nutrition to remove aggravating factors and get your body on the path to healing. We can also help with chiropractic adjustments to improve the functioning of the central nervous system, which is “command central” for everything else in your body. Contact us today to get started on your health restoration journey.
- Could Your Diet Be The Cause Of Your Arthritis Pain? (forbes.com)
- What Are Prebiotics? — Benefits of Prebiotics (runnersworld.com)
- Low to moderate sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impairs glucose and lipid metabolism and promotes inflammation in healthy young men: a randomized controlled trial – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity – PubMed (nih.gov)
- JCI Insight – Targeting the gut microbiome to treat the osteoarthritis of obesity
- Gut microbiome and serum metabolome analyses identify molecular biomarkers and altered glutamate metabolism in fibromyalgia – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The five cardinal signs of inflammation: Calor, Dolor, Rubor, Tumor … and Penuria (Apologies to Aulus Cornelius Celsus, De medicina, c. A.D. 25) – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Osteoarthritis associated with estrogen deficiency – PMC (nih.gov)