9 Diet Commandments for Pain Patients

Those suffering from chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia and arthritis patients, have reported a worsening of their pain and stiffness after eating certain foods. While it is agreed upon by medical experts that there are a variety of causes contributing to chronic pain, there is growing evidence that diet it one of these factors. For this reason, many patients are turning to diet changes to get relief.

Why Certain Foods Increase Pain

According to Daniel Arkfeld, MD, a rheumatologist at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, certain foods may trigger the release of neurotransmitters that heighten the sensitivity of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain that may be involved in the way patients process pain.

Chiropractor Ned McArthur, D.C. of Utah says that foods high in Omega-6 fatty acids with little or no Omega-3 fatty acids cause inflammation and therefore are another reason for pain. These foods include sugar, flour, white rice, baked goods, pasta, caffeine, processed and/or packaged foods, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, alcohol, hydrogenated oils, and fast foods. McAruthur says the ideal ratio for Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids is 1:1, but the average American has a 30:1 ratio.

9 Diet Commandments for Pain Patients

Although the research on diet and chronic pain is limited, experts suggest the following may help:

1. Cut back on carbohydrates.  This will help stabilize your Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio. Additionally, according to Kent Holtorf, MD, the founding medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, about 90 percent of fibromyalgia patients have low adrenal function, which affects the metabolism of carbohydrates and may lead to hypoglycemia. Tip: If you eat carbs, it is best to eat them with protein and fat.

2. Consume plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and a variety of other fish, are said to reduce inflammation. Fibromyalgia and arthritis patients have reported feeling much better once they increased their consumption of Omega-3s.

3. Avoid aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.  Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in diet sodas and many sugar-free sweets is part of a chemical group called excitotoxins, which activate neurons that can increase sensitivity to pain.

4. Avoid MSG and other additives. MSG is a high-sodium flavor enhancer often added to fast food, Chinese food, and processed packaged foods. It is an excitatory neurotransmitter that has been linked to stimulating pain receptors.

5. Avoid or limit caffeine. Fibromyalgia patients often suffer from unrestful sleep and fatigue, and often try to remedy their fatigue with caffeine. This only perpetuates the cycle of unrestful sleep. Try cutting back, and then eliminating caffeine completely (this includes coffee, certain teas, and chocolate) to see if it makes a difference for you.

6. Avoid or limit intake of nightshade vegetables. This includes tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant. Some fibro and arthritis patients have reported feeling worse after eating these vegetables. Others have reported feeling dramatically better after cutting these out.

7. Avoid or limit your intake of yeast and gluten.  Celiac disease (allergy to gluten) has been found in some fibromyalgia patients.

8. Avoid or limit your intake of dairy products. Fibromyalgia patients on vegan (no dairy) diets have reported improvement in their condition. About 70 percent of adults worldwide have some degree of lactose intolerance, so it is not surprising that some fibromyalgia patients do too.

9. Eat more fresh foods, and in particular, organic foods. This means foods without additives or preservatives. Patients have reported feeling better eating fresh foods, and in particular foods without pesticides and chemicals. Roughly half of fibromyalgia patients also suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Foods that irritate the bowel trigger the brain to send a message that signals fibromyalgia symptoms and perpetuates pain. 

Experiment with cutting out the suggested foods (either one at a time or all at once) for a couple of weeks to determine if they have an effect on your pain.  At the same time, begin to add the suggested foods to see if in fact there is a correlation between your diet and your pain.


Betsch, M. 10 Food Rules for Pain Patients. Health.com. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20309924,00.html. Accessed March 5, 2010.

Can you Diet Your Pain Away? PR Newswire. http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=40283. Accessed March 5, 2010.

Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers. http://www.fibroandfatigue.com. Accessed March 5, 2010.

National Fibromyalgia Research Association. http://www.nfra.net/default.htm. Accessed March 5, 2010.

R. Ned MacCarther Explains How Diet Affects Pain. http://www.prlog.org/10547646-orem-chiropractor-ned-mcarthur-explains-how-diet-affects-pain.html. Accessed March 5, 2010.