More than 116 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Many of those turn to prescription medications that can be addictive and sometimes come with unpleasant side effects. More often than not, the medications are merely masking the pain, rather than eliminating the true cause of pain. There is an alternative to living in pain and you’ll be surprised to know it’s right in your kitchen. Certain foods can ease aches and pain by combatting inflammation and blocking those pain signals. Here are our five favorites:
- Cherries – Compounds in cherries called anthocyanins—the same phytonutrients that give cherries their rich red color—are powerful antioxidants that work in two ways to reduce pain. They block inflammation and they inhibit pain enzymes, just like aspirin, naproxen, and other non-steroid anti-inflammatories. According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, people who ate a bowl of cherries for breakfast reduced a major marker of inflammation by 25%.
- Ginger – While it’s better known as an upset stomach soother, ginger also simulates aspirin as an anti-inflammatory. It can offer relief migraines, arthritis pain and even muscle aches.
- Fish High in Omega-3’s – Eating fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury, such as salmon, herring and sardines, can help relieve back pain. In a healthy back, blood vessels at the edge of spinal disks transport crucial nutrients to those disks. If blood flow is diminished, the disks lose their source of oxygen and other nutrients, and they begin to degenerate. Omega-3s help by improving blood flow and reducing inflammation in blood vessels and nerves. One study in the journal Surgical Neurologyfound that taking supplemental omega 3’s could reduce both back and neck pain.
- Coffee – The caffeine in coffee can help reduce pain by narrowing the dilated blood vessels that develop with headaches. Coffee delivers a one-two punch by reducing pain-promoting compounds and amplifying the effect of other pain relievers too. (Fair warning: If you’re already a coffee lover, too much caffeine can have the opposite effect. When you quit, you can get withdrawal headaches. Coffee works as a headache reliever only if you don’t consume it regularly.)
- Mint – Another remedy for headaches is peppermint. The menthol oil in peppermint is useful for relieving headaches. Rub some on your temples or wrists and breathe in the minty scent. You can also try brewing mint tea for any type of pain. Pour boiling water over peppermint leaves and steep until the tea is as strong as you like. Add wintergreen leaves for an extra pain-fighting boost; a compound in wintergreen called methyl salicylate blocks the enzymes that cause inflammation and pain.