1. Excessive food consumption can lead to weight gain, which can worsen pain.
Some research shows that being overweight or obese is a risk factor for chronic pain. This could be because carrying excess pounds on the body increases mechanical strain on your joints and connective tissues.1 Obesity is also linked with inflammation, which we'll learn more about in the next section.
Keep in mind that many of us reach for comfort foods and comfort eating as a way to soothe pain. In this way, the relationship between pain and overeating may be a two-way street. That is, overeating may lead to increased pain, and pain may lead to more overeating.1
In addition, foods with a lot of sugar, fat, and salt tend to activate "reward" systems in the brain and increase the level of feel-good hormones in the brain such as dopamine.1 Some researchers believe this may drive food addiction, which is a challenge that many people with obesity and chronic pain struggle with. So, avoiding heavily processed sugary and fatty foods might help reduce cravings and the cycle of overeating and/or comfort eating.
2. Foods can affect inflammation levels, which may affect pain.
Too much inflammation in the body is linked to joint pain.2 For many people, inflammation (driven by an overactive immune system) gets worse when they eat certain things like refined sugar and dairy.3,4 Avoiding these foods may help fight excessive inflammation and ease chronic joint pain.
On the other hand, many nutrient dense foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats (especially omega-3 fatty acids) have been shown to reduce inflammation, which can improve pain.5,6 As an added benefit, these healthy foods also provide many important nutrients, such as protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, that are needed to promote strong and healthy joints, muscles, blood vessels, and bones.
3. Certain foods may influence the way pain medication works.
If you and your doctor decide that pain-relieving medications are necessary to help you manage your chronic pain condition, you'll want to make sure you're eating foods that:
If you have chronic pain, talk to your doctor to see if there are any ways to improve your diet. Not only can a healthier diet boost your joint function and overall well-being, but it might help you manage your condition, too.
Basic food rules apply: avoid refined sugar and other processed goods, minimize alcohol, stay well-hydrated, and prioritize real nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, and lean animal protein. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information and which foods are right for you.