Diet & pain

While the science of nutrition continues to evolve, I have seen many patients with pain profoundly improve after making one of the following dietary changes. Such changes are low-cost, & are low-risk when made under medical guidance. Patients with chronic pain may find it worthwhile to try one or more of these diets.

Gluten-free diet

Advocates of this diet say that many people have sensitivity to gluten, and that avoiding wheat-based products can help them feel better.

Critics say that this diet works by indirectly reducing processed foods (cakes, donuts, etc), and that it is this avoidance that underlies the benefits of this diet. Avoidance of all whole-grain products — a more extreme version of this diet — may in fact be harmful.

Dairy-free diet

Advocates of this diet say that cow milk protein increases inflammation, and that its high caloric density without fiber content promotes weight gain. To the degree that weight loss & reduced inflammation are both beneficial for chronic pain, this fairly simple diet may be a reasonable starting point.

Whole food plant-based diet

Advocates of this diet maximize unprocessed plant foods, and minimize ultraprocessed plant food (e.g. potato chips) & processed animal foods (e.g. hot dogs).

Many have reported profound improvements in health from heart disease, diabetes, to chronic pain. Advocates note that this diet is more inclusive than it sounds, and many have been successful in adhering to it long-term.

Low-histamine diet

Advocates of this much more restrictive diet say people with histamine intolerance develop headache, anxiety, abdominal pain, & a host of symptoms in response to foods high in histamine, including in particular fermented foods (e.g., beer, wine, kombucha, yogurt, cheese, kimchi, & pickles).

Nutrition science is a complex field with a large, complicated scientific literature. Before you make significant changes in diet, you should consult with your healthcare provider or a dietitian.

Gentle pain treatments

Dr. Ming Kao View All →

Pain physician & PhD computational biologist @StanfordPain • Advanced pain interventions with CIPS & FIPP • Opinions mine & not medical advice

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