Are Grains Causing Your Chronic Pain?
Pain is the number one reason for long-term disability. The causes of chronic pain are often a moving target for diagnosticians. It’s impossible to “test” pain levels because every person’s perception (and threshold) of pain is different.
The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that 25.3 million American adults have chronic pain ranging from minor to severe.1 That’s more than 11% of the population. Chronic pain is defined as pain that occurs daily for three months.
According to the National Institute of Health, more Americans suffer from on-going pain than from all cancer, heart disease, and diabetes cases combined.
Josephine P. Briggs, director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), stated, “The number of people who suffer from severe and chronic pain is striking.”2
Unless the pain is caused by a specific injury, illness, or infection, it can be difficult to pinpoint a particular source. Over the last decade, researchers have discovered that inflammation is the primary link to many conditions and diseases. However, there are many factors within your control that could be making your personal situation worse.
Are Grains Really Good for You?
Scientists and organizations continue to strongly recommend grains in the human diet.
At one point, the “food pyramid” taught children that their highest consumption portion (6-11 portions per day or about one-third of meals) should be grain-based foods such as bread, cereal, pasta, and rice. Fruits and vegetables made up another third with meat, dairy, beans, and nuts making up the final portion.
Thought “fats and sweets” were listed as use sparingly, low-fat and sugar-free foods became a financial windfall for food manufacturers. It didn’t help waistlines, immune systems, or the steady rise in chronic pain cases.3
We now know this is a horrible way to eat because the Western Diet consumes far too many refined carbs that offer nothing to your overall nutrition, keep your body in a state of perpetual inflammation, and are a contributing cause of chronic pain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (and so much more).4
The updated food pyramid makes fruits and vegetables the strongest portion (50% combined) of your plate with grains relegated to about 25% of the daily eating plan. Though still high, if you choose “real” grains, it’s going to be less stress on your system.
Eaten in moderation, grains aren’t damaging to your health. Health experts recommend eating the bulk of your daily grain consumption in the morning (in the form of toast or a bagel, for instance) so your body has a chance to burn them first. They’re “instant” fuel to get you moving but not long-lasting. To keep you from a hard crash, couple them with proteins or healthy fats.
Grains are Cheap and Easy...That Doesn’t Make Them Good
Agriculturally, grains are easy to grow, store, and process. They have a substantial shelf life (in storage or on your grocer’s shelf in the form of goods) and tend to be inexpensive.
They’re plants and those are supposed to be good for you so why would these kinds of plants be less healthy than broccoli?
It’s all about the processing.
Broccoli is good for you steamed, sautéed, or added to a casserole or quiche. If you cover broccoli with cheese (especially “fake” cheese) and salt, any health benefits you might have gotten from the broccoli is negated.
The same is true of grains.
Grains are coated with substances (such as gluten) that keep your body from digesting them. It’s the way plants carry on. Just like coffee, it’s how grains are consumed that make more pro-inflammatory.
When an animal eats grains and excretes them into the soil (undigested), they grow again. When we eat them, they don’t fully break down either and can result in gastrointestinal inflammation or leaky gut syndrome.5 Actual diagnosed cases are what led to the gluten-free movement.
Even if you’re not gluten-free due to a grain intolerance, it still cannot hurt (and will likely help) to control your grain intake. The number one reason is inflammation. After eating grains – especially refined grains – you might feel great for a little while. Then maybe you start to feel bloated or mentally sluggish. There’s also a “clog up the works” factor with sticky grains.
Chronic inflammation causes or contributes to the following illnesses...
- Chronic pain
- Celiac disease
- Skin problems
- Thyroid malfunction
- Auto-immune disease
- Heart disease
- Liver and kidney malfunction
- Depression and other mental disorders
An anti-inflammatory diet that feeds your system and provides long-term fuel for energy is always the best way to go. Lean heavily on vegetables followed by fruit, clean proteins, and healthy fats. Lots and lots of water is also helpful!
The Bottom Line on Chronic Pain
Most of the medical and scientific community agree that some habits (or lack of habits) in your daily life can worsen and/or cause chronic pain.
- Emotions – particularly negative emotions – can drastically influence the experience and severity of pain. Anxiety and depression have been shown to heighten symptoms of chronic pain. Consider employing methods such as meditation to help control your mental and emotional state.
- If you’re currently taking an antidepressant, it may assist with chronic pain. Leaning heavily on pain medication (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or pharmaceuticals) can make your situation worse. Not only can some lead to acute liver failure, overdose, and gastrointestinal distress – your body gradually adapts and overcomes the chemical reaction. You must then take more of the drug (prescribed or over-the-counter) to get the same efficacy. Consider gentle stretching techniques such as yoga to lean less heavily on pain relievers.
- A sedentary lifestyle (especially following recovery from an accident or illness) can worsen chronic pain. Even mild exercise is recommended to help keep your muscles and joints working. Consider a leisurely walk, swimming, or low-impact tai chi to move your body and alleviate joint and muscle stiffness.
Several alternative therapies have proven extremely effective in managing (even if it cannot cure) the symptoms of chronic pain naturally. Acupuncture, yoga, and tai chi are options to consider that have been scientifically proven to lower pain and improve flexibility.
While the causes of chronic pain can include many factors, scientists are making pain management a priority. It’s simply too big of a problem to continue ignoring.
You don’t have to live in pain and your diet shouldn’t make your pain worse. Control the pain with an anti-inflammatory diet and safe natural therapies in addition to the recommendations from your doctor.
1 Forbes: How Much Sugar Are Americans Eating?
2 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Obesity and Overweight
3 CBS News: "Ultra-processed" foods a huge chunk of American diet
4 Mayo Clinic: Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
5 Harvard School of Public Health: Artificial Sweeteners
6 Harvard Health Publishing: Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost?
7 Medical Daily: 4 Dangerous Effects Of Artificial Sweeteners On Your Health