Would it surprise you to know that over 10,000 GP consultations in the UK each year relate to musculoskeletal problems? You may be a sufferer yourself or know someone with a musculoskeletal conditions such as chronic knee pain, osteoporosis, back pain, and osteoarthritis. Medication and gentle exercise work to ease the pain of sufferers. In fact, diet can also have a very positive effect too and act as a more natural way to reduce musculoskeletal pain. Let’s look at that in more detail…
The power of high-protein foods
For cases of chronic pain, high-protein based diets are recommended. According to one paper, four reasons for this are:
- The body’s pain relievers derive from proteins — Amino acids make their way into the bloodstream through the intestine (where what you eat is absorbed). They then act as building blocks for compounds that help with pain relief.
- Muscle–cartilage needs protein to grow — Amino acids are needed to build muscle which can go on to protect your bones and build strength.
- The activation of glucagon — Glucagon increases blood glucose levels and blocks glucose storage as fat. This can prevent a rise in insulin levels, carbohydrate cravings, and pain flares.
- Decreasing inflammation — Protein containing foods such as fish and green vegetables contain anti-inflammatory properties, lowering experiences of pain.
How do you incorporate high levels of protein into your diet? Add foods such as beef, fish, and eggs to your plate to up your protein intake. For vegan diets, make sure you’re eating enough pulses (lentil, beans, and soya products). There are protein supplements out there too in the form of drinks and snack bars.
Be mindful of high calorie and carbohydrate foods
Another way to help manage musculoskeletal issues is by monitoring your calorie and carbohydrate intake.
Consuming excess calories by eating unhealthy foods, or overeating, can cause weight gain. This can then lead to excess weight carried around the waist and obesity — both of which can make musculoskeletal pain worse. This is due to extra pressure on joints and inflammation.
What is inflammation? In general, it’s part of the body’s immune response to fight infection. But, there are cases when inflammation doesn’t shut down — this becomes chronic inflammation. It is this which is the underlying cause of many diseases, health problems, and pain.
In addition to excess calories, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and trans fats can cause inflammation too.
Monitoring calories and eating the appropriate amount can therefore lead to weight maintenance or weight reduction which could help musculoskeletal issues. In fact, one study found that weight reduction of more than 10% has the potential to lead to important changes in pain and function.
Embrace foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our health. Unfortunately, they’re not made by the body, so we need to get them from our diet.
In particular, research has shown that high doses of omega-3 can provide some relief to musculoskeletal pain conditions and joint health such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. Again, this is an anti-inflammatory which deals with the issues mentioned earlier.
Where can omega-3 be found? Omega-3 can be found in oily fish (such as salmon and tuna), calamari, olive oil, and some plants and nuts. A mixture of these things should ensure that you’re getting enough of the fatty acid.
Including enough vitamins is very important
Making sure that we have enough vitamins in our diets is a requirement for everyone — they each have their own benefits that keep us healthy. But some musculoskeletal conditions are a result of vitamin deficiencies, and certain vitamins can keep pain at bay.
First is vitamin D — this helps with the absorption of calcium which is essential for bone growth. Eggs are a great source of vitamin D and are easy to incorporate into your diet. Another way to up your intake is with safe levels of sun exposure.
Vitamin K plays a large part in cartilage metabolism and is a promoter of cell survival — both important processes in the body that can prevent musculoskeletal issues. Get your intake of vitamin K through green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and beans.
Then there is vitamin B. One benefit of this vitamin is that it keeps amino acid homocysteine under control. High levels of this could be linked to lower bone density and therefore musculoskeletal issues. Increase your intake of vitamin B through chicken, turkey, fish, oats, and more.
There are many more ways that your diet can reduce musculoskeletal pain. Always speak to your GP and nutritionist before changing your diet and for more advice on how the foods you eat can ease chronic pains.