How to Treat Chronic Pain, Naturally

Let your food be your medicine.

January 9, 2012

Fibromyalgia is a debilitating condition thought to affect more than 5 million people, many of them women. What's more, most people who suffer from this unpleasant disease, characterized by chronic pain, muscle stiffness, sleep trouble, anxiety, depression, and gastrointestinal discomfort, don't find relief from regular pain medications. But it turns out, natural fibromyalgia remedies may be able to help where pharmaceuticals can't. A recent study published in the Journal of Pain Research found that women who practiced yoga for 75 minutes twice a week reported significant reductions in pain and improved mindfulness, which lowered the stressful response to their pain.

While yoga can treat both mind and body, foods are a good source of natural enzymes, anti-inflammatory compounds, and antioxidants that can reduce swelling and help you cope with pain, all while allowing you to stock up on healthy nutrients. If you are suffering from fibromyalgia, try one of these foods on the following pages from The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods (Rodale, 2008), by James A. Duke, Ph.D., along with your twice-weekly yoga practice.


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#1: Buckwheat
Muscle soreness and fatigue are among the most disabling symptoms of fibromyalgia, which is why it's a good idea to add some buckwheat to your diet. Buckwheat contains malic acid, which fights tired, sore muscles and has some of the highest amounts of malic acid found in food; ‘Granny Smith’ apples are another good source. Whip up some buckwheat pancakes for tomorrow’s breakfast, or use buckwheat groats (the steamed hull of the buckwheat plant) instead of rice in your next pilaf.


#2: Fig
Figs contain malic acid, making them another valuable pain-busting food, as well as ficin, an anti-inflammatory enzyme that helps reduce pain and other problems caused by inflammation. They also contain high levels of magnesium and manganese, two minerals often deficient in people with fibromyalgia. Fresh figs offer the highest levels of these minerals and enzymes. If you've never eaten them fresh, they pair well with prosciutto or with goat cheese to make a nice afternoon snack.


#3: Spinach and other leafy greens
Magnesium deficiency is common in patients suffering from fibromyalgia, and spinach is rich in magnesium, as are other leafy greens. And it takes just 1 cup of cooked spinach to counteract symptoms of low magnesium levels, which include fatigue, muscle cramps, insomnia, and stress.


#4: Chili peppers
When applied topically to tender joints, the capsaicin found in chili peppers can relieve fibromyalgia-related aches and pains temporarily. You can purchase commercial capsaicin cream (just avoid those with petroleum-derived ingredients and artificial fragrances) and apply it to tender joints three to four times daily. Or just mash up a chili pepper yourself and apply the mash in the same way. It also helps to add more peppers to your diet, though it may take a few more to get the same pain-relieving effect you get when applying them topically.


#5: Pineapple
Just 1 cup of this tropical fruit contains a variety of enzymes and minerals that ease pain caused by fibromyalgia. One of the most abundant is bromelain, an enzyme that helps reduce swelling and inflammation. Pineapple also contains high amounts of manganese, which is essential to the formation of collagen in the body; often with fibromyalgia, collagen production is impaired, leading to a greater sensitivity to pain. Your 1 cup of fresh pineapple chunks provides you with 100 percent of your  recommended daily value of manganese.

For more natural remedies for symptoms related to fibromyalgia, check out the Rodale Remedy Finder for the following conditions:

Chronic backache
Irritable bowl syndrome