Can diet really help CRPS and Chronic Pain?

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One morning some years ago, I was listening to the news on the radio when it was reported that scientists had established that drinking red wine, albeit in moderation, was good for your health. I continued preparing my breakfast, now reassured that, unknowingly, I had been self-medicating for decades.

Fast forward a couple of years. Again, there I was buttering toast against the background of the morning news, only to be subject to the revelation that new research had shown that drinking any form of alcohol, even in moderation (and specifically mentioning red wine), was a danger to health.

It’s surprising just how often we are exposed to such contradictory advice over things we commonly consume – potatoes, dairy products, bananas, eggs, peanut butter, beef, tuna – the list goes on. However, for people suffering chronic pain, the advice concerning what, and what not, to consume has remained reasonably consistent for a long time.

The anti-inflammatory diet

Whilst the role of inflammation in chronic pain conditions is not totally understood, there are many proponents, even among the medical profession, of diets aimed at inhibiting inflammation to benefit those suffering chronic pain, including CRPS. Certainly, there is clear evidence that some things we consume routinely can help to reduce inflammation, whereas others maintain or increase it.

Perhaps the most widely known anti-inflammatory diet is the Four F’s.

The Four F’s

In 1993, Hooshang Hooshmand MD, Professor of Neurology at the Medical College of Virginia, published his now oft-quoted book, Chronic Pain-Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy: Prevention and Management, which introduced us to the Four F’s Diet. This diet excludes foods that are harmful to health and aggravate chronic pain, whilst recommending the consumption of foods that can indirectly reduce pain by helping the inhibitory nerve cells.

The foods to avoid are summarised as the Five C’s:

  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Chocolate
  • Cocktails
  • Candy

However, that is very much a catchy over-simplification and it’s worth following this link for more detail.

The foods to consume are the Four F’s:

  • Fresh Fruit
  • Fresh Vegetables
  • Fish (baked or grilled)
  • Fowl (no skin and baked, roasted or grilled)

The diet also lists a host of foods that are allowed “rarely or sparingly” and again, a neat table can be found by following this link.

Anecdotally, it seems that paying only lip-service to the Four F’s – being just too selective – is unlikely to result in any (or any significant) benefit to levels of pain. Many who adhere to it more strictly say that it does help. However, some people are able to find, by process of elimination, which foods have the most significant effect on their pain, either positive or negative, and are able to tailor their diet accordingly.

Advice

What is crucially important is that medical advice is sought before embarking on any significant changes to diet. It would be very easy to do yourself long-term harm by following a diet deficient in something crucial for general health and wellbeing. Most doctors will be open to discussing a specialist diet and, if necessary, making an onward referral should more specialist advice be required. Recently, one of my clients found that her specialist pain doctor was particularly supportive of her plans to try an anti-inflammatory diet and referred her to a dietitian whose advice proved invaluable.

Mediterranean diet

It has been said that if you’re looking for a ready made plan that closely follows the tenets of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils. Indeed, in the UK the Mediterranean diet is highly recommended by the NHS for good overall health.

Anti-inflammatory smoothie

Whilst pondering whether to investigate further whether an anti-inflammatory diet may be right for you, why not treat yourself to an anti-inflammatory smoothie? Follow this link for some delicious recipes.

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