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Pain and Inflammation

by June Butlin(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 59 - December 2000

What do arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, poor digestion, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, cramps, kidney stones, injuries, pre-menstrual tension and urinary tract infections have in common? The answer is pain and inflammation.

Pain and inflammation are essential life processes. Pain is a warning sign that something is wrong in the body; inflammation is a protective mechanism to allowing healing to occur. However, an excess of these can result in unrelenting symptoms, misery, anguish, stress and sometimes disablement for the sufferer.

Whether the pain and inflammation are in a localized area , as in carpal tunnel syndrome, or referred, as with gallbladder problems such as indigestion or tension in the back of the shoulders, they are caused by chemicals called inflammatory mediators. These chemicals include prostaglandins, histamine, leukotrienes, cytokines, free radicals, serotonin, histamine, interleukin and insulin. Allopathic medicine uses drug treatment to decrease inflammation and reduce pain by blocking these chemicals, causing side effects ranging from stomach bleeding, bone demineralization, kidney damage and nutritional deficiencies. Ideally, it is best to get to the root cause of problems, but, as that takes time, interim measures may have to be considered. Natural pain remedies, often as effective as drugs, but without the side effects, are available, as discussed below.

Avoiding Allergens

An allergic reaction to a food, chemical or environmental substance causes an immune response, releasing chemical mediators. These can lead to the pain associated with many symptoms and disease states ranging from headaches, arthritis, migraine and muscle cramps to chronic back pain. Examples are red wine, containing histamine, causing sneezing, runny noses and sinus problems, and monosodium glutamate, a flavour enhancer, resulting in headaches, muscle cramps and flushing.[1] Potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers (members of the deadly nightshade family) may lead to arthritic pain, dairy products to eczema and asthma, and gluten grains to coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis. The major food allergens are wheat, dairy products, chocolate, eggs, citrus fruits, meat, nuts, tomatoes, onions, corn, apples and banana, and any one of these can cause pain and inflammation in any area within the body.

Eating the Right Foods

Certain foods can aid pain relief by reducing the body's inflammatory response and promoting healing by their analgesic action on pain nerves. Specific nutrients with these properties are cranberry juice, which eases the pain of urinary tract infections, peppermint oil, which soothes the digestive tract and high fibre foods such as grains, vegetables and legumes, which ease inflammatory bowel diseases. A diet low in saturated fatty acids (dairy and meats) and high in phytoestrogens found in soy, legumes and vegetables lower oestrogen levels to reduce pain from pre-menstrual tension and endometriosis. Elderberries containing quercetin relieve pain, aid healing in skin conditions and injured body structures, and fight infections.[2]

Essential Fats

Essential fats are important nutrients to reduce pain and inflammation. They derive from two sources; the first is omega 6 fatty acid, from nuts, seeds and oils (sunflower, safflower, borage and evening primrose) and are converted to prostaglandins, which reduce inflammation in a similar way to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. To produce anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, aspirin, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, food additives and high doses of vitamin E must be avoided, and essential nutrient co-factors vitamins B6, B3 and C, and minerals biotin, zinc and magnesium included. The second source, omega 3 fatty acid, from fish oils and flax seeds, is effective in reducing arthritic pain and inflammation.[3]


Vitamin B6 has analgesic properties and increases resistance to pain. It is used to make the neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA that inhibit pain impulses. It is particularly useful in carpal tunnel syndrome, as it reduces swelling in the hand, and nerve pain from diabetes, headaches and the temporomandibular joint.[4]

Lysine inhibits viral cells such as herpes virus, and speeds up the healing process. It can also displace the amino acid arginine, which aids viral replication. Lysine supplements can be taken to prevent herpes; lysine-rich foods includ chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, fish, cheese, mung bean sprouts and brewer's yeast. Avoid arginine-rich foods such as nuts, seeds, chocolate and gelatine.[5]

Phenylalanine is an amino acid derived from animals, nuts, vegetables and bacteria and is available in two forms, the L form and the rarer D form which can prevent the breakdown of endorphins. DL Phenylalanine has natural pain-relieving effects in arthritis, bursitis, lower back pain, myalgias, neuralgias, migraine, PMS, headaches and sports injuries. It should not be taken in pregnancy, diabetes or high blood pressure.[6]

Methyl Sulphonyl Methane (MSM) is a sulphur compound, which occurs abundantly in nature. It is naturally present in the body and is able to regulate fluids and nutrients into the cells, and the elimination of toxins from the cells, which reduces pain and inflammation and promotes healing. It is also able to block the pain response in nerve fibres and reduce scar tissue, allowing repair and healing to take place. Body levels of sulphur are often low, as every time the body removes invading toxins from the cell it also removes the sulphur compounds. Extra sulphur in supplement form is useful for rheumatoid arthritis, disc problems in the back, acute injuries, tendonitis, bursitis and muscle cramps. Interestingly a solution of MSM can be used on burns to hasten healing and reduce pain and scarring.[7]

* Next month – Herbs and Phytonutrients to Relieve Pain and Inflammation


1. Barnard MD. Foods that Fight Pain. Bantam Books. p 82. ISBN 0 553 81237. 1998.
2. Lininger W, Gaby MD, Austin S, Brown DJ, Wright MD and Duncan A. The Natural Pharmacy. Prima Publishing. ISBN 0 7615 1967 X. 1999.
3. Erasmus U. Fats that Heal Fats that Kill. Alive Books. ISBN 0 920470 38 6. 1997.
4. Murray MT. Encyclopaedia of Nutritional Supplements. Prima Publishing. p.104. ISBN 0 7615 0410 9. 1996.
5. Michele Picozzi Controlling Herpes Naturally. Southpaw Press. ISBN 0 9658600 0 0. 1998.
6. Braly J. Food Allergy and Nutrition Revolution. Keats Publishing. p 131. ISBN 0 87983 590 7. 1992.
7. Ley BM. MSM on Our Way Back to Health with Sulphur. BL Publications. ISBN 1 890766 00 3. 1998.


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About June Butlin

June M Butlin PhD is a trained teacher, nutritionist, kinesiologist, aromatherapist, fitness trainer and sports therapist. She is a writer, health researcher and lecturer and is committed to helping people achieve their optimum level of health and runs a private practice in Wiltshire. June can be contacted on 01225 869 284;

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