According to the CDC, more than 50 million adults in the United States experience chronic pain. From rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, to headaches and injuries, to post-workout muscle soreness, aches, and pain can be caused by a variety of conditions and factors. Despite the cause, the shared experience of discomfort can significantly impact daily life, leading to a relentless pursuit of effective pain management. While medication is often the go-to solution, research has shown that diet can play an essential role in mitigating chronic pain and busting inflammation, particularly when focusing on anti-inflammatory, pain-fighting foods. While there’s no one-size-fits-all dietary solution, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet offers a proactive and empowering approach to address not only your symptoms but also the underlying inflammation contributing to your discomfort. With this in mind, if you’re ready to explore a new way to manage pain and ease tension, here are 10 research-backed pain-fighting foods to consider adding to your diet.
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10 Research-Backed Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Alleviate Aches & Pains
#1 Turmeric for Achy Joints
Beyond its traditional role as a spice, turmeric has rightfully secured a permanent title of “superfood”. Renowned for its science-backed ability to ease inflammation and alleviate pain, turmeric’s health properties can largely be attributed to its active compound, curcumin, an antioxidant with strong anti-inflammatory properties. It’s proven effective in promoting joint health and providing relief for inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Whether incorporated into flavorful curries, stir-fries, or golden milk, embracing turmeric as part of your regular routine is definitely a good idea — no matter the source of your aches and pains!
#2 Ginger for Stomach Aches
Utilized for centuries as a digestive aid, ginger is one of the best natural remedies for stomach aches and pains, including heartburn and indigestion. Not only is it a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps reduce irritation in the gastrointestinal tract, but it also possesses anti-nausea properties, making it great for morning sickness, motion sickness, and even menstrual-related nausea. P.S. It’s great for abdominal cramps during that time of the month, too! We owe thanks to the bioactive compound in ginger, gingerol. Sip on ginger in a warming tea, sprinkle ground ginger into any dish (it pairs well with both sweet and spicy flavors!), or enjoy it freshly grated in a homemade golden milk latte.
#3 Blueberries for Stress-Induced Inflammation
Stress is sneaky in that its impact extends far beyond the mind — it can take a physical toll, too. Eliciting muscle tension and unconscious habits (like clenching the jaw or grinding teeth), stress can manifest physically in various ways. The good news is that blueberries are jam-packed with anthocyanins, antioxidants known to counteract the inflammatory effects of stress on the body and help ease discomfort. They’ve even been shown to help alleviate post-exercise inflammation! Add them to your baked goods, blend them into your smoothie, or enjoy them as a topping for yogurt bowls, toast, oatmeal, and salads.
#4 Peppermint for Tension Headaches
If you suffer from headaches, you know they can be grueling — even debilitating. However, the cool, aromatic profile of peppermint is promising! The key component is menthol, a compound that acts as a natural muscle relaxant, helping to alleviate tension and soothe headaches. Peppermint can provide relief as a calming tea, or even elicit its effects when applied topically (just ensure it’s diluted) to the temples and skin, where it can help to relax muscles and enhance blood flow.
#5 Salmon for Inflammation
If you’re struggling with chronic pain, look to salmon as an anti-inflammatory aid. Packed with EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, this nutrient-rich fish is one of the best sources of healthy fats (which have been linked to reduced inflammation and improved pain management). In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that a higher intake of oily fish, such as salmon, may contribute to a sustained decrease in pain over an extended period of time. Whether grilled, baked, or air-fried, making salmon a dietary staple is a great way to ease pain and support your overall health.
#6 Tart Cherry Juice for Exercise-Induced Pain & Post-Workout Muscle Soreness
Tired of experiencing muscle aches after a tough workout? Good news. Rich in anthocyanins, potent antioxidants, tart cherries contain anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate pain and soreness associated with intense physical activity. According to research, regular consumption of tart cherry juice can reduce muscle soreness, inflammation, and oxidative stress following strenuous exercise. Plus, the natural compounds in tart cherries may also contribute to faster muscle recovery! To gain the benefits of this sweet and delicious juice, add a splash to your post-workout smoothie or stir it into your bowl of yogurt or oats.
#7 Extra Virgin Olive Oil for Inflammatory Pain
According to research, extra virgin olive oil contains oleocanthal, a potent polyphenol with anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Oleocanthal works by inhibiting enzymes that cause inflammation, making EVOO a valuable dietary addition for individuals managing inflammatory-driven pain like arthritis. Plus, the phenolic compounds in olive oil have been linked to reduced blood pressure and cholesterol, weight loss, and improved insulin sensitivity, all conditions that increase inflammation in the body.
#8 Pineapple for Bruising and Swelling
Bromelain, the potent enzyme found in pineapple, is a noteworthy nutrient with research-backed properties supporting its role in fighting pain and inflammation — especially when it comes to alleviating bruising and swelling. Recognized for its anti-inflammatory and proteolytic properties, bromelain appears to mitigate the body’s inflammatory reactions, helping break down blood clots and expedite the healing process. Often used to speed healing time, reduce pain and bruising after surgery, and soothe swelling, incorporating fresh pineapple into your diet, particularly the fibrous core, is a sweet and tasty way to reduce pain and inflammation in a natural way.
#9 Broccoli for Osteoarthritis
Thanks to sulforaphane, a compound with potent anti-inflammatory properties, research suggests broccoli can help to prevent or slow the progression of osteoarthritis by slowing the breakdown of cartilage in the joints. It’s also rich in calcium, which is known for its bone-building benefits, and vitamins K and C, which have been shown to support joint health and aid collagen formation. To help retain its nutrients and obtain all its potential pain-relieving benefits, enjoy broccoli lightly steamed, add it to a stir-fry, or toss it into your favorite pasta dish or grain bowl.
#10 Dark Chocolate & Cacao for Menstrual Pain
Rich in essential minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds, unsweetened dark chocolate or pure cacao is a great choice for women struggling with menstrual cramps. As powerful antioxidants, the flavonoids in cacao can help relax muscles and reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of prostaglandin hormones, hormones known to cause pain and discomfort during periods. Plus, cacao is rich in magnesium, a mineral known for its role in muscle relaxation that has also been linked to a reduction in the severity of menstrual cramps. If you’re experiencing menstrual pain, try enjoying a few squares of 70% or darker dark chocolate, sprinkle a serving of cacao nibs on a yogurt bowl, or mix a tablespoon of pure cacao powder into your chia pudding or warm bowl of oats.
Combat Aches & Pains, The Natural Way
No matter if you’re experiencing headaches, muscle-induced pain, and soreness, or menstrual-related pain, feeling sore and achy is no fun. The good news is that by incorporating these research-backed anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, you can add a new holistic approach to your toolbox — especially if combined with other healthy lifestyle choices like managing stress and optimizing sleep. However, it’s important to remember that this is not a quick-fix solution! And, as always, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or medical doctor to rule out anything serious. With that in mind, give these foods a try. Not only can you bust inflammation and soreness, but you can also improve your overall health!