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From Book Of "The Holistic Aproch  To Autoimmune Diseases" by Dr. Ashraf Girgis N.D.

The Relationship Between Food And Chronic Pain

By Dr. Ashraf Girgis ND.

Healthy Nutrition

We have all experienced pain at some point in our lives. Pain is an unpleasant and sometimes excruciating feeling which is difficult to tolerate. The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) describes pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”[1] Scientists have done research on chronic pain, which used to be defined as pain lasting longer than six months, though now pain endured longer than three months is also classified as chronic. Several chemicals in the foods we consume can lower chronic pain levels. Some of these chemical components have been discussed in earlier chapters, but here, I would like to discuss them more, specifically in terms of their effect on chronic pain.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

One 2006 study from the University of Pittsburgh examined 250 patients taking NSAID medications for both chronic and acute pain. In the study, participants took fish oil, which provided them with a daily dose of omega-3 EFAs (eicosapentanoic acids and docosahexaenoic acids). 78% of participants were taking 1200 milligram doses of fish oil, while the other 22% were taking 2400 milligrams. Of the 125 participants who responded to the questionnaires sent out after 75 days on the fish oil, 59% said that they had discontinued their NSAIDs, as they felt they no longer needed them.

Heart Disease


Omega-3s can be found in foods such as:

1. Fish (salmon, cod liver, mackerel, sardines, oysters, anchovies, tuna, and caviar)

2. Nuts (walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseed)

3. Oils (olive oil, flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and algal oil derived from algae)

Other foods, such as Brussels sprouts, also contain omega-3 fatty acids.


Serotonin, otherwise known as 5-HT (5-hydroxytryptamine), is a chemical made from the tryptophan amino acid. As a neurotransmitter, serotonin’s function is to relay messages from one cell to another. Serotonin is made in the brain but 90% of it is found inside the gut. It also gets released from mast cells and platelets during injury and inflammation of the tissues.

Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression, sleep deprivation, anxiety, blood clotting, and bone density problems. Serotonin levels also play a very important role in pain reduction. While the exact mechanism behind serotonin’s effect on pain is not completely clear, studies have shown there to be a direct relation between the two.[3]


In another study published in Pain Research and Treatment in 2018, Iranian scientist Afshin Farhanchi from Hamadan University measured the impact of high serotonin levels on pain, concluding: “In summary, preoperative chronic low back pain of our patients reduced in postoperative period; however the level of serum serotonin was not significantly changed. Moreover, a negative medium strength linear relationship between the postoperative serum serotonin and pain was observed in our study.”[5]


Serotonin is produced as a result of eating food containing tryptophan. Tryptophan is found in many foods including meats such as salmon, turkey, beef, other fish, and more, as well as nuts such as walnuts.



Anthocyanidins are water soluble pigments, phytochemicals that are responsible for colors of red, purple, and blue in fruits and vegetables. They have proven health benefits due to their nutrients. According to studies, foods containing anthocyanidins, such as tart cherries, did impact the level of pain in rats when experiencing induced inflammation. In that study, inflammation was induced by applying heat to the rats’ paws. Scientists noticed that giving 400 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of tart cherry, as well as different dosages of 15, 85, and 400 mg/kg, affected the inflammation induced by intraplantar injection. The study arrived at the following conclusion: “We found that tart cherry extracts reduce inflammation-induced thermal hyperalgesia, mechanical hyperalgesia and paw edema.


The suppression of thermal hyperalgesia was dose-dependent and the efficacy of highest dose (400 mg/kg) was similar to indomethacin (5 mg/kg).” In other words, tart cherry extract did reduce multiple effects of inflammation, including thermal hyperalgesia, mechanical hyperalgesia, and paw edema. The reductions were dosage-dependent, with the 400 mg/kg does providing the strongest effects.[6]


Anthocyanidins are found in berries, currants, grapes, tropical fruits, and some vegetables.



Most people have heard of capsaicin’s effect on pain reduction, especially in patients with arteritis pain. While the mechanism behind this is not very clear, scientists believe that capsaicin blocks or reduces substance P, a chemical produced at the site of inflammation or injury which sends signals from sensory nerve fibers to the brain.[7]

However, some recent research debunks this theory. In one 2011 study, scientists used a highly concentrated capsaicin patch (8%) to relieve pain for up to three months. They concluded that the “Reduction of substance P content in the skin is just one of many consequences of defunctionalisation, and there is no evidence that this process is related causally to pain relief.”[8]


In other words, there is evidence that capsaicin reduces topical pain by via the weakening and attenuation of skin sensitivity. The pain reduction is due to a loss of function by nociceptor (pain receptor) fibers.

 Use of capsaicin cream has been shown to have very few side effects, other than occasional skin psoriasis, itching, and allergic rhinitis.[9]

 Capsaicin can be found in chili peppers, kimchi, Japanese pickled Napa cabbage, and fried burdock root.[10]


Studies have shown that soy can impact pain through several mechanisms, due to its being a good source of the isoflavone genistein, which has strong estrogenic activities.[12]  Soybeans increase anti-nociception by promoting a GABAA receptor response. They also affect several chemicals in the body: for example, lowering the protein kinase while modulating cytokines.

The genistein in soybeans can also act as an antioxidant.[13]

The relationship between soy and pain seems to be stronger in male than in female patients: higher analgesia has been observed in men. Results regarding soy and its effect on patients with cyclical breast pain have been mixed: results often depended on the type of soy used. For example, though soy milk has been shown to not always relieve pain in those who suffer from cyclical breast pain,[14]


whole soybean powder has been shown to reduce neuropathic pain,

while in another study whole soybean soymilk powder appeared to reduce neuropathic pain in diabetic patients when administered preemptively. Scientists concluded: “Genistein is able to reverse a diabetes established condition of allodynia, oxidative stress and inflammation, ameliorates NGF content and the vascular dysfunction, thus suggesting its possible therapeutic use for diabetes complications.” [15]

 It has also been noted that soy can affect other pains, such as after mastectomy surgeries,[16] in cases of osteoarthritis,[17] and menopausal discomfort. Furthermore, isoflavones in soybeans greatly reduced symptoms of menopause.[18]

Thanks for visiting  where ancient wisdom meet today’s science.
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Call 616-777-0608 or email Dr. Girgis directly at:

Dr. Ashraf Girgis N.D.


[1] IASP Terminology. (2017). International Association for the Study of Pain. Retrieved from[2] Maroon, J. C., & Bost, J. W. (2006, April). Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil) as an Anti-Inflammatory: An Alternative to Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Discogenic Pain. Surgical Neurology. Retrieved from[3]  Brain Uses Serotonin To Perpetuate Chronic Pain Signals In Local Nerves - 01/23/2014. (2014, January 23). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from[4] Seltzer, S., Stoch, R., Marcus, R., & Jackson, E. (1982, August 13). Alteration of Human Pain Thresholds by Nutritional Manipulation and L-tryptophan Supplementation. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from[5] Farhanchi, A., Karkhanei, B., Amani, N., Aghajanloo, M., Khanlarzadeh, E., & Emami, Z. (2018). Association of Serum Serotonin and Pain in Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain before and after Spinal Surgery. Pain Research and Treatment, 2018, 1-6. Retrieved from[6] Tall, J., Seeram, N., Zhao, C., Nair, M., Meyer, R., & Raja, S. (2004, August 12). Tart cherry anthocyanins suppress inflammation-induced pain behavior in rat. Behavioural Brain Research. Retrieved from[7] Shin, S., Shutoh, N., Tonai, M., & Ogata, N. (2015, November 2). The Effect of Capsaicin-Containing Food on the Swallowing Response. Dysphagia. Retrieved from[8] Anand, P., & Bley, K. (2011, October). Topical capsaicin for pain management: Therapeutic potential and mechanisms of action of the new high-concentration capsaicin 8% patch. British Journal of Anaesthesia. Retrieved from[9] Baranidharan, G., Das, S., & Bhaskar, A. (2013, September). A review of the high-concentration capsaicin patch and experience in its use in the management of neuropathic pain. Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders. Retrieved from[10] Shin et al., 2015.|
[11] Broccoli could be key in the fight against osteoarthritis. (2013, August 27). Retrieved May 26, 2020, from
[12] De Gregori, M., Muscoli, C., Schatman, M., Stallone, T., Intelligente, F., Rondanelli, M., . . . Allegri, M. (2016, December 8). Combining pain therapy with lifestyle: The role of personalized nutrition and nutritional supplements according to the SIMPAR Feed Your Destiny approach. Journal of Pain Research. Retrieved from
[13] Shen, C., Smith, B., Lo, D., Chyu, M., Dunn, D., Chen, C., & Kwun, I. (2012, July 23). Dietary polyphenols and mechanisms of osteoarthritis. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Retrieved from
[14] McFayden, I. J., Chetty, U., Setchell, K., Zimmer-Nechemias, L., Stanley, E., & Miller, W. R. (2001, October). A randomized double blind-cross over trial of soya protein for the treatment of cyclical breast pain. The Breast. Retrieved from
[15] Valsecchi, A., Franchi, S., Panerai, A., Rossi, A., Sacerdote, P., & Colleoni, M. (2011, January). The soy isoflavone genistein reverses oxidative and inflammatory state, neuropathic pain, neurotrophic and vasculature deficits in diabetes mouse model. British Journal of Pharmacology. Retrieved from
[16] Satija, A., Ahmed, S., Gupta, R., Ahmed, A., Rana, S., Singh, S., . . . Bhatnagar, S. (2014, February). Breast cancer pain management - a review of current & novel therapies. The Indian Journal of Medical Research. Retrieved from
[17] Arjmandi, B., Khalil, D., Lucas, E., Smith, B., Sinichi, N., Hodges, S., . . . Svanborg, A. (2004, November 04). Soy protein may alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms. Phytomedicine. Retrieved from
[18] Arjmandia et al., 2004.




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