Natural painkillers found in every kitchen

Try these foods to alleviate pain; you may be surprised at the results

nutsWhile we may not be able to completely substitute drugs with diet, a correct set of nutrient-dense foods can surely work against different types of aches, pains and muscle soreness. Whether you are experiencing muscular cramps or menstrual pains, migraines or trembling arthritic pangs, post-workout aches or general fatigue, certain super foods are available that are well-equipped to fight these pains.

Pain-busting foods are those packed with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. I have listed six foods along with the conditions they help alleviate.

Nuts and greens

The array of antioxidants and nutrients like folic acid and magnesium present in dried fruits, nuts and leafy vegetables help fight cellular damage and repair muscles post-delivery or after workouts. Include walnuts, almonds and figs in your daily diet and start your day with a glass of spinach or wheatgrass juice. Have a glass of carrot and beetroot juice or apple and orange juice after workouts to flush out toxins, gain antioxidants and energise your cells.

Research has shown that increasing the tryptophan levels [precursor to pain-controlling neurotransmitter serotonin] by adding foods like beans, cashews , bananas and sunflower seeds helps in better control of back pain.

Nuts and greens also provide vitamins B6 and B12, both of which are needed to maintain the protective sheath around the nerves and help alleviate low back pain or sciatica.

Alfalfa seeds and evening primrose

alfalfaThe presence of flavanoids, beneficial sterols and vitamins make alfalfa seeds an ideal food for pain control. These seeds can be sprouted and added to salads or soups.

Gamma-linolenic acid [GLA], an unsaturated fatty acid found in evening primrose oil and borage seed oil, helps reduce arthritic pain by improving blood flow and reducing the severity and duration of inflammation. The improvements witnessed include reduction in morning stiffness, swelling and joint pain.

Fish oils

Once you and your doctor have ruled out the potentially more serious causes for your headaches, take a look at what you eat every day and see if eliminating common trigger foods eliminates your headaches. Common foods that trigger migraine include alcohol, chocolates, junk foods, peanuts, caffeine and food colours present in jams and jellies.

Fish oils and cold water fish like mackerel, tuna, sardines and salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids, which impact the prostaglandin synthesis that control pain and can help prevent the onset of headaches.

Ginger and garlic

garlicGinger helps in relieving headaches. Take one teaspoon of pickled ginger or just slice an inch of fresh ginger, squeeze some lemon on it with a dash of black salt and chew it slowly. At the first sign of a headache, if you manage to do this you may prevent a full-blown migraine. Ginger works quite similar to an aspirin and leads to reduction in pain. Likewise, garlic [fresh or in capsule form] is also an effective remedy for pain.


FlaxseedFibromyalgia is a relatively common disorder that is markedly associated with deep muscular aching, shooting, and stabbing pain, often with a burning sensation. While the severity of symptoms fluctuates from person to person, this condition may resemble a post-viral state.

The food that comes to rescue is flaxseeds or alsi and its oil. Flaxseeds contain the essential fatty acid omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid, which the body converts into hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. These prostaglandins relieve inflammation and ease pain. Flaxseeds may be roasted, ground into a powder and then added to salads, vegetables, yogurt or smoothies. These seeds [at least two tablespoon per day] can also be made into a dry chutney with garlic, chillies and salt and served with parathas or steamed rice.

Olive oil

olive oilOlive oil also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent as it is loaded with antioxidants and monounsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. It may be added as salad dressings or a cooking medium for stir-fries and pastas. It also contains polyphenols, which reduce the swelling of tender or inflamed joints. However, ordinary olive oil will not help as it does not contain oleocanthal, which is the key ingredient responsible for reducing joint pain. Hence, it is best to use ‘extra virgin’ olive oil.

Coping with pain, both mild and chronic, requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Eating a well-balanced diet with regular intake of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods and maintaining an active lifestyle complements the pain control drug therapy very well.

So, stay in tune with these pain-busting foods and you will find yourself feeling better.

Natural pain relievers

These simple lifestyle changes will keep most aches and pains at bay.

  • Detoxify your body from time-to-time, by using specific herbs and vegetable juices. This helps to eliminate accumulated toxins [a cause for pains] from the body, enabling smooth functioning of the body organs and systems.
  • Stay away from stress. Elevated levels of stress, anxiety and mental fatigue worsen aches and pains. There are hormonal changes and biochemical responses to stress that can impair our immune system and aggravate the pain.
  • Make meditation, pranayama and exercise a regular part of your life. These are excellent ways to de-stress and are also effective in pain management.
Panchali Moitra
Panchali Moitra holds a Masters in Food and Nutrition from Delhi University. She is a qualified nutritionist with a decade old experience of active clinical practice in Mumbai and specialises in providing dietary advice for lifestyle disorders like diabetes, hypertension and obesity.


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