Cathy is a 47-year-old occupational therapist who had been struggling with MS and hip dysplasia, a condition in which the femur doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket. She was overweight, had already had two hip replacements, and was taking hydrocodone and NSAIDs. After following an anti-inflammatory diet by eliminating or minimizing sugar, red meat, and most dairy, she felt relief from the pain she’d been dealing with for years. But what really convinced her was what happened when she fell off the regimen—the pain came back, just as fierce as before. This was the beginning of her awareness of the power of food. Later, Cathy also chose to eliminate gluten altogether and lost a substantial amount of weight while eating mainly chicken, organic fish and other seafood, vegetables, and fruit. She was also able to stop using the narcotic painkillers she had been prescribed, and she cut down a great deal on the NSAIDs she was taking.

It’s amazing that simply eating a healthy diet can have such a profound impact on your life. I now advise my patients to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, a variation of the Unified Dietary Guidelines that any healthy adult should follow to maintain health and prevent disease. In March 2005, the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Academy of Pediatrics created the guidelines to decrease the risk of life-threatening heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and other conditions. They recommend these daily limits for adults, based on a 2,000-calorie diet:

  1. Total fat should ideally make up 25 percent of calories.
  2. Saturated fat should be less than 10 percent of total calories.
  3. Trans fats should be avoided altogether. If you can’t give them up, then keep them as low as possible, less than one percent of total calories.
  4. Lower your levels of “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL).

The best way to follow these guidelines and maintain your weight is to eat primarily nutrient-rich foods that are relatively low in calories but extremely high in vitamins, minerals, and the other nutrients we need for optimum health, including protein. The dietary guidelines laid out below are designed to reduce the factors that cause inflammation and high levels of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, by emphasizing plant foods, primarily fruits and vegetables, along with lean meats and seafood. High levels of LDL cholesterol, along with high levels of the inflammation marker C-Reactive Protein (CRP) are associated with heart disease, whereas high levels of HDL (the “good cholesterol”) have a protective effect on the heart. You don’t have to be suffering from chronic pain to want to gravitate to the foods that help fight inflammation. Indeed, if you have a member of your family who has chronic pain and you want to help, you can be confident that if you follow these nutritional guidelines and encourage your family to do likewise, you will be improving the length and quality of your own life as well as theirs.

For example, eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day will help reduce inflammation and related pain. But a study published in the June 2004 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology shows that eating three or more servings of fruit a day may also lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36 percent compared to people who consume only one serving of fruit daily.1


References

  1. W, Gifford Jones, “The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: A Diet for All Ages,” Canada Free Press, March 1 2005, canadafreepress.com/medical/cardio-vascular030105.htm.

Vijay Vad, M.D., is a sports-medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and a professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. He is the author of Back Rx and Arthritis Rx. In 2007, he created the Vad Foundation, dedicated to two causes: supporting medical research into back pain and arthritis, and funding education for disadvantaged girls worldwide. He co-founded The Inflasoothe Group in 2008. Dr. Vad lives in New York City with his family.