Chronic pain affects more than 6.5 million Australians. That’s over a quarter of our population. And while painkillers can help, they often fail to eliminate the true cause.
“No matter how well you prescribe medication, chronic sufferers don’t get complete relief. It’s a huge problem, “says Dr James Dillard, author of The Chronic Pain Solution (Random House). But there is an alternative: certain foods ease aches by fighting inflammation, blocking pain signals and even healing underlying disease (plus they taste better than paracetamol).
Read on for three of nature’s most effective pain relievers and where to find them.
Cherries (45 daily): Arthritis, muscle pain
Cherries aren’t exactly cheap and eating 45 a day may seem excessive, but hear us out: compounds in cherries called anthocyanins – the same phytonutrients that give cherries their colour – are powerful antioxidants that work in two ways to counter pain. “They block inflammation and inhibit pain enzymes, just like aspirin, naproxen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories,” explains chemist Dr Muraleedharan Nair.
Yoghurt (One or two 200g servings every day): Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
For the roughly one-in-six Australians who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach pain is a given. But relief may come in the form of a bug – billions of bugs, actually. Several bacterial strains that are often found naturally in yoghurt (especially B. infantis and L. acidophilus) reduce pain, inflammation and bloating, according to a 2010 review. Another study found B. lactis give similar results. Not every yoghurt contains probiotics, so look for brands with “live and active cultures.”
Coffee (Two 120ml cups): Headaches
Coffee is more than a pick-me-up. It’s good medicine. “Coffee is a smooth-muscle relaxant that dilates the constriction of blood vessels, and may provide temporary relief for some headaches,” explains naturopath Mim Beim. It can also amplify the effect of other pain relievers. But if you’re a java junkie, too much caffeine can have the opposite effect.