I have a friend who will pop a pill at the slightest hint of discomfort. If she has a headache, she'll down ibuprofen. Allergies? A corticosteroid inhaler and two antihistamines. And when it comes to menstrual cramps, she turns to a whole cocktail of medication to get her through the day.
Related: How to Ditch PMS for Good
While pills are necessary when dealing with chronic pain, I think my friend is just a wee bit addicted, which is why I decided to stage an intervention. I talked to Ashley Koff, RD, Los Angeles-based celebrity dietitian and author of "Mom Energy," who says that you can actually aid the effectiveness of pain-relievers -- or even eliminate the need for them -- by eating foods that are proven to alleviate pain.
One (bummer) warning: a diet that's high in refined starches, sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats can actually worsen pain. So lay off those and see the foods that can help you lighten your own grip on the pillbox now.
Salmon is loaded with essential fatty acids (EFAs) -- especially omega-3 fatty acids -- which help reduce pain-causing inflammation in the body. Not a fan of fish? Get a hefty dose of omega-3s by adding chia seeds to your diet. (Yes, the same seeds that make the chi-chi-chi-chia pet grow.)
"Athletes all over the world add chia seeds to their training diet to reduce the inflammation caused by hours of training," says Koff. You can find chia seeds at your local health food store; toss them into an omelette or salad, add to your favorite milk or milk substitute to make a chia pudding, or blend into a smoothie. These seeds have a mild, nutty flavor, and odds are you won't even notice you're eating them.
Many studies have reported various benefits for turmeric, says Massey. "The curcumin found in turmeric is an antioxidant which may help lower two specific enzymes in the body that are linked to inflammation," she says. In 2010, researchers examined the impact of a special blend of turmeric on 50 osteoarthritis patients. After 90 days, 58 percent of these patients reported less pain and stiffness than the control group.
Koff adds that in addition to turmeric, ginger can also provide powerful anti-inflammatory benefits that rival aspirin or chronic pain medication in effectiveness. Add these foods to your diet or take them in supplement form on a regular basis to reduce chronic low grade inflammation in the body, which exacerbates pain. Turmeric and ginger also help relieve acute aches and pains, says Koff.
Not only will these foods remind you of fun times in the tropics, but they'll also help ease your chronic pain. How? Pineapple and papaya contain enzymes that help break down proteins in the body that cause pain.
Eat these fruits on their own, or toss into the blender to make this refreshing pineapple-papaya smoothie: Blend 1 cup diced frozen pineapple, 1 cup diced peeled and seeded papaya, 1 cup ice cubes, 3/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.
When your body is hurting, one possible cause of how much pain you feel is dehydration, says Koff. Raw coconut water contains nature's best source of hydration -- potassium -- and delivers it in a highly absorbable form, she says. The result? Your body's cells will drink in this potassium almost immediately, helping you feel less pain fast.
Related: 7 Best and Worst Sugar Substitutes
Odds are you've never heard of this ancient grain, but there's good reason to make it a staple if you deal with chronic pain. "Einkorn is packed with fiber, which effectively removes potentially irritating and inflammatory toxins from the body," says Koff. "It's also loaded with magnesium, which helps the body relax and recover when injured." This grain is a key component to the Mediterranean diet, which research shows is highly effective at reducing pain-causing inflammation in the body.
How to sneak this ancient grain into you diet? Swap einkorn flour for whole wheat or white flower when you bake or use einkorn pasta in your favorite Italian recipes. If you can't find these products at your go-to grocery store, head to the health foods store.
Whether you deal with chronic pain or just find yourself hurting after an especially grueling workout, tart cherries or tart cherry juice can help. Tart cherries are a good source of antioxidants and phytonutrients, especially anthocyanins, which may help block some enzymes associated with inflammation, says Massey. Some studies have found that tart cherries may help with certain inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
Research published in 2010 suggests that consuming tart cherry juice may also help minimize post-run muscle pain, adds Massey. Researchers looked at 54 healthy long-distance runners and gave them either a placebo or about 1.5 cups of tart cherry juice to consume twice a day for seven days before and on the day of running about 16 miles. The researchers found that those runners who consumed the cherry juice reported significantly less muscle pain than the runners who took the placebo.