When you take your fitness seriously, there is always a chance that you may suffer an injury during the course of training, and indeed around 1.9million people attend the Emergency Room each year due to sporting injuries1. This isn’t just frustrating when it gets in the way of your usual workout schedule, but it is typically a painful experience while you wait for your bones or soft tissues to heal. Although effective painkillers are available to ease your discomfort and these seem like the easy option, pain relievers have their draw backs. Physical Therapy is a useful addition to standard medical treatment to avoid over-reliance on drugs, but there are various changes you can make to your diet to enhance healing and reduce inflammation. One popular approach is to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet2.
Dangers of heavy painkiller use
If you wonder why relying heavily on painkillers is an issue, there are three main problems. Firstly, even seemingly harmless over-the-counter drugs can have adverse effects when taken for more than just a few days. For instance, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like aspirin and ibuprofen can cause digestive upset and in more severe cases stomach ulcers, bleeding and altered kidney and liver function3. There is also a risk that with a drug like paracetamol you may inadvertently overdose, as even taking less than the daily maximum of the medication over several weeks can lead to liver damage4. The last issue is that with a more severe serious injury that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments, you may need a prescription painkiller, which is typically an opiate. These drugs not only lead to unpleasant side-effects, such as nausea, constipation and drowsiness, but they are highly addictive. Around 2million Americans abuse prescription painkillers, which usually requires specialist treatment, and ironically, some of the medications used to treat opiate dependence are addictive. As a result, looking to other strategies to reduce reliance on analgesia is advisable.
Get the right balance of fats
Although you may think that omega-3 fatty acids are mainly advocated to protect your heart, they have a diverse range of properties, one of which is reducing inflammation5. That is why these fats, which largely come from oily fish, are often favored by people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis to reduce joint inflammation. There is also evidence that these oils relieve muscle pain as well. If you dislike fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, and you struggle to increase your intake of vegetable sources like flax seeds and canola oil, omega-3 supplements are available. Indeed, taking around 500mg of a combination of DHA and EPA oils may help to prevent muscle soreness that is associated with exercise6.
However, omega-3s aren’t the only type of fat that is important when it comes to reducing inflammation. Besides increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, you should also reduce your intake of omega-6 oils, while replacing these with monounsaturated fats; the usual advice about cutting back on saturated and trans fats also applies. Omega-6 fats, which are found in large quantities in vegetable oils like sunflower and corn oil, have the opposite effect of omega-3s, so instead encourage inflammation. Meanwhile, monounsaturates are more similar to omega-3 fats, and seem to have anti-inflammatory properties7. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oil, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, avocados and olives.
Focus on whole foods
We are already encouraged to place an emphasis on fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole grains in our diet, but this is even more important when you want to reduce inflammation, as diets rich in unprocessed plant-based foods help to reduce inflammation8. Oats and pulses in particular are useful, as their high content of soluble fiber helps them to reduce blood sugar spikes that are otherwise associated with inflammation. When it comes to vegetables, green leafy varieties such as broccoli, cabbage and kale are among the best, possibly because vitamin K and the other protective plant nutrients in these foods help to fight inflammation. It is therefore a good idea to include a generous helping of vegetables with meals, choose whole grains in preference to refined carbohydrates and use peas, beans and lentils as an alternative protein source to meat, eggs and cheese.
Include healthful herbs and spices
Herbs and spices aren’t just a tasty flavoring, as many have health-promoting properties as well. Various herbs and spices are known for their anti-inflammatory effects, such as ginger, chili, basil, oregano and thyme, thanks to the inflammation fighting ingredients they naturally contain9. Using these and other seasonings that reduce inflammation in your cooking each day is therefore advisable during recovery.
contributed by Jen Myers