Feeding the Pain

by Alison Brown Ferguson, PT

Recently I was referred a patient with a painfully swollen knee that had flared up during an active vacation. Aside from the pain, he lamented the weight gain he sustained as a result of indulging in decadent vacation foods, including deep fried seafood, extravagant desserts, and sugary cocktails.

After assessing the knee and initiating Physical Therapy treatment, we reviewed the basics on healthy eating and hydration to aid reduction of the inflammatory response in his body.

A week later, the patient (who happened to be a cardiologist) returned for follow up. He reported that although his knee pain persisted, he had not felt better in years! He no longer suffered from low energy and fatigue from long clinic hours, and felt mental clarity and enthusiasm for his patients. He was sleeping better, and best of all, had dropped five pounds without feeling hungry or deprived. He thanked me profusely for taking the time to give fundamental yet powerful advice which, as a cardiologist, he was committed to no longer overlook with his own patients.

So, why did he suddenly feel so much better in a week?

HE_fruits-vegetables-heart-shape_s4x3_leadWhat we eat and drink can influence the inflammatory process. Although inflammation is fundamental to the body’s healing response (supplying immune activity and blood flow to injured or infected areas), when this process is ongoing it can gradually cause tissue damage and illness. Chronic inflammation can cause or be a major contributor to serious illnesses including arthritis, heart disease, various cancers, dermatitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.

It was obvious that during his vacation the cardiologist had really stocked up on foods that would aggravate the inflammatory response. However, he also realized that for many years working in a busy hospital clinic, he generally grabbed a quick lunch supplied by pharmaceutical reps (irony here!), choosing often a white roll layered with processed meats, cheeses and mayo. He would down that with a can of soda and polish it all off with a brownie or cookie to prepare for a hectic afternoon and evening.

Since our conversation the previous week, he instead went for fresh vegetable slices dipped in hummus with multi-grain pita, some lightly grilled salmon or chicken, ice water infused with lemons and cucumbers, and for a treat, took some fruit or even a couple of strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.

He also realized that although his knee issue had originated way back from a high school sports injury (and that several MRI’s over the years confirmed gradual deterioration of the cartilage), he was doing himself no favor by literally feeding the inflammatory response. Combined with increased bio-mechanical stress on his knee during the vacation, it was really no surprise that it had flared up so badly.

This situation really got him thinking about his cardiac patients and how their own habits and choices could influence their cardiac disease. I was delighted to be able to pay it forward in this manner.

Foods that can increase the inflammatory response in your body include:

Sugars – find these in soft drinks, mixers, candies, cakes, cookies, pastries and desserts. Also note that sugar has pseudonyms including corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, maltose, sucrose and sorghum syrup.

img_sugary_foods Cooking Oils and Trans fats (that are high in omega 6 fatty acids) are commonly used to prepare most processed foods such as deep fried and fast foods, commercially baked goods and margarine.
Processed meats – ex) sausage, salami, ham
Refined grains found in white bread, pasta and white rice. Also products made with white flour including cakes, cookies & pastries.
Food additives and preservatives – (MSG, aspartame) found in packaged foods

If you would like to read more on this topic, please refer to Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Avoid or Anti-Inflammatory Diet.


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