Top 10 Foods That Fight Pain

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Top 10 Foods That Fight Pain
Photo (under license) – © staras –

Pain is conventionally dealt with by taking either prescription pain meds or over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen. However, these medications are notorious for side effects. Also, a lot of pain medications aren’t safe for pregnant women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the use of opioids during pregnancy has been linked with birth defects such as spina bifida and hydrocephaly, to name a few. [1]

What most people don’t know is that numerous foods have been found to contain pain-fighting substances – which presents an interesting possibility for those who wish to avoid pharmaceuticals. Can it really be that these foods might diminish pain? A growing body of scientific research indicates that it might be true. We’ve done much research and brought you a Top 10 list of these foods, complete with links to all the scientific papers (so you know we’re really not making anything up).

1. Ginger

Ginger has been a remedy for a variety of conditions for ages – typically being used to soothe upset stomachs. But did you know that historically, ginger has been used in China, topically applied as a compress to manage arthritis? [2] A 2014 study by Bartels, et. al. revealed the efficacy and safety of using ginger to treat pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis. [3] The results of another study in 2014 on ginger and dysmenorrhea was very positive, claiming that ginger was just as effective as mefenamic acid, a popular analgesic medication. [4]

2. Cherries

One of the earlier studies on the analgesic effects of the cherry extract was in 2004 by Tall, J., et. al., which was conducted on rats. [5] More studies have been done on humans, with a study in 2012 by Kuehl showing how cherries were able to reduce inflammation and pain in soft tissue injuries, typically experienced by athletes. [6]

3. Fish Oil

Studies have revealed that omega-3 fatty acids, specifically in fish oil, have anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce pain. In 2006, the results of Maroon and Bost’s experiment were positive in identifying fish oil as a suitable alternative to NSAIDs used for nonspecific neck and back pain. [7] A study in Iran in 2014 revealed that fish oil was effective in reducing the pain symptoms of dysmenorrheal, similar to ginger. [8]

4. Chili Peppers (Capsaicin)

Can you believe that despite the spiciness of chilies, they are widely accepted a potent analgesic when applied directly to the skin as a compress? According to Schumacher (2014), the use of topical capsaicin can help reduce the pain felt in chronic neuropathic conditions which are hard to treat, even with medication. [9] Another study in 2014 compared the use of chili cream and plaster with other herbs, and revealed that it had more potent analgesic properties. [10]

5. Turmeric

Turmeric is a popular spice used in cooking, but it has been included in recent studies to research is potential analgesic characteristics. A lot of recent studies have been done on rats but a study in 2014 on over 820 patients revealed rapid benefits of improved mobility and decreased pain in patients with osteoarthritis. The study used an extract from turmeric, called curcumin or curcuma. [11]

6. Celery

Celery is rich on apigenin, which has been researched and found to have very strong anti-inflammatory properties. A study in 2014 revealed that celery extracts were able to inhibit its gastritis, reducing symptoms of inflammation and pain. [12]

7. Apple Cider Vinegar

While vinegar was once used as a salad dressing, it can also be used to treat heartburn. Can something so sour treat an acidity problem? Apparently it can. A gum with apple cider vinegar as a main ingredient was seen to improve nausea and stomach pain in patients with GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease. [13]

8. Beans and Peas

When a position is held too long it can cause a leg or arm to cramp, and this can be very painful. But cramps can also be triggered by low potassium levels, because potassium is needed by the body to send impulses from our limbs to the brain (and vice-versa). People are often told to eat a banana to get rid of the pain but beans and peas actually have much more potassium content. According to the WHO, beans and peas contain 1300mg of potassium per 100g of fresh weight. [14]

9. Flaxseed

Flaxseed is a fiber grown in the cool environments and can be eaten in a variety of ways – including oil derived from it! Flaxseed oil was studied in 2011 which revealed its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic characteristics, its activity being very similar to the effect of aspirin. [15]

10. Bitter Gourd

Considered a delicacy and acquired taste, wild bitter gourd is used in traditional medicine all over Asia. Research on its medicinal properties is slowly becoming popular, showing how it has strong anti-inflammatory properties through in-vitro studies in 2009 by Lii, et. al. and in 2012 by Hsu, et. al. [16][17] More recent studies in 2014 are being done on mice, also emphasizing the effects of bitter gourd on inflammation. [18][19] These studies open up new doors on potential studies to see the how effective bitter gourd can be in managing pain in humans.

Safety note – This article is not medical advice. While these natural methods have been researched time and time again, food is not categorized as medicine and to seek the guidance of a physician before starting any form of treatment or adjusting your diet to include these foods. Pain should not be ignored as it may be a symptom of a more serious condition.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Findings: Maternal Treatment with Opioid Analgesics and Risk for Birth Defects.

[2] Xinangcai X. Complete External Therapies of Chinese Drugs. Beijing, People’s Republic of China: Foreign Languages Press; 1998. pp. 125-131, 323-328.

[3] Bartels, E., et. al. (2014). Efficacy and safety of ginger in osteoarthritis patients: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials.

[4] Shirvani, M., et. al. (2014). The effect of mefenamic acid and ginger on pain relief in primary dysmenorrheal: a randomized clinical trial.

[5] Tall, J., et. al. (2004). Tart cherry anthocyacins suppress inflammation-induced pain behavior in rat.

[6] Kuehl, K. (2012). Cherry juice targets antioxidant potential and pain relief.

[7] Maroon, J. & Bost, J. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an inflammatory: an alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain.

[8] Hosseinlou, A., et. al. (2014). The effects of fish oil capsules and vitamin B1 tablets on duration and severity of dysmmenorrhea in students of high-school in Urmia-Iran.

[9] Schumacher, M. & Pasvankas, G. (2014). Topical capsaicin formulations in the management of neuropathic pain.

[10] Oltean, H., et. al. (2014). Herbal medicine for low-back pain.

[11] Appelboom, T., et. al. (2014). A new curcuma extract in osteoarthritis: results from a belgian real-life experience.

[12] Kuo, C., et. al. (2014). Apigenin has anti-atrophic gastritis and anti-gastric cancer progression effect in Helicobacter pylori-infected Mongolian gerbils.

[13] Brown, R. (2014) Effect of GutsyGumtm, A Novel Gum, on Subjective Ratings of Gastroesophageal Reflux following a Refluxogenic Meal.

[14] World Health Organization. Potassium intake for adults and children p23.

[15] Kaithwas, G., et. al. (2011). Anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic activities of Linum usitatissumum fixed oil.

[16] Lii, C., et. al. (2009). Suppressive effects of wild bitter gourd fruit extracts on inflammatory responser in RAW264.7 macrophages.

[17] Hsu, C., et. al. (2012). Wild bitter melon extract and its bioactive components suppress Propionibacterium acnes-induced inflammation.

[18] Ciou, S., et. al. (2014). Effect of wild bitter gourd treatment on inflammatory responses in BALB/c mice with sepsis.

[19] Chao, C., et. al. (2014) Anti-inflammatory effect of Momordica charantia in sepsis mice.

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