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Nutrition Basics for Managing Chronic Pain

By Angela Watson Robertson


As a health coach, I’ve seen firsthand how the foods we eat can be a remedy, at least to some degree, for chronic pain. The truth is, we can change our body chemistry every time we eat. If you have been living with and trying to manage pain, I encourage you to consider that the foods you eat are just as important as the medications you take. 

When approaching pain management in this way, you don’t have to be a doctor or pharmacist to know what to do for yourself. You can take your health into your own hands by discovering what foods and supplements support your health and then modify your behavior accordingly. 




An anti-inflammatory diet is often considered to be a helpful part of an integrative approach to pain management, along with exercise, stress management, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture. According to, inflammation is a natural process in the body that defends against disease; however, chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and even depression.

You can find information about the anti-inflammatory diet in numerous books and on various websites, but the primary idea is to avoid sugary, refined, and processed foods and replace them with whole, nutrient-rich plant-based foods. The specifics will vary depending on the severity of your pain and overall health, but in its strictest form, the diet may involve eliminating dairy, red meat, simple carbs, such as sugar and flour, and most grains, including rice, corn, and wheat. Instead, focus on whole fruits, vegetables, and animal proteins such as fish and chicken in moderation. 




Part of the ginger family, turmeric is a root that has been known to reduce inflammation. I recommend taking a minimum of 500 mg daily for back and joint pain. You can find it in powder, tea, liquid, or capsule form.


Glucosamine & Chondroitin

Glucosamine and chondroitin are part of what makes up the cartilage in your body. These supplements are also helpful for joint pain and are often sold together. Though evidence is conflicting, many of my clients have found relief by taking these daily. 


Vitamin D

Recent studies have shown that high doses of vitamin D can help reduce pain. According to a 2011 study of breast cancer patients, vitamin D eases chronic pain because it limits how much inflammation can take place. This is because vitamin D is a key nutrient that prevents the immune system from responding excessively, leading to chronic inflammation, also known as pain1. 

I recommend taking at least 5,000 iu of vitamin D per day for pain; however, it is important to work with a doctor and get regular blood work if taking high doses of vitamin D for long periods of time. 


DHA/EPA (fish oil)

New research shows that essential fatty acids, DHA and EPA, promote a class of compounds called resolvins, which restore nerve and immune cell function to normal in a timelier manner, thus getting rid of excess pain2. I recommend taking two to three grams daily, which was shown in a 2012 university study to be therapeutic for 380 arthritis patients who took this dosage for more than three months and experienced a reduced need for NSAID (aspirin, ibuprofen) drugs3.



If you have chronic pain and have tried the above with no relief, I also recommend researching the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) oil—one of the 104 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant, Cannabis sativa. Because most CBD oil is sold without tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant, you get the benefits without the “high” you have heard about. 



Kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family native to Southeast Asia. Kratom contains a chemical called mitragynine, which works like opioids such as codeine and morphine to relieve pain. Because of this association, many people are nervous about its use; however, I have known many people to benefit from it without side effects. 


Important Notes


Remember to use a holistic approach when dealing with chronic pain. Most likely, no single one of these recommendations will be a “fix all” for you. Instead, you may find a blend of several to be the right solution for you. 

I recommend working with a nutritionist, health coach, or dietician when making significant changes to your diet, especially if you have chronic health issues. 

 It’s also important to first understand what is causing your pain to know best what supplements or alternative medicines may be effective. I suggest working with an integrative or functional doctor in tandem with an acupuncturist and/or chiropractor to diagnosis the root of your pain. If you are taking prescription medications, always check with your doctor before starting any supplements.

There is currently no scientific evidence to support the uses of CBD oil and Kratom for pain, so please do your research and use caution. 



Rastelli, A.L., Taylor, M.E., Gao, F. et al. Breast Cancer Res Treat (2011) 129: 107.

Lee YB et al. “Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Archives of Medical Research. 2012 Jul; 43(5):356-62. Epub 2012 Jul 24.

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Angela Watson Robertson, MBA, CIHC, INHC, a.k.a The Reinvention Warrior, is a well known nutrition blogger and health coach who teaches you how to transform your life starting with the food you eat. She has created simple, effective tools to help you reinvent every area of your life- from health, career and money to relationships, spirituality and sex. Find her free wellness tips, nutrition courses, and coaching programs at Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter.

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