Pain. Can we ease it simply with nutrition?

Nutrition for chronic pain

In the clinic, we see a lot of clients with pain. Sometimes it is acute pain from recent injuries, although the majority of the pain we see is chronic, ongoing pain. One of the factors that may be contributing to persistent, chronic pain is an imbalance the acidity of our tissues — mainly as a result of poor nutrition.

We all know that vegetables and fruits are good for us and that we need to be eating more of them. They are a great source of nutrition and keep our energy levels high. But, did you know that increasing your intake of plant foods may help with pain relief?

pH balance and pain

Our bodies are designed to produce acid, mainly as a process of metabolism. Cleverly, our bodies also have effective ways of breaking down and eliminating acids via the kidneys and lungs. Physiologically, this system works well — until we overburden the system with the likes of poor food choices, stress, alcohol, inflammation, and ageing. As a result, our tissues become more acidic.

When I talk about acidity, I am referring to the pH of the fluids in and around our cells as well as urine — not the pH of our blood. The pH of our blood is very tightly regulated, and will not vary much at all. If it does, it is more than likely fatal.

pH is a measure of free hydrogen ion concentration, which determines whether a substance is acidic, neutral or alkaline — the higher the concentration of hydrogen ions, the more acidic a substance is. The pH scale ranges from 0 -14, where pH < 7 is acidic, pH = 7 is neutral, pH > 7 is alkaline

So, how is tissue acidification related to pain? Well, as the pH of our tissues becomes acidic, there are increased levels of free hydrogen ions. These hydrogen ions are able to switch on specific pain channels in the nervous system. This not only increases our sensitivity to pain but can also damage the cells and cause inflammation — further exacerbating pain.

How do our diets create acidity and contribute to pain?

Typically, our modern diets contain high amounts of processed foods, sugar, animal foods and unhealthy fats — which we know don’t provide much nutritional value and can contribute to weight gain, and conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. When these foods are metabolised, they contribute to the acid load on the body.

And it is not only the increase in acid load that is causing acidification tissues. More importantly, it is due to a deficiency of our most important buffers — VEGETABLES!

Vegetables provide us with many nutrients, but they also provide a good dose of citrates, malates and gluconates. These compounds are able to buffer the acidity produced by mopping up excess the hydrogen ions (that create acidity), forming neutral substances that are more easily eliminated from the body. By increasing our vegetable intake we can lower the acid burden on the body, meaning those little pain channels are less likely to be activated.

How do I know if I have an imbalance in acidity?

If you are living in the modern world and not eating a truckload of vegetables daily, then it is likely that you have some imbalances in tissue pH levels.

As a naturopath, there are a few things that I look when assessing acid balance in clients:

  • Symptoms such as pain, fatigue, blood sugar imbalances, low appetite, headaches, muscle fatigue or weakness
  • Nutritional status
  • Dietary balance of acid load and buffering foods
  • Stress, exercise, and sleep
  • Urinary pH
  • Blood chemistry pathology

Naturapthy and good nutrition can help relieve pain

The next step is to put together a buffering plan of attack — which invariably involves vegetables. I may also prescribe other supplements or herbal medicines to provide extra support and pain relief, particularly as part of your initial naturopathic treatment plan. However, there is really no substitute for the buffering power of vegetables.

Sarah Woolner
Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist


If you are in need of some nutritional support for chronic pain or fatigue, I would love to help you. You can book in a naturopathic appointment to see me in clinic or phone us on (02) 9907 3339.