Eat this, not that, to live pain-free

Pain. You feel it in your joints, muscles, tendons… and you’re starting to notice it more and more… after prolonged sitting and even when you step out of bed first thing in the morning.

Your friends and even your doctor may tell you “it’s just par for the course…,” a natural part of aging. You just have to accept it.

I’d beg to differ.

No one should have to live in pain. And what’s really alarming is that people are experiencing this kind of pain decades earlier than previous generations.

But before we get into why — and how to stop it — let’s talk about the value of pain…

Your body has something important to say

Pain does have value… and an important role in keeping you healthy. That’s because pain is a warning sign.

Pain is often the first indication something is wrong. And it motivate us to make a course correction and rebalance our lives to prevent further damage to healthy cells and tissues.

At the cellular level, many tiny nociceptors — a sensory nerve cell that responds to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli — are where pain is first “received.” Their job is to send that signal to the brain, where it is interpreted as pain.

The first and real cause of pain is Inflammation. In fact inflammation almost always precedes pain — except in cases of blunt trauma to a muscle, bone, or joint.

So, what causes inflammation and subsequently pain? It has been recently discovered that nearly all nociceptor “pain” is caused by a poor diet.

Foods that cause inflammation

You’re probably well aware of the dietary importance of omega-3s and omega-6s. They’re the essential polyunsaturated fats we need to survive.

Omega-3 fats get a lot of attention, especially EPA and DHA, for their brain and heart health benefits. They are most notably acquired via fatty fish, like salmon. A balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 is beneficial. But unfortunately the standard American diet (SAD) is much higher in omega-6s — and that’s a problem…

As it turns out, excess omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are causing most local and systemic inflammation in our bodies.

Omega-6s consumed in excess are commonly found in:

  • Rapeseed oil (Canola oil)
  • Grape seed
  • Safflower
  • Corn Oil
  • Soy oil (other soybean products via processing)
  • Cookies, crackers, cakes, chips and baked goods (most processed foods)
  • Fried foods — like French fries and doughnuts
  • Movie and microwaveable popcorn
  • Margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Granola bars
  • Chicken or fish sandwiches (fast foods)

To make matters worse, some of the same sources of excess omega-6s also contain trans- fats — the kind of fats that reduce the pliability of blood vessels and to heart attacks and strokes.

Excess omega-6s in our diet may also lead to auto-immune conditions, dementia and cancer. This same excess can disrupt the natural functioning of vital organs like the kidneys, liver, spleen and gall-bladder that work to provide us a toxic free environment for digestion, detoxification, and balanced immune function.

So increasing omega-3s and simultaneously decreasing omega-6s is vital if you want to live a life free of pain and disease.

Benefits of increasing omega-3s and reducing omega-6s

The number 1 benefit of increasing omega-3s and lowering omega-6s in the diet is reduced inflammation.  But the positive effects on your health certainly do not end there…

  • Reduces pain — decreases joint pain, muscle, tendon and ligament pain (from omega-3 prostaglandins and leukotrienes)
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Prevents heart disease via balancing cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Diminishes depression
  • Boosts brain health (cognitive function and memory), etc.
  • Reduces auto-immune disorders (Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Reynaud’s)
  • Reduces degenerative nerve disorders in children (Lorenzo’s oil)
  • Reduces use of NSAID’s
  • Moderates mood disorders: Depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia

DHA and EPA come largely from Fish sources, or fish oil supplements, including Krill — which increases brain health over fish oil supplements by 48% because it contains astaxanthin — a carotenoid hailed to be the most powerful antioxidant ever discovered.

Astaxanthin also helps with reversing pain and inflammation, fatigue, contributes to eye health and good-looking skin, and amazing anti-oxidant cell protection.

Fish Sources of omega-3s with a good omega-6 to omega-3 ratio include:

Krill Oil

Fatty Fish (without PCB’s or mercury):

Fish (3 oz/ serving provides the following healthy amounts in mg of omega-3s):

Fish EPA DHA Total
Herring, Pacific 1056 751 1807
Anchovy, European 649 1099 1478
Mackerel (canned, drained) 369 677 1046
Salmon, Sockeye 353 690 1043
Salmon, Pink (canned) 275 569 844
Sardines 402 433 835
Rainbow Trout 220 524 744

It’s important to mention that wild-caught fish have better 6:3 ratios than farm-raised fish. For example, farm-raised tilapia, one of the most highly consumed fish in America, has very low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and, perhaps worse, very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, according to new research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

But don’t limit yourself to fish sources. Because of the other phytonutrients in whole-foods, consider having a balance of plant sources of omega-3s in your weekly diet:

Plant sources of omega-3s with a good 6:3 ratio include:

  • Seeds: Flax, chia, hemp, sunflower, sesame (tahini)
  • Perilla oil
  • Leafy greens: Romaine, arugula, spinach, kale and purslane
  • Cruciferous vegetables: Cauliflower, brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy
  • Beans: Mung, navy, kidney
  • Squash: Acorn, butternut, winter, and pumpkins
  • Nuts: Walnuts, pecans, cashews
  • Spices: Basil, cloves, spearmint, grape leaves, tarragon

Special Mention: Highest inverse ratio (i.e. good omega-3s to inflammatory omega-6s are:

  1. Flax Seeds. Inverse ratio of 6:3 omega EFA’s of about 4:1

The downside is that the body will not digest properly un-ground flax seed, so it is best to grind it within 30 min of consumption. This is easy to do with a $9 Hamilton Beech coffee grinder in seconds at home. Requires electricity

  1. Chia Seeds. Inverse Ratio of 6:3 omega EFA’s of about 3:1

The upside is no preparation, easy long-term storage. Consider buying a huge bag, once you know you like it. One source is

Chia seeds boast nearly 11grams per ounce serving (11 of 12 total carb grams – awesome!) and a great balance of quality fats, carbs and protein. The ancient Incas could walk all day with just Chia seeds and water.

Our bodies can totally convert ALA from plant sources into EPA and subsequently DHA, however — this requires more metabolic processing. Because of this, the absorption of DHA and EPA fatty acids may be greater from animal sources like fish, meat or eggs.

“Most healthy people can eat ALA from plant sources like chia and flaxseeds, and it will be transformed into EPA and DHA. However, only 7% to 15% of the dietary ALA may be converted to EPA. Much less is converted to DHA. And this is in a healthy young person. The conversion rate is far less in the unhealthy or elderly.”

Some people have an impaired enzyme that makes them unable to convert ALA to DHA and EPA. That is why fish or fish/krill oil supplements are so important. Disease, stress, smoking or eating a diet high in trans- and saturated fat can also impair this conversion ability. Medium-chained saturated-fat coconut oil being the exception — this is a healthy fat. Consider choosing organic.

In addition to improving your omega ratios, there are other foods you should just completely clear from your table to avoid pain and disease-causing inflammation. I talk in detail about some of these in my post, 6 foods no one should eat. But, for starters, just say “no” to:

  1. Sugar — think added sugars (this creates blood sugar problems and insulin resistance) like soda, processed foods, candy
  2. High Fructose Corn Syrup — does the same as excess sugars, plus strains the liver and stores fructose as visceral fat rather than burning it as energy
  3. Trans Fats; Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils — reduce pliability to the vessels, especially the coronary arteries, contributes to plaque build-up in the intimal walls (inside lining) of the arteries
  4. Alcohol — more than 2 servings of beer or wine/day for men; ½ that for women (this destroys neurons in the brain; creates dis-ease and dysfunction in the liver; beer increases 7 calories per gram carbs vs sugar at 4 calories per gram — like a super carb to create the buzz — also affecting heart health)

If you follow these dietary changes, it won’t be long till you begin to notice that the pain you used to feel when you got out of bed in the morning is long gone.

  1. Hibbeln, Joseph R. (June 2006). “Healthy intakes of n−3 and n−6 fatty acids: estimations considering worldwide diversity.”. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 83 (6, supplement): 1483S–1493S. American Society for Nutrition. PMID 16841858.
  2. Maroon JC1, Bost JW. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surg Neurol. 2006 Apr;65(4):326-31.
  3. Goldberg RJ1, Katz J. A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain.
    Pain. 2007 May;129(1-2):210-23. Epub 2007 Mar 1.
  4. Lands, William E.M. (December 2005). “Dietary fat and health: the evidence and the politics of prevention: careful use of dietary fats can improve life and prevent disease”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1055: 179–192. Blackwell. doi:10.1196/annals.1323.028. PMID 16387724.
  7. Susan Schenck. “Beyond Broccoli, Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn’t Work.”
Dr. Brad Cutler

By Dr. Brad Cutler

With over 30 years of clinical nutrition experience, Dr Brad Cutler has been a well-respected authority in digestive health, nutrition and natural anti-aging protocols. In 2014 Brad certified in Functional Medicine. His life is all about health, fitness, and what works nutritionally in the body. He coaches individuals in essential lifestyle principles as a part of his ongoing functional medicine practice. Brad’s mission is to inspire others to purposefully create thoughts and emotions that support wise food choices and lifestyle changes that improve health. Individual focus may include balance of digestion, detoxification, immunity, hormones, cardio-metabolic health, cognitive function and mood.

Brad may be reached for Health Coaching at