Anyone who suffers from chronic pain knows that medication alone does not always eliminate the deep discomfort that accompanies your condition. Because of this, patients, doctors and researchers recommend lifestyle changes to augment treatment options such as the painkillers. The keto diet, which focuses on a high-fat diet and low-carb intake, is a popular choice for those looking to lose weight, but it has also shown health benefits for people dealing with seizures and pain. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory benefits. In this article, we will dissect the keto diet for chronic pain and examine its efficacy.
What is the Keto Diet?
The keto diet (also known as the ketogenic diet) is rich in non-starchy vegetables, protein and good fats, and minimizes carbohydrate consumption. The goal of this diet is to (eventually) get your body to a place where it can store and break down fat and convert it into energy – this is called ketosis.
So, what does this have to do with chronic pain relief? First of all, one of the biggest benefits of the keto diet is its ability to reduce tissue damage and inflammation. This diet cuts out all sugar, which is very inflammatory and can lead to chronic pain. It also promotes the production of adenosine, a chemical that is naturally produced in the body and acts as a pain reliever.
How does the Keto Diet Work?
Most of the body’s cells get their energy from glucose (sugar), which is mainly provided by carbohydrates. By switching to a diet that virtually eliminates these carbohydrates, the body is forced to find an alternative source of energy. This leads to a process known as ketosis.
In ketosis, the body will begin to burn fat, turning it into ketones, which will be used as an energy source until you start eating carbohydrates again.
According to a Harvard health blog, it takes about two to four days of eating less than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates a day for your body to enter ketosis. One of the main problems with this diet, however, is its strict nature. It eliminates many of the foods that are staples in most people’s diets.
What to Eat and to Avoid on a Keto Diet?
If you are considering starting a ketogenic diet to see if it can help you find pain relief, keep in mind that it is usually made up of 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbohydrates. Some of the foods you’ll want to eat include:
- Avocado, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, whole pastured eggs
- Raw nuts
- Omega-3-rich seeds, like chia, pumpkin, and hemp
- Wild-caught fish (think salmon, mackerel, and sardines)
- Dark, leafy greens
- Berries (but not for at least a couple of weeks)
Since the main goal of the keto diet is to reduce inflammation and get more calories from good fats and proteins, the following foods should be avoided:
- Processed foods
- Sugar and other artificial sweeteners
- Soy products
- Refined oils and fats
How Keto could Help Treat Chronic Pain?
The ketogenic diet has long been used as a treatment for seizures, especially in children, but a growing body of research suggests that it is effective as a treatment for chronic pain conditions.
The first way it can have an impact is simple. Adhering to a keto diet can improve your chances of losing weight. When you lose weight, there is less pressure on your joints.
Beyond the initial effects of weight loss, it gets a little more complicated. Several studies done on mice have shown that the ketones your body burns for energy can actually inhibit the excitability of neurons, which is one reason for enhanced pain transmission. This, along with the added benefit of certain ketones blocking pain pathways, helps ease discomfort.
This is a ketone body known as beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), which actually blocks an immune system receptor associated with inflammation. When you eat foods that cause excess inflammation (which creates higher glucose levels), it leads to chronic inflammation. Cutting off this glucose buildup by switching to a ketogenic diet can reduce inflammation and naturally eliminate your pain.
The study authors conclude that ketosis is a very promising alternative, natural treatment for chronic pain, but there is still a lot of research to be done. There is also anecdotal support for the use of a keto diet for chronic pain.