Foods That Reduce Pain and Inflammation

The DeFlame Diet from Dr. Seaman

Having been a practicing Chiropractor for over a decade now, I’ve run into many difficult cases where there seems to be something underlying the patient’s pain that goes beyond simple biomechanical explanation. Some patients would present with pain in multiple areas of the body. While the usual means of targeted manipulation, soft tissue therapies, and rehab improved their conditions, pain would seem to return or spring up in new places. Some of them had legitimate auto-immune diagnoses such as rheumatoid arthritis, but many others appeared to have an underlying systemic inflammation that was not diagnosed. Inflammatory markers might be found in the blood (ESR, CRP, etc.), but no specific disease was found. Thus began my journey into exploring causes of generalized inflammation. It turns out, what we eat has everything to do with inflammation and pain.

Back in the 1980’s, scientists knew little about the connection between our food choices and inflammation. The proposal that diet could be connected to inflammation was just a theory. Fast forward 30 years and the connection is no longer questioned: It is accepted as absolute fact. The foods that we eat have a profound effect on the inflammatory states of our bodies. The effect is not just about specific illnesses; our dietary choices are associated with just about every disease process you could think of as well as having a direct connection to our pain. A major part of this forefront of science was pioneered by a famous Chiropractor and scientist by the name of David R. Seaman. He came up with an eating regimen he called “The Deflame Diet” which is also the title of a popular book he wrote (I highly recommend this book for healthcare professionals and laypeople alike). Pretty soon, his terms pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods, were used throughout the healthcare field to describe the types of nutrition that increased inflammation and reduced inflammation, respectively. Today, he is considered one of the foremost experts in diet and nutrition.

Dr. Seaman points out that a major source of pro-inflammatory foods comes in the form of refined omega-6 oils (corn oil, sunflower seed oil, safflower seed oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, and soybean oil). They are typically called “vegetable oils”, but that is a misnomer: they are legume/bean/seed oils. Additionally, omega-6 fatty acids are often converted into trans fats which are oils used in deep fryers. Omega-6 fats are not bad by themselves. Your body actually needs Omega-6’s to function normally. It is more the ratio between omega-6/3 that is important. Today’s diet weighs heavy in Omega-6 without enough Omega-3.

These oils have a profound effect on our body’s chemistry. The two different types of fatty acids (omega-6 & omega-3) are processed by the same set of enzymes in our bodies, but with two very different outcomes. Omega-6 oils produce chemical signals that cause inflammation while omega-3 oils produce chemical signals that reduce or suppress inflammation. The products of this cascade of reactions influence the bodies tendency to inflame or deflame. Take a quick peek at the diagram below to get the idea (condensed version of the chemistry).

These pro-inflammatory oils, refined sugars, and flours make up about 60% of the caloric intake of the average American diet and have no nutritional value. The foods made with these ingredients are addictive as well hence Dr. Seaman calls them “Dietary Crack”. He points out the irony that we are addicted to the foods that injure our bodies causing chronic inflammation, pain and disease. On top of this, we are also consuming meats and proteins from grain fed (pro-inflammatory) animals living in feedlots, not to mention the hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals designed increase productivity. Even the fish we consume are often from a farm-raised feedlot environment. Farm-raised catfish and tilapia are known to have an omega-6 fatty acid profile unlike wild caught fish.

Most people hate the notion of a diet. They envision eating sprouts and cutting out all of their favorite foods. This is why diets often don’t work. We feel like we are having to restrict and starve ourselves. Instead of thinking in terms of limitations, think in terms of simply making different selections. In this way, DeFlame isn’t a diet, but a lifestyle choice. By choosing foods that are anti-inflammatory, not only will you have the health benefits, you will feel satisfied and full. For example, instead of using vegetable oil to cook, use avocado or olive oil or even coconut oil. Eating more plants is also a great idea. Many people find that they love vegetables and fruits when prepared in a way they enjoy. Using the right spices not only improves flavor, but the spices themselves are anti-inflammatory (ginger, tumeric, oregano, etc).

You may be surprised to hear that foods like butter, cream, and even bacon can be anti-inflammatory as long as they are not overconsumed and from the right source. So animal products are NOT off the list. In fact, Dr. Seaman points out that the Inuit and Masai people live almost entirely off of animal products that are high in fat and yet live free of diet-induced diseases indicating that animal products like meat, milk, and cheese are not pro-inflammatory in and of themselves. It may be a little more expensive, but meats, dairy products, and eggs that come from grass-fed, free-range, organic animals are a much better alternative than their feedlot counterparts. If these products are not affordable, either eat less of them or substitute with other anti-inflammatory foods.

Another surprise may be that certain alcohols consumed in moderation can have an anti-inflammatory effect such as red wine and stout beer. The most important part of the “De-flame” diet is to cut out the refined sugar, flour, and oil products (the dietary crack). The best part of this diet is that you don’t have to pay somebody for meals or shakes. You just have to take some time to make better decisions about the types of foods that you eat.

Dr. Seaman’s list of pro-inflammatory foods to avoid:

  • Refined Sugars
  • Refined Grains
  • Grain Flour Products
  • Trans Fats
  • Refined Omega-6 seed oils
  • Farm-raised/Feed Lot Animal Products

Dr. Seaman’s list of anti-inflammatory foods to consume:

  • Grass-fed meat and wild game
  • Wild caught fish
  • Shellfish
  • Free-Range Chicken
  • Omega-3 eggs
  • Cheese
  • Vegetables
  • Salads
  • Fruit
  • Tubers/roots (potato, yams, sweet potato)
  • Nuts
  • Omega-3 seeds (hemp, chia, flax)
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Spices (all types)
  • Olive/Coconut oil
  • Butter/cream
  • Avocado
  • Bacon
  • Red Wine/Stout Beer (in moderation)
  • Coffee and Tea

Happy eating. For more information, check out Dr. Seaman’s Book: The Deflame Diet.