Pain relief on your plate?

According to NICE, between 25-33% of the UK’s population suffers from chronic pain.  

Pain comes in all sorts of forms: joint pain, back pain, headaches and migraines, nerve pain or general myalgia.  As well as pills and creams, physio and other physical therapies may help.  Increasingly, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are also being used to help re-programme pain pathways. There are also essential oils (to be used safely with the guidance of a qualified practitioner, preferably), forms of gentle exercise, breathing techniques, etc, that can contribute to pain management indeed.

What about food though? Personally, my chronic headaches, brain fog, anxiety and knee pain have significantly improved/disappeared since I discovered the power of phytonutrients (compounds found in plants).  I see this time and again with clients and people in my life, particularly those with joint problems and other chronic conditions. A wholefood plant-based diet is packed full of anti-inflammatory nutrients; inflammation causes pain so therefore it makes sense!

There are currently an estimated known 25,000 phytonutrients and these are predominantly found in fruits, vegetables, herbs, tea and coffee, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans.  

In this article we will focus on the foods that contain painkilling compounds.  Here is my list of 8 top foods:


There is a lot of controversy around coffee, but the research is in its favour.  Coffee is not for everyone, if there is sensitivity to caffeine and other issues, but coffee is actually one of the richest sources of polyphenols, one of which is caffeine.  It can help alleviate headaches and migraines.  Caffeine is also found in some medications because of its analgesic properties.  The recommended amount of coffee, according to research, should be no more than 4-6 cups per day.  So, go ahead and enjoy that brew.  Filter coffee is better than instant.

Closeup of espresso coffee pouring into cup

Chilli peppers

The painkilling compound in chillies is capsaicin.  This can help alleviate neuropathic pain, such as that caused by diabetes.  It can also help combat cluster headaches, chronic itching, pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis and also neuralgia.  Chilli peppers can be used as flakes, or chopped up in food.  Enjoy your curry!

Lots of red chilli peppers line up on a blue table


This miracle herb has anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-cholesterol, immune-boosting, heart-protective and anti-inflammatory properties.  The power compound is allicin, also found in onions.  Include garlic and onion in your cooking in a way that makes you enjoy it- whether these are  cooked or raw.

Garlic bulbs on a wooden board


Another powerhouse of natural medicine, ginger often comes hand in hand with garlic in Asian cooking.  The painkilling compounds are mainly gingerol, gingerdione and gingerdiol.   These are known to ease joint and muscle pain, as they are strongly anti-inflammatory.   Ginger can also help with nausea and morning sickness, as well as soothe an upset stomach.  Use it in tea, grated in food, smoothies, or, if you can tolerate its heat, have a small piece of ginger root on its own, or with a piece of fruit to cool you down.  I do this most days, especially in the winter, to warm me up and to help ward off colds!

Sliced ginger lies beside two clear glasses of ginger tea with cinnamon sticks


This is the season when cherries are abundant, so make the most of those powerful anthocyanins.  They are the compounds that give cherries their beautiful dark red colour and they help reduce pain by inhibiting pain enzymes.  Cherries can relieve arthritic pain, such as gout, and can help soothe achy muscles after exercise.  

A basket of red and black cherries

Aspirin in your food?  

Absolutely.  Certain foods have aspirin-like activity from a group of compounds called salicylates.  Examples of these are blueberries, cherries, raspberries, curry powder, paprika and liquorice.  

Punnets of raspberries and blueberries

How about Valium in your food? 

This is the manmade version of a group of compounds found naturally in foods, called benzodiazepines.  They are abundant in potatoes, brown lentils, yellow soya beans, rice, corn, mushrooms and cherries (there’s a recurring theme here with cherries, it seems).  These foods can have a calming effect on your nervous system.

A selection of pulses including lentils, chick peas and kidney beans


Another amazing food, blackcurrants are rich in an omega-6 fatty acid called gamma-linoleic acid. Despite its bad press, this compound can actually help reduce inflammation, as well as improve symptoms of inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.  Blackcurrants, due to their high amount of vitamin C, can also act as a treatment for glaucoma.

Close up of blackcurrants still on the plant

So, there we have it; some of nature’s most powerful painkilling foods in all their glory.  If you aim to ‘eat the rainbow every day’ and swap and change your foods frequently, you are more likely to get the nutrients from many of these incredible foods.  And where the diet doesn’t reach far enough, you can opt to supplement with these concentrated plant foods, which will give you most of the foods on this list on a daily basis.

Three clear capsules containing dietary supplements


  1. Julia Laursen says:

    Love this, certainly gives me more to think about especially when enjoying cherries!
    I have a list of other foods/nuts but some of these were quite new to me.
    Thank You for sharing.

  2. Phoebe says:

    Let food be thy medicine! Wonderful easy to read article !!

  3. Poonam says:

    This is very helpful information. Very good and well written article.

  4. Elaine says:

    Informative and well written article enforcing the benefits of each of these foods. Cherries will definitely take higher priority on my shopping list! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Lena Bruce says:

    Fantastic article, Lina! I have really enjoyed reading it and learning so much about natural medicine. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Lina Kumar says:

    Thanks everyone for your lovely comments. I am fascinated by the miraculous compounds found in foods and I’m always happy to share my findings with you to help you on your health journey.

  7. Chloe says:

    Really interesting Lina. Will definitely give ginger a go if you’re saying it helps to warm you up in the winter as my feet are always cold. I love cherries but organic ones can be tricky to find and I try to avoid non organic as they are on the dirty dozen list.

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