Food for thought: “Should we consider nutrition in chronic pain management?”   April 10th, 2020

For a while now, (healthy) nutrition is a major topic of interest in society. Every day there seems to be a new superfood-hype or need-to-follow diet. All these options can be overwhelming, making it difficult for people to see the wood for the trees. Also within the chronic pain field, the need for clear nutritional guidelines is increasing, with both patients and clinicians asking for specific advise in this area.

This growing need, together with a high intrinsic interest in the matter, has led several Pain in Motion researchers located at the Vrije Universiteit Brusselto set up a new line of research (led by Dr. Anneleen Malfliet) specifically focussing on the link between pain and nutrition. The main aim of this line of research is to serve society and chronic pain patients by looking for links between nutritional aspects and pain, which will eventually lead to establishing clear nutritional/dietary guidelines to implement in chronic pain management.

“But is there even a legitimate ground to consider nutrition within chronic pain management?”, one might ask. Sure! This is underlined by the choice of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) to include the topic nutrition and chronic pain as a focus within the “2020 Global Year for the prevention of pain”1. Although still conceptual, there are theories to believe that nutrition could directly impact the central nervous system, and thus the pain system in people with chronic pain. Recently published work of our group discusses this link more in detail2. Additionally, systematic reviews from our and other groups include promising evidence specifically on nutritional interventions for chronic (musculoskeletal and non-cancer) pain3,4.

Although evidence on nutritional interventions and chronic pain is still in its infancy, the IASP does provide a fact sheet on this topic including some tips for including nutritional advice in pain management. The full details can be read elsewhere5, but I would like to give a general overview of the top tips listed for people with chronic pain:

  1. Reduce inflammation by eating colourful fruits and vegetables
  2. Add good quality fats (like Omega-3 fats) to your diet
  3. Prevent deficiencies of Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and Magnesium
  4. Stay hydrated
  5. Increase fibre intake for proper digestion, a healthy microbiome and weight management

One fun thing to end this blogpost with, is the opportunity to check how healthy your own diet is. Using a 10-minute survey on the website, you get instant feedback on how healthy your eating habits are. The application also helps to identify areas in your diet that can be improved. Have fun!

Anneleen Malfliet

2020 Pain in Motion


Do we need to include nutritional advice and interventions in the management of chronic pain?

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2 Nijs et al. Nutritional neurobiology and central nervous system sensitisation: missing link in a comprehensive treatment for chronic pain? British Journal of Anaesthesia, 2019, 123(5), 539-543.

3 Elma et al. Do Nutritional Factors Interact With Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain? A Systematic Review. J Clin Med., 2020, 9(3), E702

4 Brain et al. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Nutrition Interventions for Chronic Noncancer Pain. J Hum Nutr Diet, 32 (2), 198-225

5 Fact Sheet on nutrition and pain. Written by Brain K, Burrows T, Rollo M and Collins C. See