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10 foods that fight aches and pains

Daniel Couglin / 21 September 2016 ( 12 January 2021 )

Certain foods possess surprisingly potent painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties. Adding these foods to your diet may help calm your pain.

The bejewelled seeds of the pomegranate boast a variety of pain-fighting properties.

If you're living in constant pain, you're probably willing to try just about anything to get rid of it.

A hidden epidemic, chronic pain affects up to half the UK adult population, rising to 67% in the over 75 age group, and research suggests as many as 16 million adults in Britain regularly take medication to relieve their discomfort.

Your GP may prescribe analgesic drugs and recommend complementary treatments such as hypnotherapy and acupuncture, but what you eat can also play a part in managing your pain.

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The warming root ginger has been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat pain. Research shows gingerol, the active ingredient in ginger has impressive anti-inflammatory powers, and a recent study by researchers at the University of Miami found that extract of ginger is as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen when it comes to relieving the pain of osteoarthritis and easing general muscle aches.


A common ingredient in curries, turmeric is loaded with a chemical called curcumin, which scientists are discovering has a myriad of health-enhancing properties. Like ginger, turmeric is used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat pain, and Western medicine backs this up to some extent. Several studies report that curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and can quell the pain associated with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


They don't come cheap, but cherries may make for a valuable addition to your diet if you suffer from chronic pain. According to nutritionist Salma Khan, the ruby-red fruit are packed with anthocyanin antioxidants, which studies indicate have anti-inflammatory properties and can switch off pain enzymes as effectively as some NSAIDs. Research also suggests regular consumption of cherries can relieve post-exercise muscle aches and lower the risk of gout attacks.

Recipe: Cherry tiramisu


Next time you're shopping for food, you may want to stock up on herbs. A study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that a diet rich in thyme can ease pain, especially the pain associated with cancer. The fragrant herb contains compounds known as diterpenoids that block pain enzymes. And if that isn't enough to get you to reach for the thyme, a 2014 study reported that the herb's essential oil is a better treatment for certain types of pain than ibuprofen.

Recipe: Lemon and thyme glazed salmon


Your regular espresso or cappuccino may be doing more than just keeping you awake. Coffee contains morphine-like peptides and study after study has shown that the caffeine in coffee has potent painkilling abilities. Research indicates that caffeine can be used to treat everything from migraines and lower back pain to post-exercise muscle aches. Caffeine is also routinely added to painkilling medication because it speeds up delivery of the drug and enhances its effectiveness.

The health benefits of tea and coffee


Salmon is one of the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are natural inflammation-busters, and Arthritis Research UK recommends a diet high in omega-3s to help relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Aim for at least two or three portions of oily fish a week if you can. It may also be a good idea to take an omega-3 supplement to bolster your intake.

Sources of omega 3 for people who hate salmon

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Olive oil

The wonders of olive oil seemingly never cease, and as well as its many other health-enhancing properties, this mainstay of the Mediterranean diet may help relieve pain, too. Olive oil contains a unique compound called oleocanthal, which research shows, acts in a similar way to NSAIDs, reducing inflammation and blocking the perception of pain. Further studies suggest a diet rich in olive oil may be particularly beneficial for people who suffer from inflammatory joint diseases.

The health benefits of different edible oils


Pineapples contain a powerful enzyme called bromelain. An increasing number of clinical studies have identified the pain-fighting properties of this potent enzyme. Research has shown that a diet high in bromelain can dampen down inflammation and calm osteoarthritic pain as effectively as NSAIDs. Studies also indicate that bromelain can relieve the cramping pain associated with inflammatory bowel disease.

Recipe: Pineapple crumble


Backing up previous studies, research from the highly respected Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in the US indicates that soy protein has significant anti-inflammatory and painkilling properties when eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet, although this study was carried out on rats so it remains to be seen whether it works on humans. If your diet is lacking in soy, try adding sources of this healthy protein such as tofu, soy milk and edamame beans – it could make all the difference to your perception of pain.

How to add tofu to your diet


The bejewelled seeds of the pomegranate boast a variety of pain-fighting properties. For starters, they contain anthocyanin antioxidants that dampen down inflammation, as well ellagitannin antioxidants, which have been shown to treat pain as effectively as some NSAIDs. Pomegranates are also a rich source of resveratrol. In clinical studies, this compound has been found to block pain signals and have a positive effect on the perception of pain.

Recipe: Lamb tagine with pomegranates

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.