Could Cutting Sugar Curb Chronic Pain?

Sugar and Chronic PainEveryone knows that there’s a correlation between sugar intake and complications from diabetes, but excess sugar intake could also exacerbate symptoms caused by chronic pain.

For starters, there’s a known link between excess sugar and obesity, and extra weight can put added stress on your joints. If you’re dealing with chronic pain caused by inflammation, this extra stress can make movement extremely painful. But there’s more:

“While weight gain and teeth decay may be the most obvious consequences of excessive sugar consumption, there are many other ‘hidden’ effects of consuming too much of the sweet stuff,” according to Dana Dovey in a recent Medical Daily article.

Dovey said excess sugar can cause heart failure and heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction and fatty liver disease. But she also details how extra sugar can make chronic pain worse.

The Brain and the Joints

Let’s start with the brain. According to a recent article published in Neuroscience, excess sugar levels can reduce a chemical called “brain-derived neurotropic factor.” When this occurs, normal cognitive tasks like learning, memory, reading and sleep all become more difficult, and we’ve already explained how inadequate sleep can make chronic pain even worse.

Chronic pain also negatively affects the joints. According to a study published in 2002, elevated levels of processed sugar can lead to excess inflammation in your joints. Inflammation is the main source of pain for most chronic pain sufferers. Arthritis is caused by chronic inflammation, which is why many arthritis sufferers are told by their doctors to limit their sugar intake.

You don’t need to quit sugar cold turkey, but be cognizant of how much sugar you’re putting in your body, and try to slowly curb it. Start with something simple, like sugary drinks. If you have a soda with lunch every day, try to cut down to one soda every other day, or swap out your sugary cereal for something healthier. Wean yourself away from sugar, and you’ll have a clearer mind and less pain in your joints.


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Thomas Cohn, MD

Interventional pain doctor helping Minnesotans manage back, neck, foot, and other pain. Board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation with additional board-certification in pain management from the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA), the American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians (ABIPP) and the American Board of Pain Medicine (ABPM).

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