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Fighting pain with a vegetarian diet

A vegetarian diet may ease common pains  
August 18, 1998
Web posted at: 1:23 p.m. EDT (1723 GMT)

From Food & Health Correspondent Linda Ciampa

(CNN) -- Popular and professional wisdom has promoted eating fruits and vegetables as a cornerstone of good health. But now a new book claims it's also a powerful method of fighting pain.

In his new book, "Foods That Fight Pain," Dr. Neal Barnard says a very low-fat vegetarian diet balances hormones and can reduce menstrual pain.

"Cutting down on fat also reduces the amount of estrogen in a woman's body, the female sex hormone," he said. "There will still be enough there, but not the excesses and that seems to then reduce menstrual pain."

Althea Bacon believes in Barnard's approach. For years, she suffered from so much menstrual pain that, at times, she couldn't work. But today, she's pain-free and she says that's thanks to a strict vegetarian diet -- a lot different than the way she used to eat.

"I think I had the typical American diet -- lots of fat, grease, meat," she said.

The food/pain connection doesn't stop there. Barnard said his low-fat diet eases arthritis, migraines and even pain from a bad back.

"What happens is the arteries that nourish the spine get clogged with plaque," he said. "So it's the high fat, high cholesterol foods that cause the problem, and it's the very low-fat, zero cholesterol foods that we believe have the promise of opening those arteries again."


But the back pain theory has its skeptics.

"Because there are many causes to back pain, and often we don't find the exact cause for the person, I think to think that one therapy, like there's a magic bullet or magic diet that will cure all back pain, is wrong." said Dr. Brian Berman of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Plus, a dietitian points out, even if a very low-fat vegetarian diet diminishes pain, it may not be a practical for most Americans.

"10 percent of fat is very extreme, (a) very severe limitation of fat in the diet." said Joanne Hattner of the American Dietetic Association.

Some experts do agree that food may play a role in relieving certain types of pain, such as menstrual pain. But they say there just isn't enough evidence yet to claim a low-fat vegetarian diet can heal an aching back.

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