Can cutting out sugar cut out pain?

For some time now I have been plagued with aching joints (partly caused by too much running but some newer pains have been diagnosed as the early stages of osteoarthritis) but I have recently suffered with terrible pains in my right arm and hand, which is frequently so bad in the morning that I can’t close my hand and struggle to move my arm. I have been trying various natural remedies which have gone some way to overcoming this because I have been determined not to resort to taking the prescription drugs that my doctor recommended if at all possible because the huge list of potential side effects filled me with increasing dread as I read down them. So, I take turmeric paste on a daily basis as well as hyaluronic acid tablets. I incorporate lots of fresh ginger into my diet and I have also started taking a natural supplement that my rheumatologist has recommended. However, I started to wonder if I could somehow tackle the problem at the source rather than treating the symptoms. Could I somehow prevent these symptoms in the first place, cutting them off at the source?

There are many foods that have an inflammatory affect on the body, refined grains, processed meats, artificial additives to name a few. And sugar. Now, I eat a very healthy diet and I don’t eat a lot of sugar; I don’t add sugar to my tea, I don’t sprinkle sugar on my cereal, in fact I don’t add sugar to anything in my diet. But sugar is hidden in many products and often in surprisingly high quantities. Furthermore, I eat a lot of fruit and dried fruit and these also contain sugar. I also eat unrefined grains and processed meat. Could these all be contributing to my pains?

A friend of mine has recently had great success with following a weight loss diet that involves cutting out processed foods and refined grains, not combining fats and carbohydrates in one meal and more importantly for me, in the first phase of the diet, not consuming any sugar, whether it be sugar added to food or naturally occurring sugar in foods, such as fruit. While I wasn’t wanting to lose weight (although who isn’t eager to lose a few pounds, especially with the approach of summer?!) I was very interested in this diet, especially in the first phase which would mean cutting out sugar from my diet completely.

There are three phases involved in total and on reading the book as well as testimonials from people who have followed it, it appeared that this particular diet has resulted in many people not only losing weight but also feeling much less achy and suffering less headaches or even headaches that had completely disappeared. There were also reports of people feeling totally reenergised and healthier. This is what attracted me to it. I wondered whether, if I followed this diet it would have any effect on my aches, especially these arthritic pains in my right hand and arm?

During the first phase, which only lasts for five days, you can eat as much salad, vegetables (but not mushrooms or potatoes), eggs, fresh meat and fresh fish as you like. You can also have canned fish as long as the only addition is oil as well as consuming 50g of brown rice, quinoa or oats each day. Permitted drinks are herbal tea, water, decaffeinated tea or coffee. Natural live yogurt is also allowed so I substituted my milk kefir. Fruit is not permitted.

I decided to start the very next day, Wednesday. I am a teacher and usually for my breakfast I take a kefir smoothie to school which is loaded with banana, ginger and turmeric. Because of the diet I wasn’t able to add fruit so my smoothie consisted purely of kefir, turmeric and ginger. While having a consistency more like a milk than a smoothie it still tasted good and it fitted in with the diet guidelines. By lunch time though I was hungry and I had grilled chicken, mixed salad and a can of natural tuna. I didn’t have my dinner until late that night by which time I was ravenous and I could hardly wait to have my dinner of scrambled eggs, brown rice with vegetables and salad.

The next day, Thursday, I had the same ‘smoothie’ and a similar lunch of chicken and salad. By mid-morning I was aware of the early, telltale symptoms of the imminent arrival of a bad headache. This isn’t uncommon for me, I get headaches a lot but I also knew that this diet can cause you to suffer headaches in the first few days while your body craves the sugar that you’re not feeding it. As the day progressed the headache worsened and when I got home from school I went for a ‘little lie down’ only to wake up three hours later still in the grip of a headache that was causing an unbearable pain in my left eye and a pain that travelled all the way from my eye to my shoulder. I could trace the path of the pain with my finger and the slight pressure of my finger on the painful area was almost unbearable. That evening I ate some brown rice, vegetables, oven baked pork slices and a homemade tomato sauce. Soon after I went to bed, hoping that I would feel better in the morning.

As soon as I woke up on Friday I could feel the pain continuing to pulse down from my left eye to my shoulder. It was becoming even more difficult to bear and I was worried that it was being caused by something else, not the diet. I went to school anyway, thinking that if it became any worse I would come home and go to the doctor.

I couldn’t face having my smoothie in the morning but by lunchtime the pain was starting to ease a little and I was able to have my chicken and salad lunch. As the afternoon progressed the pain continued to diminish and although my eye still felt tender to the touch I was beginning to feel more like myself again.

That evening I had my dinner of brown rice, vegetables, pork and tomato sauce again and not long after went to bed.

The next day was Saturday and I woke up feeling fine. The headache had gone as had the pain in my eye. This was day four of phase one. Not only did I feel great I had also lost just over 2kg which further brightened my mood!

Throughout Saturday and today (Sunday) I have continued to keep sugar out of my diet. I have had scrambled eggs and grilled tomatoes for breakfast, vegetable soup and salad for lunch on Saturday and an omlette, grilled tomatoes and wilted spinach for lunch today. I have made a chicken curry and brown rice which I will be having for dinner.

During the first day or two I had felt quite hungry quite often as I adapted to not being filled up by bread and pasta but by this weekend I have been feeling much healthier and less bloated and I’m not feeling that unwelcome ‘too full’ sensation after eating.

But what about my aches? Well, while the aches in my hand and arm haven’t completely disappeared but they have lessened and I woke up this morning (always the worst time of day) with considerably less pain. I’m continuing to take the turmeric paste but I have been able to lessen my intake which I usually take four times a day to keep the pain at bay. This weekend I have only taken it once in the morning and once in the evening with the same effect.

Next week I will continue on to Phase Two and I will be interested to see if keeping the added sugar (fruit is allowed in Phase Two but is limited) out of my diet will make any increased difference.

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