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Study: Foods Can Help You Fight Back Pain

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Billions of dollars are spent every year on over-the-counter and prescription drugs seeking relief for back pain.

Some health experts now recommend turning to your refrigerator, instead of your medicine cabinet, for help, reports CBS 2's Dr. Holly Phillips.

Back pain is the third most common reason Americans see their doctors, behind only the common cold and the flu.

The pain can be debilitating, and relief is hard to come by. Now, though, new research suggests eating certain foods, believe it or not, can help ease your pain.

"This is an emerging field in science," registered dietician Nicolette Pace said.

Along with traditional treatments, like pain medication and physical therapy, some health experts are also turning to food to help treat back problems.

Cherries, for example, can take the edge off of back pain.

At Michigan State University, researchers found a chemical in tart cherries that has potent anti-inflammatory properties. It's the same chemical that gives the fruit their deep, purple color.

"It acts very much like the prescription and the over-the-counter medications do," Pace said.

Olive oil, soy, green tea, and fruits and vegetables – particularly those in bright colors – all have been proven to reduce inflammation of cartilage in the spinal column, which helps control back pain and stiffness.

"Diet actually is very, very important for many, many reasons," Dr. Ricardo Cruciani, who specializes in pain management at Manhattan's Beth Israel Medical Center, said.

Dr. Cruciani says that while food can't make chronic back pain go away permanently, it's still an important component in healing.

"If you eat certain types of fatty acids like Omega-3, this will have an impact on the inflammation, and that's something that we know pretty well," Dr. Cruciani said.

That means foods like canned salmon, sardines and walnuts, which are all rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, can help to ease your pain.

Rosario Montalti has been suffering from chronic back pain since an accident seven years ago. He says traditional pain medication does help, but the side effects can be too much to bear. He says he'd much rather eat to ease his pain.

"Why not? It certainly seems possible," Montalti said.

Registered dietician Nicolette Pace says over time, these foods can even help lower your risk of recurrence.

"This is not an overnight cure-all, it's more of a build up and stay with and ultimately recognize even more health benefits," Pace said.

Several other studies found people with chronic lower back pain were deficient in vitamin D. When they took vitamin supplements, their back pain improved.

Health experts say there are also foods that actually increase inflammation and pain.

For more information on foods that can help ease back pain, click here and here.

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