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Pain-Triggering and Pain-Safe Foods

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Even with drugs, surgery, complementary therapies, and more, facial neuralgia patients often report that they still have pain that is triggered by certain activities, environmental conditions, and food. Although there have been no specific dietary studies on neuropathic facial pain, it seems to make good sense to cut back on anything that stimulates the central nervous system. The last thing you want to do is further excite an already hyper-excited trigeminal nerve.

Pain Triggering Food

Since the trigeminal nerve and its fibers are responsible for almost all sensations in the face, anything that creates a significant change in the mouth is a potential pain trigger. That includes foods that cause sensations of heat (salsa, chili, and hot sauce), cold (mint), sweetness, and sourness. The sharper the sensation, the more likely the food is to activate signals that set off the pain triggering fibers. Some have reported trouble with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and black pepper. People whose primary trigger zone is the nose may get pain when eating foods with strong odors or from steamy foods.

The effect of diet upon facial pain is individualized, so the things that stimulate one person’s pain may not affect another. Some facial pain patients have said they were able to reduce their pain by reducing or avoiding intake of fatty foods, caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate and many soft drinks) and aspartame, the artificial sweetener in Nutrasweet and Equal.

Pain-Safe Foods

Dr. Neal Barnrd, in his book, “Foods That Fight Pain” (Harmony Books, 1998), says there are some foods that are almost never implicated in pain by anyone. These so-called “pain-safe” foods include brown rice, cooked or dried fruits such as cherries, cranberries, pears and prunes, and cooked vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, chard, collards, lettuce, spinach, beans, squash and sweet potatoes.

How To Determine Foods That Affect You


If you suspect a dietary link to your TN or other facial pain, Dr. Barnard suggests sticking only with the pain-safe foods for about two weeks. If the pain eases, then gradually add other foods until pain starts to return. This can help you zero in on particular foods that might be a pain trigger for you. However, since TN goes in and out of spontaneous remission, you may have to try the elimination idea several times.

Other Resources and Additional  Information
Striking Back! The Trigeminal Neuralgia and Face Pain Handbook, published by the TNA in 2004. To order, visit www.endthepain.org.

Putting It All Together: The New Orthomolecular Nutrition (McGraw Hill, 1998).


TNA (Trigeminal Neuralgia Association) offers Information Sheets on CAM topics and listings of facial pain and TN patients who are willing to discuss with others their experiences with CAM. Visit www.endthepain.org, or call 1-800-923-3608.

The American Dietetic Association, www.eatright.org

Swank Diet for MS, www.swankmsdiet.org

Paleo Diet, www.thepaleodiet.com

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, www.nccam.nih.gov