Changing your diet to help manage pain syndromes

Eoin Roe, Chiropractic

Call 087 958 2362

Many of you will be aware of fibromyalgia, polymyalgia rheumatica or ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic fatigue Syndrome). These conditions present with diffuse, often severe pain and fatigue and can be completely debilitating.

The diagnosis is often made after a significant period of time and is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that other causes have been ruled out.  

As these conditions can be difficult to diagnose, they are often undiagnosed for many years.

For people with a pain syndrome, or who are having a pain sensation from a stimulus that should not be painful, it is hard to understand where the pain is coming from.

To help explain why it occurs, I am going to delve into the neurology of pain and the relationship between poor mitochondrial function and pain.

The first thing to understand is that pain is a brain based perception – this does not mean that it is all in your head, as the pain for the person suffering is very real – but there is complex neurology involved in the perception of pain. Pain is easy to understand if there is a noxious stimuli – for example you get a thorn in your finger and when you remove the thorn the pain goes away. It is harder to understand when this noxious stimuli is not there.

The nervous system works by passing electrical signals along a pathway. For example if someone touches your hand, pressure sensors (special neurons) in your skin will reach a certain electrical threshold and a signal will be sent to your brain. At all times your neurons have a resting potential. If stimulated enough to reach threshold, the neuron will fire and then return to resting potential, which will in turn activate the next neuron in the chain until the signal reaches your brain.

The neurons maintain this membrane potential by pumping ions (different charged particles) in and out of the neuron. In order for the neurons to pump these ions, they require energy from the mitochondria within the cells: The mitochondria get their energy from our diet so what we eat has a big part to play in how we experience pain.

How mitochondrial function influences pain syndromes: Imagine a situation where someone’s mitochondrial function is not working efficiently – they can end up in a situation where their neurons cannot get back to the usual resting potential because there is not enough energy to run the pumps that achieve this and their resting potential may be closer to the threshold. This means that even a very small stimulus will make that neuron fire and a pain signal will be sent. This phenomenon is not only related to pain but can be present in any condition where there is hypersensitivity to anything – touch, sound, light and so on.

Mitochondria are also needed for neurons to remain healthy and function well. One of the best ways to support this is with exercise, which can be challenging when a person is suffering with pain and fatigue.

The good news is that there are specific diets like the ketogenic diet that can help your mitochondria to function better. By shifting to a diet that is higher in fat and low in carbohydrate, we can start to supply the cells in our body with a less inflammatory fuel called ketones.

Jumping straight into a ketogenic diet can be difficult, especially if you have been eating a diet that is very high in carbohydrates and sugar. One good way to see how this approach will help you is to start with a carbohydrate exclusion – this is a simple elimination diet and can be done without a huge change to a normal healthy diet.  You can download a free copy of the two-week carb exclusion diet at

Eoin Roe is a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner and Chiropractor based in Skibbereen. Please feel free to contact him through or on 028 62081.

WCP Staff

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