Research finds Western high-fat diet could cause chronic pain

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A typical Western high-fat diet can increase the risk of painful disorders common in people with conditions such as diabetes or obesity, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio published in the journal Nature Metabolism.

Additionally, changes in diet may significantly reduce or even reverse pain from conditions causing either inflammatory pain, such as arthritis, trauma, or surgery, or neuropathic pain, such as diabetes. The finding could help treat chronic pain patients by simply altering diet or developing treatments that block the release of certain fatty acids in the body.

Chronic pain is a major cause of disability around the world. But although fat-reduction often is advised to manage diabetes, autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular diseases, the role of dietary lipids, or fatty acids, in pain conditions has been relatively unknown.

For the study, researchers used multiple methods in both mice and humans to study the role of polyunsaturated fatty acids in pain conditions. They found that typical Western diets high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats served as a significant risk factor for both inflammatory and neuropathic pain.

Omega-6 fats, mainly found in foods with vegetable oils, have their benefits. Western diets associated with obesity are characterized by much-higher levels of those acids in foods from corn chips to onion rings, than healthy omega-3 fats, which are found in fish and sources like flaxseed and walnuts.

Generally, unhealthy foods high in omega-6 fats include processed snacks, fast foods, cakes, and fatty and cured meats, among others.

Reversal of this diet, especially by lowering omega-6 and increasing omega-3 lipids, greatly reduced these pain conditions, the researchers found. The authors also demonstrated that skin levels of omega-6 lipids in patients with type 2 diabetic neuropathic pain were strongly associated with reported pain levels and the need for taking analgesic drugs.