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High-fat Western diet may increase chronic pain

Sore knee

The risk of the chronic pain associated with conditions such as diabetes, obesity and arthritis may be increased by eating a high-fat Western diet, according to a new animal study.

The US study found that typical Western diets, high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, served as a significant risk factor for both inflammatory and neuropathic pain.

And changing this type of diet, by lowering omega-6 and increasing omega-3 lipids, may ‘significantly reduce or even reverse pain’.

Chronic pain the leading cause of disability

The research, published in Nature Metabolism says chronic pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is commonly associated with comorbid disorders, and the authors are optimistic their findings will pave the way for new treatments for chronic pain sufferers.

Omega 6 culprits

Omega 6 is found in a variety of foods including nut and seed oils, processed and fast foods, cakes and fatty or processed meats.  We need omega 6 but Western diets are typically very high in these fats.

Although processed foods and meat are definitely best kept as occasional treats, current advice, separate from this study, is not to limit omega 6, but to increase our omega 3 intake.

Foods high in omega 3 include oily fish, flax seeds, walnuts, tofu, Brussels sprouts, oysters, lean beef and lamb and green mussels.

Study limitations

The research was conducted on mice, so further research involving humans is necessary to test the findings.

Article sources and references

  • Jacob T. Boyd, Peter M. LoCoco, Ashley R. Furr, Michelle R. Bendele, Meilinn Tram, Qun Li, Fang-Mei Chang, Madeline E. Colley, Grace M. Samenuk, Dominic A. Arris, Erin E. Locke, Stephan B. H. Bach, Alejandro Tobon, Shivani B. Ruparel, Kenneth M. Hargreaves. Elevated dietary ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids induce reversible peripheral nerve dysfunction that exacerbates comorbid pain conditions. Nature Metabolism, 2021; 3 (6): 762 DOI: 10.1038/s42255-021-00410-x
  • Science Daily, 23 June 2021. Western high-fat diet can cause chronic pain, according to new study. Accessed June 2021

Date modified: 27 June 2021
First published: Jun 2021


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