Eating This Type of Diet Increases Your Chronic Pain Risk, New Study Finds

·2 min read

An estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults live with chronic pain, with individuals aged 65 and older most likely to report suffering from the condition. While there are many medications that aim to ease the burden of chronic pain once it has already developed, new research suggests that there may be a means by which you can reduce your chronic pain risk—and all it takes is a few dietary modifications.

According to a June 2021 study published in the journal Nature Metabolism, Western-style diets, which are typically rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) due to their inclusion of foods like cured meats, fast food, and processed snacks, are linked to an increased risk of chronic pain, particularly among people with comorbidities like diabetes and obesity.

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio authors who led the study found that both inflammation- and neuropathy-related pain may be improved through dietary modifications or the use of drugs that can help block the release of PUFAs into the bloodstream.

When study subject reduced the amount of PUFAs they consumed and increased their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, their pain levels significantly diminished. The researchers found that, among patients with Type 2 diabetes-related neuropathic pain, higher skin levels of omega-6 fatty acids were significantly associated with greater pain and the use of pain-relieving medication.

Man eating an hamburger and driving seated in his car
Man eating an hamburger and driving seated in his car

"This paper is a high-profile contribution for a huge unmet translational need as there are no treatments altering the nature of this neurological disease," said José E. Cavazos, MD, PhD, professor of neurology, assistant dean and director of the National Institutes of Health-designated South Texas Medical Scientist Training Program at UT Health San Antonio, in a statement.

This isn't the first time researchers have found a significant association between a Western diet and chronic pain, however. According to a 2020 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, while protein, fat, and sugar intake were associated with the intensity of study subjects' pain, in seven out of nine experimental studies examined, dietary changes were helpful at reducing pain. Specifically, researchers found that a plant-based way of eating may be a particularly effective means of reducing chronic musculoskeletal pain.

If you want to improve your diet, start by adding The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now, and for more healthy eating news delivered to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter!

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