In a new study from The University of Texas Health Science Center, researchers found a typical Western high-fat diet can increase the risk of painful disorders common in people with diabetes or obesity.
Moreover, changes in diet may strongly reduce or even reverse pain from conditions causing either inflammatory pain—such as arthritis, trauma or surgery—or neuropathic pain, such as diabetes.
The findings could help treat chronic pain patients by simply altering diet or developing drugs 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, auto-immune disorders and cardiovascular diseases, the role of dietary lipids, or fatty acids, in pain conditions has been relatively unknown.
In the study, the team 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.
But Western diets linked to 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.
Also, the team showed that skin levels of omega-6 lipids in patients with Type 2 diabetic neuropathic pain were strongly linked to reported pain levels and the need for taking analgesic drugs.
Researchers say the study may serve as a foundation for new clinical trials and ultimately help develop new treatments for chronic pain.
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The study is published in Nature Metabolism. One author of the study is Jacob T. Boyd, MD, Ph.D.