Pain Caused by Western high-fat diet?


A typical Western high-fat diet can increase the risk of increased pain issues in people with conditions such as diabetes or obesity, according to a groundbreaking paper authored by a team led by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (1).

One of the leading factors of the increased pain has been changes in dietary patterns. In the typical current diet the intake of omega-6 fatty acid has increased and the omega-3 fatty acid decreased, resulting in a large increase in the omega-6/omega-3 ratio from 1:1 during evolution to 20:1 today or even higher (2). 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 novel finding could help treat chronic-pain patients by simply altering diet or developing drugs that block release of certain fatty acids in the body.

Has the shifting ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 increased pain?

Studies on the traditional Greek diet (diet of Crete) indicate an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of about 1/1. The importance of a balanced ratio of omega-6:omega-3, a lower saturated fatty acid and lower total fat intake (30-33%), along with higher intakes of fruits and vegetables leading to increases in vitamin E and C,. The Lyon Heart study, based on a modified diet of Crete, confirmed the importance of omega-3 fatty acids from marine and terrestrial sources, and vitamin E and vitamin C, in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, and cancer mortality (3).

Jump forward to onset of the industrial revolution (about 140 years ago), there was a marked shift in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Consumption of omega-6 fats increased at the expense of omega-3 fats. This change was due to both the advent of the modern vegetable oil industry and the increased use of cereal grains as feed for domestic livestock (which in turn altered the fatty acid profile of meat that humans consumed) (4).

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Foods that are high in unhealthy fats are generally higher in calories compared to other foods higher in other nutrients, such as protein. People who eat high-fat diets are more likely to consume more calories compared with those who eat a balanced diet, and weight gain is the result. The end result is an increased rate of obesity, and pain complaints are common in obese individuals.

Fatty acids and pain

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.

The typical Western diets is high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats served as a significant risk factor for both inflammatory and neuropathic issues. Omega-6 fats, mainly found in foods with vegetable oils, have their benefits. But 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.

A Diet Rich in Omega-3’s

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered “essential” fatty acids (6) because the body isn’t capable of producing them on its own. Therefore, we must rely on omega-3 foods in our diets to supply these extremely beneficial fats.

Fish is a good source of protein  and, unlike fatty meat products, it’s not high in saturated fat . Regularly eating fish and seafood is consistently associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease. Fatty fish is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke (7).

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Getting back to our main point, yes a diet rich in omega 3’s can help control pain. A controlled study that compared ibuprofen and omega-3 EFAs demonstrating equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain. omega-3 EFA fish oil supplements appear to be a safer alternative to NSAIDs for treatment of nonsurgical neck or back pain in this selective group. Taking a good omega-3 supplement provides many other health benefits such as improving cardiovascular health.

A small diet change of adding a few servings of fish each week and reducing the chips or processed foods will improve your health.

(1) Western high-fat diet can cause chronic pain, according to research team

(2) An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity

(3) Evolutionary aspects of omega-3 fatty acids in the food supply

(4) How Too Much Omega-6 and Not Enough Omega-3 Is Making Us Sick

(5) The association between chronic pain and obesity

(6) Essential Fatty Acids: What Makes These Healthy Fats So Essential?

(7) Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

(8) Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain

by Andrew Ellis

Andrew Ellis

InnoVision Health Media reports on health content that is supported by our editorial advisory board and content published in our group of peer reviewed medical journals.

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