While most people think of external influences on chronic pain, few realize what internal factors can impact it. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham want more people to understand how certain lifestyle habits can affect chronic pain, specifically poor diet. In their new paper, published in the Journal of Pain, they found that sufferers of chronic pain are more likely to have more severe and prolonged symptoms if they eat a certain way.
The team, lead by Robert Sorge, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in UAB’s College of Arts of Sciences, wanted to explore the association between diet and pain as a way to uncover how obesity and chronic pain were related. While they have yet to determine if chronic pain is a result of increased weight or diet quality, their research shows a direct correlation between nutritionally deprived diets and increased pain, as Sorge explained in a news release.
In this particular study, they focused on the “Total Western Diet,” (TWD) which they described as having fewer calories from protein and more calories from carbohydrates and saturated and monounsaturated fats. It’s called TWD because it’s a common diet in the United States.
“We need to be concerned about the consequences our diet has on our bodies, and not just immediately with problems like weight gain, but also with long-term complications. That’s what we set out to investigate in this study,” said Stacie Totsch, the paper’s lead author.
To understand the link between this particular diet and the severity of chronic pain, the research team fed mice TWD and found that after 13 weeks, the mice had a significant increase in fat mass and decrease in lean mass. After running certain tests on the mice, the researchers found that they also had increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines, which promote systemic inflammation. This information confirmed the link between TWD and obesity. Next, they tested for chronic pain. They found that the TWD-fed mice were more sensitive to heat and touch, and that hypersensitivity was more prolonged than in the control group.
The researchers concluded that poor diet seems to exacerbate normal recovery periods from mild inflammation, and patients with chronic pain who eat like this are more likely to have a prolonged experience and longer recovery time.
Past research has linked certain diets with inflammation, and doctors sometimes recommend patients eat healthier and lose weight in order to improve symptoms of chronic pain. Typically, sugary foods are the first to be cut and replaced by more fruits and vegetables.
If you’re experiencing chronic pain, you should schedule an appointment with your qualified health professional today.