KEY POINTS

  • A Western diet high in omega-6 is a risk factor for pain conditions, researchers found
  • The findings of this study may help patients manage their condition
  • They may also aid in the development of new drugs

There may be another reason for people to steer clear of a fatty, Western diet. A team of researchers has found that it can cause chronic pain in people with certain conditions.

Chronic pain is a major cause of disability globally, and it's often linked to people with comorbidities such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the researchers of a new study, published in the journal Nature Metabolism, said. Typically, part of managing such conditions involves fat-reduction in one's diet, but the exact role of diet in chronic pain is not really known.

In their study, which took more than five years to complete, the researchers looked at the role of polyunsaturated fatty acids in pain conditions. For instance, both omega-3 and omega-6 can actually be beneficial to health and are even considered to be important dietary fats. But the latter is rather abundant in high-fat Western-style diets.

"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," the University of Texas (UT) Health San Antonio said in a news release. "Generally, unhealthy foods high in omega-6 fats include processed snacks, fast foods, cakes, and fatty and cured meats, among others."

Using multiple methods in both mice and humans, the researchers found that a Western diet high in omega-6 is actually a "significant risk factor" for neuropathic and inflammatory pain in people with conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

They found that a diet that's enriched in omega-6 "triggers" peripheral neuropathy in mice, the editorial accompanying the study noted.

"Also, the authors demonstrated that skin levels of omega-6 lipids in patients with Type 2 diabetic neuropathic pain were strongly associated with reported pain levels and the need for taking analgesic drugs," the UT Health San Antonio news release noted.

They also found that the pain from such conditions may be reduced or even reversed through diet changes like lowering omega-6 and increasing omega-3.

This study's findings could help patients manage their condition by altering their diets, and perhaps aid in the development of new drugs for it, UT Health San Antonio noted.

"This comprehensive and elegant study from Boyd et al. may serve as a foundation for new clinical trials and ultimately provide new avenues for the clinical treatment of neuropathies," Duke University researchers Aidan McGinnis and Ru-Rong Ji wrote in the editorial.

Onion rings/Side dish Representative image. Photo: Fabricio Macedo FGMsp/Pixabay