Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats could decrease the chances an overweight person will experience regular pain, new research suggests.
A well-established connection between body weight and chronic pain might be explained by inflammation in the body, and the study points to anti-inflammatory foods including fish, nuts and beans as a key to preventing or reducing that pain, said lead researcher Charles Emery, a professor at The Ohio State University in the US.
“We found that a healthy diet explained the link between weight and pain and specifically that seafood and plant proteins such as peas and nuts and beans were key,” said Emery.
“It appears to be telling us that it is not just the quantity of the food you eat that plays a role in pain for heavier individuals, but the quality of food as well,” said Emery.
The researchers developed a model to help them determine whether components of an anti-inflammatory diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, played a role in the likelihood a person’s weight would contribute to pain.
They found that eating more fish and plant-based proteins such as nuts and beans was linked with less pain, regardless of body weight.
The study also upheld previous research showing that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to experience pain. It included 98 men and women 20 to 78 years old.
“Obesity and pain are significant public health problems. This was an attempt to take a very detailed snapshot of how they might be related,” Emery said.
“We were interested in the possibility of an inflammatory mechanism explaining the connection because we know there is a high degree of inflammation associated with obesity and with pain,” said Emery.
Researchers spent three hours with each participant in their home. They accounted for other factors that could influence their results, including age, depression, analgesic medication use and joint pain.
They tested the model using three different measures of weight – body mass index, waist circumference and body fat percentage.
In all three cases, they found evidence that anti-inflammatory proteins may explain the link between increased weight and pain.
“For people with obesity, it is kind of like a cloud hanging over them because they experience high levels of pain and inflammation,” Emery said.
The study appears in the journal Pain.
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