Eating This Type of Diet Can Reduce Chronic Pain and Inflammation—and You Don't Have to Give Up Pasta or Wine
Chronic inflammation has been linked to a whole host of health issues, including many of the leading causes of death in the U.S. (heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and cancer, to name a few). So it's no wonder scientists are constantly searching for the best anti-inflammatory foods and lifestyle habits—and anything related to the topic that might help us keep this internal inflammation at bay.
(By the way, not all inflammation is bad; short-term, site-specific inflammation is how we heal from cuts, bruises, burns and beyond. It's the longer-lasting inflammation that happens near our organs that can do a number on our longevity and overall well-being.)
One of the most recent discoveries related to inflammation—and pain-related conditions: A traditional Western high-fat diet can increase the chances that an individual might suffer from chronic pain and inflammation.
Unlike our genes, this is something each of us can control. And changes in diet (start here with our anti-inflammatory meal plan!) "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 team of study authors from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio explain to UT Health San Antonio Newsroom.
Chronic pain is a major cause of disability. Lower-fat and lower-sugar diets are often recommended to manage diabetes, autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular diseases, but the role of dietary fats in relation to chronic pain has yet to be researched extensively.
For this study, the team tracked mice and humans to examine the role of polyunsaturated fatty acids in pain conditions. In both cases, a typical Western diet—one that's high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in particular—was a significant risk factor for both inflammation and chronic pain. (ICYMI, we do need some omega-6s, but most Americans' ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s is skewed too 6-strong.)
"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," the research team says in the UT Health San Antonio Newsroom recap.
In the standard American diet, many of the omega-6 fats consumed are by way of fast food, processed snacks and processed meats. Leaning into more omega-3 fats can drastically reduce chronic pain symptoms and chronic inflammation, the authors say. This should move the needle much more than cutting out carbs or alcohol; experts we speak to give both the thumbs up, in moderation, as part of an overall anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Taking your omega-3 index is a great place to start so you know where your current levels stand. If you fall into this common Western diet pattern, stock up on these omega-3-rich foods and sample your way through our 38 best anti-inflammatory recipes. An easy way to make sure you're getting plenty of omega-3s and other anti-inflammatory foods is to follow a Mediterranean-style diet. (On this healthy delicious eating plan, you don't even have to give up pasta or wine. In fact, they're encouraged in moderation!). Check out our Mediterranean diet meal plan for beginners to get started.