Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Pain Caused by Obesity

By Pat Anson, Editor

Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods could decrease the chances an overweight person will develop chronic pain, according to a small study at The Ohio State University.

“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 Charles Emery, a professor of psychology at Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.

“It appears to be telling us that it’s 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.”

Emery and his colleagues developed a model to help determine which foods in a Mediterranean diet play a role in the likelihood a person’s weight would contribute to pain.

They found a clear pattern: eating more fish and plant-based proteins such as nuts and beans was linked with less pain, regardless of body weight.

The study, published in the journal Pain, also upheld previous research showing that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to experience pain.

“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’s a high degree of inflammation associated with obesity and with pain.”

Emery’s research team asked 98 men and women between the ages of 20 and 78 detailed questions about their diet and pain levels while visiting them in their homes. They also measured their body mass index, waist circumference and body fat percentage.

Participants who consumed more anti-inflammatory proteins had lower pain levels.

“For people with obesity, it’s kind of like a cloud hanging over them because they experience high levels of pain and inflammation,” Emery said.

Potential weaknesses of the study include the lack of blood samples that would allow the researchers to look at inflammatory markers. Participants were also only asked about their pain  during the previous month, which does not account for chronic pain of a longer duration.

Emery said his next step is to examine body fat and pain using biomarkers associated with inflammation.

“I’m interested in how our work can contribute to effective treatments for overweight and obese individuals,” he said.

A previous study at Ohio State found that anti-inflammatory diets can boost bone health, prevent fractures and lower the risk of osteoporosis in women.