Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas claim to have discovered a potential connection between the consumption of high-fat foods and the onset of pain.
The study, published in Nature in early September, suggests that high-fat foods can trigger inflammation, even in those who are not overweight or diabetic.
“This study indicates you don’t need obesity to trigger pain; you don’t need diabetes; you don’t need a pathology or injury at all. Eating a high-fat diet for a short period of time is enough — a diet similar to what almost all of us in the U.S. eat at some point,” said the study’s co-author, neuroscientist Dr. Michael Burton.
He and his colleagues divided test rodents into two groups and fed them different diets for eight weeks. The first group consumed a regular diet, while the second consumed a higher-fat version.
The higher-fat diet, however, was constructed in such a way as to avoid triggering the development of obesity or elevated blood sugar, both of which possess the potential to drive pain stemming from diabetes.
The researchers discovered that consuming a high-fat diet can elicit what is known as hyperalgesic priming, the process by which neurological alterations transform acute, short-term pain into longer-term chronic pain.
High-fat consumption also induced allodynia, a condition leading to severe nerve sensitivity. For those with allodynia, even slight touches can prompt a pain response. It is typically associated with diabetics, but the researchers showed it could present itself even in those without the disease.
To dig deeper into their inquiry, the authors tested obese, diabetic mice against their healthier peers with the same diet. Dr. Burton was surprised to find “that you don’t need an underlying pathology or obesity. You just needed the diet.”
Even slim individuals with no signs of diabetes may be impacted by too much fat. Moreover, just because diabetes is present does not necessarily mean the condition will manifest.
“We’ve seen in the past that, in models of diabetes or obesity, only a subsection of the people or animals experience allodynia, and if they do, it varies across a spectrum,” so the team “hypothesized that there had to be other precipitating factors,” said Burton.
The researchers believe they were able to identify the mechanism leading to the pain. On a high-fat diet, analysis of saturated fatty acids in the rodents’ blood revealed palmitic acid. This fatty acid is the most common saturated fatty acid in animals. It can prompt inflammation after binding to particular nerve cell receptors.
The authors stressed that it is food, not the diabetic state of a person, that causes the pain to develop.
“The metabolites from the diet are causing inflammation before we see pathology develop … Diet itself caused markers of neuronal injury,” Dr. Burton claimed.
While the latest findings are fascinating, more work is needed. The findings contradict a previous study that did not find material inflammation from higher fat. In fact, that study claimed it was carbohydrates that were found to correlate with inflammation.
The study, published last year in the National Library of Medicine, analyzed the inflammatory status of overweight pre-menopause women and found that carbs drove “inflammation risk, while a total fat intake were (sic) not associated to higher inflammation.”
Still, as the subject of what constitutes a healthy diet remains under debate by researchers and the public, obesity and related pain-causing diseases like Type 2 diabetes continue to soar in the United States, even in North Texas, as previously reported in The Dallas Express.