Muhammad Ghanem, MD
Eating a high-fat diet doesn’t just pack on the pounds. It also increases your risk of chronic pain.
Obesity, which affects 42 percent of Americans, and pain often go hand-in-hand. More than 55 percent of obese individuals live with chronic pain. This is partly because obesity increases the risk of several health conditions associated with chronic pain, including:
● Diabetes-associated neuropathy
● Lower back pain
Several factors can cause chronic pain if you’re obese:
Extra strain on joints: Carrying extra weight puts a strain on joints that they aren’t equipped to carry. Hip and knee pain are the most common joint pains obese people experience. Osteoarthritis is also common because the extra weight load on joints leads to more “wear and tear” than usual. Every pound of body weight places 4 to 6 pounds of pressure on each knee joint. This causes joints to break down more quickly than normal and become painful.
Inflammation: Obesity is associated with inflammation throughout the body, called systemic inflammation. Fat cells can trigger the immune system to go into attack mode, the way it would when there is an injury or infection to fight off. When there is no infection and fat cells keep triggering the immune system, it becomes chronically overactive. This can lead to chronic inflammation and body pain.
Neuropathy: The dysfunction or damage to nerves that commonly results in numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and pain is called neuropathy. Diabetes is the leading cause of neuropathy, but there are several other causes, such as hormonal imbalances and cancer treatment. Obesity is also a risk factor for many types of cancers.
Obesity is associated with both diabetes and hormonal imbalance, which disrupt normal metabolic processes. Over time, inflammation and swelling can put pressure on nerves throughout the body. In turn, the nerve sends pain signals to the brain. The pain can be debilitating and interfere with day-to-day life.
Which Foods Cause Inflammation?
The typical American high-fat diet can increase the risk of painful disorders, such as obesity and diabetes. Researchers found that eating a diet high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats is a significant risk factor for inflammatory and neuropathic pain.
Foods high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats include:
● Cake and other baked goods
● Cured meats
● Fast food
● Fried foods
● Peanut butter
● Pre-packaged foods
● Processed snacks, like chips
These foods tend to cause an inflammatory response in the body, which can lead to chronic pain.
Foods that are high in unhealthy fats are generally higher in calories compared to other foods higher in other nutrients, such as protein. People who eat high-fat diets are more likely to consume more calories compared with those who eat a balanced diet, and weight gain is the result.
Many people tout the keto diet — a high-fat, low-carb diet — as one of the best ways to lose weight. The effectiveness of the keto diet is still being researched, but there is some data to suggest that it isn’t the healthiest diet option and most often doesn’t produce long-term results. Eliminating carbohydrates and replacing them with high-fat foods means you may end up eating more calories than you intend to, and not all those calories are good for you.
Bariatric Surgery Can Reduce Chronic Pain Symptoms
Bariatric surgery offers several health benefits in addition to weight loss, including:
● Diabetes remission
● Improved cardiovascular health
● Improved mobility
● Better sleep
● Relief from depression
● Pain relief
Relief from chronic pain is also common in people who have undergone bariatric surgery.
Up to 70 percent of obese adults who undergo bariatric surgery report significant improvements in their body pain and physical function. Nearly three-quarters of patients with severe knee and hip pain experience substantial relief post-surgery. Bariatric surgery patients also feel significant improvements in lower back pain.
How Post-Surgery Nutrition Plays a Part
After bariatric surgery, your healthcare team provides guidance on your post-surgery diet to promote healing and help you adjust to healthy eating habits.
Once your body has healed, you will be on a “bariatric diet” for the rest of your life. This includes:
● A nutrient-dense diet high in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins
● Replacing fried foods with baked, broiled, grilled or steamed alternatives
● At least 64 ounces of water each day
● Eliminating of processed foods, high-fat foods and foods high in sugar
● Taking dietary supplements
Sticking with your post-bariatric surgery diet in the months and years after surgery can help you lose weight and keep it off. And that’s not the only benefit: Cutting out foods high in fat and sugar and replacing them with nutrient-dense choices can reduce pain-causing inflammation.
Eating a healthy balanced diet, staying physically active and reducing your stress levels can help you stay at a healthy weight and enjoy life pain-free for many years to come.