Adhering to a Mediterranean-type diet decreases the chances that overweight people, and in fact everyone else, will experience chronic pain, according to research done in Ohio.
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Why the obese suffer from chronic pain is not clear, but many do, especially in the joints. Some think the underlying mechanism of obesity itself, and the pain, is inflammation. Now scientists in Ohio report that adhering to an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-style diet rich in fish, fresh produce and nuts can help alleviate the pain among otherwise healthy overweight adults.
The study did not investigate whether switching would help but in theory it should, says lead author Dr. Charles Emery of Ohio State University.
Aside from anything else, their finding strengthens the inflammation theory for the pain felt by the severely overweight, as opposed to their discomfort being biomechanical in origin.
The study was small, involving 98 city-dwelling Ohioan adults, 60% female (none pregnant), but was a breakthrough in associating how dietary intake can affect pain management. In fact the results achieved by Emery and the team indicate that an anti-inflammatory diet mediates the relationship of body fat to body pain among all people of any weight. Not the acute kind of pain from hitting your thumb with a hammer, the chronic kind.
There is, Emery explains to Haaretz, "an overall significant correlation between healthier dietary intake and lower body pain in our sample, which included both obese and non-obese adults. Therefore, we would be inclined to say that the Mediterranean diet is better for anyone who wants to minimize risk of experiencing pain."
Also, if diet can explain the relationship between body fat and pain, then the diet should be beneficial to people already in pain, Emery says.
A few caveats, beyond the small size of the study: it involved self-reporting of both the pain and the dietary habits. The "Mediterranean diet" in this case refers to eating a diet rich in fish and nuts, of any kind, whole grains, and fruit and vegetables. The scientists didn’t check if some fish or nuts are more beneficial than other fish or nuts.
Moving to a more Mediterranean-style diet could have other beneficial effects, including on the heart. A 2008 overview of "Obesity and the Mediterranean diet" found mixed results: of 21 epidemiological studies, 13 reported that the Mediterranean diet was significantly related to less overweight, or more weight loss, while eight papers found no such correlation. It bears saying that "Mediterranean diet" usually includes olive oil too, and largely eschews red meat and butter.