A new study in mice from researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas suggests that a short-term exposure to a high-fat diet may be linked to pain sensations even in the absence of a prior injury or a preexisting condition like obesity or diabetes.
The study, published Sept. 1 in the journal Scientific Reports, compared the effects of eight weeks of different diets on two cohorts of mice. One group received normal chow, while the other was fed a high-fat diet in a way that did not precipitate the development of obesity or high blood sugar, both of which are conditions that can result in diabetic neuropathy and other types of pain.
The researchers found that the high-fat diet induced hyperalgesic priming — a neurological change that represents the transition from acute to chronic pain — and allodynia, which is pain resulting from stimuli that do not normally provoke pain.
“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,” said Dr. Michael Burton, assistant professor of neuroscience in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and corresponding author of the article. “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.”
The study also compared obese, diabetic mice with those that just experienced dietary changes.
“It became clear, surprisingly, that you don’t need an underlying pathology or obesity. You just needed the diet,” Burton said. “This is the first study to demonstrate the influential role of a short exposure to a high-fat diet to allodynia or chronic pain.”
Western diets are rich in fats — in particular saturated fats, which have proved to be responsible for an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and associated conditions. Individuals who consume high amounts of saturated fats — like butter, cheese and red meat — have high amounts of free fatty acids circulating in their bloodstream that in turn induce systemic inflammation.
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