Warning: New Research Indicates That Even Short-Term Exposure to a High-Fat Diet Can Trigger Pain

Woman Stomach Pain

The study found that a high-fat diet can provoke pain sensitivity even in the absence of obesity and diabetes.

A recent study of mice conducted by researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas found that short-term consumption of a high-fat diet may be linked to pain sensations, even without a preexisting injury or condition such as obesity or diabetes.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, compared the effects of different diets on two groups of mice. One group was fed normal chow, while the other was given a high-fat diet that did not cause obesity or high blood sugar, both of which can lead to 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.”

Michael Burton, Calvin D. Uong and Melissa E. Lenert

Dr. Michael Burton (from left), Calvin D. Uong, and Melissa E. Lenert found that a type of fatty acid called palmitic acid binds to a particular receptor on nerve cells, a process that results in inflammation and mimics injury to the neurons. Credit: University of Texas at Dallas

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.

Recently, scientists have shown that these high-fat diets also increase existing mechanical pain sensitivity in the absence of obesity and that they can aggravate preexisting conditions or hinder recovery from injury. No studies, however, have clarified how high-fat diets alone can be a sensitizing factor in inducing pain from nonpainful stimuli, such as a light touch on the skin, Burton said.

“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, and it isn’t clear why,” Burton said. “We hypothesized that there had to be other precipitating factors.”

Burton and his team looked for saturated fatty acids in the blood of the mice fed the high-fat diet. They found that a type of fatty acid called palmitic acid — the most common saturated fatty acid in animals — binds to a particular receptor on nerve cells, a process that results in inflammation and mimics injury to the neurons.

“The metabolites from the diet are causing inflammation before we see pathology develop,” Burton said. “Diet itself caused markers of neuronal injury.

“Now that we see that it’s the sensory neurons that are affected, how is it happening? We discovered that if you take away the receptor that the palmitic acid binds to, you don’t see that sensitizing effect on those neurons. That suggests there’s a way to block it pharmacologically.”

Burton said the next step will be to focus on the neurons themselves — how they are activated and how injuries to them can be reversed. It is part of a larger effort to understand better the transition from acute to chronic pain.

“The mechanism behind this transition is important because it is the presence of chronic pain — from whatever source — that is fueling the opioid epidemic,” he said. “If we figure out a way to prevent that transition from acute to chronic, it could do a lot of good.”

Burton said he hopes his research encourages healthcare professionals to consider the role diet plays in influencing pain.

“The biggest reason we do research like this is because we want to understand our physiology completely,” he said. “Now, when a patient goes to a clinician, they treat a symptom, based on an underlying disease or condition. Maybe we need to pay more attention to how the patient got there: Does the patient have diabetes-induced or obesity-induced inflammation; has a terrible diet sensitized them to pain more than they realized? That would be a paradigm shift.”

Reference: “High-fat diet causes mechanical allodynia in the absence of injury or diabetic pathology” by Jessica A. Tierney, Calvin D. Uong, Melissa E. Lenert, Marisa Williams and Michael D. Burton, 1 September 2022, Scientific Reports.
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-18281-x

The study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the UT System STARS (Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention) program, the American Pain Society, and the Rita Allen Foundation.

38 Comments on "Warning: New Research Indicates That Even Short-Term Exposure to a High-Fat Diet Can Trigger Pain"

  1. The fundamental handicap of such studies is that mice are nowhere even close to humans in terms of their body and cell metabolism. A human trial of this would be a different story. So far evidence has shown that cutting out carbs, but high fat can reduce inflammation and autoimmune chronic disorders. So there’s that

  2. The TD.08500, Teklad Custom Diet, Envigo contains 90g/kg of sucrose. Table sugar is known to trigger inflammation due to the body’s mechanisms of fructose metabolism. Having fructose in your experimental diet (attached to glucose as sucrose) could have confounded your results, even in the small quantity present (0.9%).

    Fructose and Inflammation
    TD.08500 Diet

  3. The study does not even define the makeup of the high fat diet. Probably loaded with omega 6, and not actually related to the fatty acid profile of meat, butter, or other things that the study asserts to be bad. More junk science to come to a predetermined conclusion. Probably sponsored by Phizer or similar.

  4. Absolute hogwash. I am living proof of a diet of healthy fats like butter, grass fed beef, eggs etc is one of the best diets you can do. I am 54, ripped, low cholesterol,and excellent blood work. These studies are sponsored by institutions that have a anterior motive for these “findings”. I have many other studies that praise healthy fats and a keto diet as the only way to go. I base it on my own testing.

  5. As my fellow intelectuals put it. Absolute hogwash. “A high fat diet that does not cause obesity or high blood sugar” tell us what you fed them.

  6. This is flawed. The controls were inadequate. Sugar and starch must be tightly controlled to isolate fat alone as the cause of chronic pain. They have proven nothing.

  7. The original Nature paper gives a break-down of the the fats the mice were fed. They are 95% unsaturated. So not a very realistic diet unless you just live off burgers and complete junk food. As others said here, in most cases, the high fat diet, is much better than the high carb diet. However, hopefully there are some polyunsaturated fats (like olive oil) in there and mice and men may not be created exactly equal.

  8. Jean - GAPS Coach | December 31, 2022 at 6:08 am | Reply

    The GAPS diet which is high in good quality, grass fed animal fats, together with organic coconut oil and olive oils has helped people with physiological and psychological problems, including those with autism. However, given one can’t patent real food, studies tend not to be carried out!!!

  9. Another “study” funded by government schools and lackeys with the elite green agenda funding. For tens of thousands of years we ate fat. It is sugar and processed seed oils that cause a litany of issues for your health. I’ll stick to my non inflammatory high diet that has been successful for years. The fact is enrages the left loon vegans that worship gaia makes me even happier

  10. The opposite was true for me type 1 39 years…never felt better

  11. Study is rubbish, I’ve been on low carb high fat lifestyle since 5 yrs ago. Lately I’ve been upping my butter and fatty red meat. 57 yrs old, have never felt better and healthier.

  12. Completely absurd. And we’re supposed to trust “experts”. Any half-educated layman can look at this for 30 seconds and find numerous AGGREGIOUS flaws in this “research”. I mean are these huckster fools seriously suggesting that, because they gave a rat some ridiculous 95% soybean oil diet or something, and because that gave it some kind of health problem (OBVIOUSLY), that that’s “evidence” that humans shouldn’t eat low to moderate carb diets that get numerous fats (and proteins, fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc) from numerous sources? The people involved with this REALLY don’t see any issue there? Again, it’s completely absurd.

    People like this should literally be jailed for fraud and endangering public health. You are spreading misinformation about public health under a banner of institutional legitimacy, it’s wrong. Your hacks and frauds and phonies. Your “research” is harmful, and at the very least you should all be fired from the University of Texas at Dallas for misuse of public funds and scientific fraud. This is just make work BS for you guys to collect a paycheck. Disgusting.

  13. Sort of interesting. I have been on a keto diet for 3 years this coming January 2023, tomorrow in fact. I lost 40 lbs and have kept it off. My doctors are jealous of my lips panels, and I have not experienced pain, until now. The last several months I have been dealing with right shoulder pain, I am guessing bursitis. I believe it developed from sudden and aggressive water work outs. Also, suddenly increasing my carbs, sad to say. My weight remains good, no increase there. So, I will go back to lowering the carbs again and see how well I do with that.

  14. I feel good when am on high fat diet like butter, mct oil, bacon, beef, yogurt. This research doesn’t make sense at all. Tried vegetarian diet for so long, felt always miserable and that mysterious lower bowel pain on the left side gone the moment I stopped eating vegetables and started eating diet high in meat and fats. I think this article is referring to those vegetable oil fat, yeh that will kill you sooner and probably the cause of my unknown body pain and inflammation for years when I was a vegetarian.

  15. Just more lies to feed to the people payed by the sugar and carb pushing companies. Anyone reading this if you’re dealing with any stomach issues try the carnivore diet it will change your life.

  16. They injected the mice’s feet with prostaglandin e2…then supposedly were able to see a difference in “paw withdrawal” This is absolute rubbish…

  17. It’s a mouse study. Zero relevance to humans. Waste of mice and money.

  18. This is the dumbest thing I’ve read in a while. Really?? No quantification nor relevance to humans. Waste of my time.

  19. Funny I’ve been on a high fat (ketovore) diet since 2018 with no pain. In November a fitness coach talked me into eating carbs and sugar again. In less than a week joint pain started all over my body and real bad in my elbows. I gained 17lbs in a month and decided to go back to keto. 3 days later no joint pain. Everyone is different but definitely different than mice. What type of fats did they feed? How many? How much protein? So many questions

  20. Rubbish. People have thrived on real food for thousands of years. What kind of “butter, cheese, and red meat” were you using? The quality of the food matters.

  21. This is stupid. Good quality High fat diet with very low sugar and good quality carbs is the ideal diet, i been using it and experience 0 pain and an enhanced athletic performance.

  22. You want to eat a high fat diet but you want to eat good fat extra virgin olive oil good quality avocado oil virgin organic unrefined coconut oil grass finish beef grass-fed butter 100% grass-fed butter grass-fed butter grass-fed theory good bacon with good clean ingredients with no bad preservatives and and chemicals an organic and no sodium nitrates and nitrates and none of those bad preservatives and chemicals that you find on the cheaper bacon organic humanely raised crate free you pay a little bit more but you’re getting good bacon and you’re getting better saturated fat our government has been brainwashing us and telling that sugar and carbohydrates eat more of that and less fat

  23. Funny how there are so many anti low carb diet stories out there. Eating low carb foods and higher fats goes against the grain of what we are taught. Problems is that Low carb diets are the best diets on earth. Every endocrinologist will tell you that low carb diets are what they prescribe their diabetic patients. I had awful heartburn every day for 40 years until I until I started the low carb lifestyle and haven’t had it since. I also lost 41pounds. My doctor says I’m healthy as a horse

  24. Whole Foods Only | December 31, 2022 at 6:41 pm | Reply

    Let me guess, this article is sponsored by the Big Food Industry who profits off of selling sugars, starch, flours, breads etc aka poison. Sorry but it’s 2023 and we have access to a lot of information, no one is falling for this BS “warning”.

  25. What a stupid study and stupid conclusion. Mice aren’t biologically designed to eat meat or animal fat like humans are.

  26. No such pain here. Have been on HF for over 5 years. It actually eliminated joint pain.

  27. Lost weight and feel great,no more joint pain and a lot more energy,all thanks to a high fat low carb diet.

  28. Sounds like the food pyramid lie that they taught us in school back in the 60s and 70s.

  29. There are many people that have been on the Keto diet (fat diet) for years with no pain issues. Infact, I was on the Keto diet for over 10 years and felt great. Why not do research on humans with this “fat diet” instead of mice?

  30. Yeah, I was wondering why I have good pain tolerance when I eat way too much cheese.

  31. What a waste of money. Mice and rats are not human. Humans are designed to run on fat. The most perfect human food, breast milk gets 58%+ of its calories from fat. To boot 46% of those fats in breast milk are saturated fats.

  32. I think most of Americans are aware of the misleading studies that have been fed to us since 1950. This is just par for course. When the FDA puts coco puffs on the dietary pyramid as a healthy food we should all realize what a lying group of individuals are running things in the USA. But of course we’ve know this for years. It’s just that the Blain tent lying has gone way to far.

  33. This is a garbage study. I can say from personal experience from eating carnivore for a while now that i have never felt better in my life. There are hundreds of thousands of people i see comment online that have been eating just meat and eggs and its put any disease or ailment they had in remission or it went away completely. Diabetes is caused by a high carb/sugar intake, eating fatty steaks and eggs with the yolks will never cause diabetes. It will actually reverse type 2 diabetes. Cant believe this nonsense of funded studys still trying to demonize fat. What a joke

  34. This is BS…. Saturated fat in controlled trials had never been shown to produce diabetes or obesity or Heart Disease…
    Carbs including, sugars, fake sugars, juices, desserts and starches are most responsible for DM, HT Disease and Obesity, and Cancer….

  35. Crap study. Misleading headline. Added lots of sugar and God knows what else. Carnivore diet with organic foods, including butter, eggs, no carbs sugar is brilliant.

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