Can Unhealthy Eating Lead To Chronic Pain?

Can Unhealthy Eating Lead To Chronic Pain?  Yes, unhealthy eating can lead to chronic pain. Poor diet quality can result from isolation and depression, which are commonly experienced by people living with chronic pain. A poor diet can modulate inflammation, oxidative stress, gut health, and lipid and glucose metabolism while altering the central nervous system. Poor dietary habits can also lead to obesity, which is a significant risk factor for chronic pain. Additionally, unhealthy eating can contribute to nutritional deficiencies, which can increase the risk of chronic pain symptoms.

Research-based evidence

A recent study published in Scientific Reports explored the link between dietary habits and chronic pain, highlighting the potential for improved pain management through targeted interventions. Key findings:

  • Suboptimal eating habits and chronic pain are linked: The study found a prevalence of unhealthy eating patterns like irregular meals, fast food consumption, and low fruit and vegetable intake among individuals experiencing chronic pain.
  • Desire for change exists: Despite these habits, many participants, particularly younger individuals, those with obesity, and those experiencing chronic pain for extended periods, expressed a desire to eat healthier.
  • Potential for intervention: This finding suggests that healthcare professionals have a window of opportunity to utilize behavior change strategies and educational resources to support individuals in adopting healthier dietary habits as part of their chronic pain management plan.

Chronic pain affects one in five adults globally, requiring biopsychosocial treatment approaches. This means addressing factors beyond just the physical aspects of pain, including nutrition, stress, sleep, exercise, and activity.

Nutrition plays a crucial role in chronic pain management. A healthy diet can help regulate inflammation, oxidative stress, gut health, and metabolism, all of which can influence pain perception. Conversely, poor dietary choices can exacerbate pain and contribute to depression and social isolation, common experiences among chronic pain sufferers.

Study details:

  • Participants: Over 2,100 individuals with chronic pain diagnoses like neck pain, lower back pain, and fibromyalgia were recruited from a specialized pain center in Sweden.
  • Data collection: Participants completed questionnaires gathering information on pain intensity, duration, location, lifestyle habits (smoking, alcohol consumption, eating patterns), and mental health (depression, anxiety).
    Analysis: Statistical methods were used to analyze the data and identify associations between various factors.


  • The majority of participants were women, middle-aged, and overweight or obese.
  • Over half reported experiencing chronic pain for five or more years, with high pain intensity and widespread pain.
  • Those who expressed a desire to eat healthier (PD group) were more likely to be younger, have a higher BMI, and experience greater pain severity and emotional distress.
  • The PD group also exhibited more irregular mealtimes, lower fruit and vegetable intake, and higher consumption of fast food and sweets.
  • Interestingly, they reported lower alcohol consumption compared to the group who did not express a desire for healthier eating (PND group).
  • Statistical analysis indicated significant associations between: Mealtime regularity and pain scores, duration, and location. Suboptimal eating habits and overall pain scores. The desire to eat healthier and suboptimal dietary practices. The PD group and younger age, obesity, and higher pain region index.

What are some common types of chronic pain that can be caused by unhealthy eating?

Unhealthy eating can lead to various types of chronic pain, including but not limited to:
Inflammatory Pain: Foods high in unhealthy fats, such as processed foods, fast food, and fried foods, can cause an inflammatory response in the body, leading to chronic pain.

  • Joint Pain: Obesity resulting from poor dietary habits can put extra strain on joints, leading to conditions like osteoarthritis and joint pain.
  • Neuropathic Pain: Obesity is associated with inflammation throughout the body, which can trigger neuropathy, causing symptoms like numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.
  • Systemic Inflammation: Unhealthy eating habits can contribute to systemic inflammation, which is linked to chronic pain conditions.
  • Gut Health-Related Pain: Poor gut health due to an unhealthy diet has been associated with conditions like fibromyalgia and inflammatory pain, contributing to chronic pain symptoms.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies-Related Pain: Lack of essential nutrients in the diet can lead to increased chronic pain symptoms. For example, a deficiency in vitamin D can increase the risk of bone or muscle pain over time.

These examples highlight how unhealthy eating habits can exacerbate chronic pain through various mechanisms such as inflammation, weight gain, and nutrient deficiencies.

Are there any specific nutrients or foods that can help alleviate chronic pain?

Certain nutrients and foods can help alleviate chronic pain by reducing inflammation, supporting the immune system, and providing essential vitamins and minerals. Here are some key nutrients and foods that can aid in managing chronic pain:

  • Antioxidants: Vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, and zinc are antioxidants that support the immune system and have been found to reduce pain. Foods rich in antioxidants include avocados, berries, vegetables like spinach and kale, nuts, seeds, and fruits like oranges and apples.
  • Protein: Good quality protein is essential for managing pain as the nervous system requires amino acids (building blocks of protein) to function properly. Sources of protein include fish, poultry, beans, eggs, tofu, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties that can help alleviate joint pain and stiffness.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium plays a role in managing stress, aiding sleep, and regulating the digestive system. Sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric contains curcumin, which has been shown to relieve pain and calm the digestive system. It can be added to various dishes like stews, soups, roasted vegetables, or consumed as turmeric tea.
  • Fiber: Fiber has been shown to lower inflammatory markers in the blood and promote regular bowel movements. Sources of fiber include vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lentils, and beans.
  • Vitamin C: A deficiency in vitamin C can contribute to musculoskeletal pain. Foods rich in vitamin C include vegetables like bell peppers and broccoli, fruits like kiwi and oranges.
  • Cherries: Tart cherry juice has been shown to help relieve arthritic pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Cherries also contain melatonin which can aid in improving sleep quality.

ALSO READ: Can kefir consumption improve gut health in critically ill patients?

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