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Circulating Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Pain Intensity in Five Chronic Pain Conditions

Published:October 19, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2022.10.008

      Highlights

      • A higher n-6/n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) ratio was associated with greater pain intensity.
      • This association found for orofacial, headache, low back and bodily pain intensity.
      • This association was found for symptomatic non-cases as well as cases.
      • n-6/n-3 ratio more consistently associated with pain intensity than single PUFAs.
      • Among the individual PUFAs, docosahexaenoic acid was most strongly associated with pain intensity.

      Abstract

      Pain intensity is well-known to be influenced by a wide range of biobehavioral variables. Nutritional factors, however, have not been generally considered for their potential importance. This cross-sectional study examined associations between erythrocyte omega-6 (n-6) and omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and pain intensity in 605 adults. Pain intensity was computed on a 0 to 100 numeric rating scale from questions about 5 chronic pain conditions: orofacial pain, headache, low back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and bodily pain. For each pain condition, multiple linear regression tested the hypothesis that a higher ratio of n-6 arachidonic acid to the sum of n-3 eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (AA/(EPA+DHA) was associated with greater pain intensity. In covariate-adjusted analysis, orofacial pain intensity increased 5.7 points (95% CI: 1.4, 9.9) per unit increase in n-6/n-3 PUFA ratio. Likewise, a 1 unit increase in n-6/n-3 PUFA ratio was associated with significant increases in pain intensity (range 5–8 points) of headache pain, low back pain, and bodily pain, but not abdominal pain. Separate multiple linear regression models investigated the independent strength of association of individual PUFAs to the intensity of each pain condition. Overall, n-3 docosahexaenoic acid was most strongly, and inversely, associated with pain intensity.

      Perspective

      A higher ratio of n-6/n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids was associated greater pain intensity for orofacial pain, headache, low back pain, and bodily pain, but not abdominal pain. The n-6/n-3 PUFA ratio was more consistently associated with pain intensity than any individual constituent of the long-chain PUFA ratio.

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