Even a small amount of weight loss could make a big difference in the amount of pain, as well as fatigue and depression, experienced by those who are obese, according to researchers.

“It’s been known for some time that people who are obese tend to have higher levels of pain, generally speaking,” says Andrew Schrepf, PhD, a research investigator at Michigan Medicine’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center. “But the assumption has always been the pain is going to be in the knees, hips and lower back—parts of the body that are weight-bearing.”

According to a study performed by Schrepf and colleagues and published in The Journal of Pain, just a 10% reduction in body weight helped patients with obesity reduce discomfort not only in expected spots such as the knees and hips but also in the abdomen, arm, chest, and jaw.

Study participants who reached their weight goals also reported better mental health, improved cognition and more energy compared to those who didn’t.

“We know when people lose a lot of weight they tend to feel better,” Schrepf says, in a media release from Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan. “But astonishingly, no one ever looked at where in the body the pain gets better.”

The study included 123 participants who were tracked over a 12-week period. Each of them was put on a low-calorie liquid diet and given a directive to gradually increase their physical activity.

With access to phone, email and in-person support, participants were evaluated and counseled by physicians and dietitians who specialize in endocrinology and obesity medicine at Michigan Medicine’s Weight Management Program throughout the process.

The U-M researchers relied on surveys of patient symptoms collected before and after the 12-week period using fibromyalgia assessment criteria to make the determinations.

Among all participants, 99 were able to lose 10% or more of their body weight.

Those individuals reported widespread improvement in pain compared to those who didn’t meet the target goal. And the diversity of physical areas of improvement suggests that joints aren’t the only conduit of body pain, the release notes.

“What we think that means is this process of losing weight may be affecting the central mechanisms of pain control related to the brain and spinal cord,” Schrepf states.

He and the team then took blood samples from one-quarter of the study participants. Final samples revealed a spike in anti-inflammatory molecules—a key weapon in fighting many types of pain—compared to those collected at the start.

And while both genders who met the study’s weight-loss target reported increased energy levels, the effects were more pronounced in men. That divide, Schrepf says, could be related to evidence showing that obesity affects testosterone levels, the release continues.

In further research the team hopes to identify why losing 10% of a subject’s body weight was the divide for achieving results.

“Some of your earliest weight loss isn’t all fat; it could be water,” Schrepf notes. “Somewhere around 10 percent we’re reaching some kind of critical mass, but it’s hard to know exactly what that means.”

As such, the release concludes, they’d like to conduct a deeper phenotyping study on the issue—and also examine the role that calorie reduction plays in decreasing levels of pain.

[Source(s): Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan, Newswise]

[image courtesy of Michigan Medicine]