Weight Loss Associated With Reductions in Pain, Comorbid Symptoms in Obese Individuals

Weight loss was shown to decrease diffuse pain and symptom severity related to pain, with more reductions observed with greater weight loss.

Weight loss was shown to decrease diffuse pain as well as symptom severity related to pain, with more reductions observed with greater weight loss, according to the results of a recent study published in The Journal of Pain.1

Researchers recruited 123 obese participants (body mass index [BMI] >28 kg/m2 in Asian Americans; BMI >30 kg/m2 in all others) to undergo a low calorie liquid diet for 12 to 16 weeks. Participants were also encouraged to increase their physical activity during the study. A modified version of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) preliminary diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia was used to evaluate diffuse pain (widespread pain index [WPI]) and pain-associated symptoms (symptom severity [SS]). Cytokine levels were assayed at baseline and post-intervention.

Participants lost a mean 16.05% of their baseline weight, and 80% of participants lost >10% of their body weight. Following the weight loss intervention, participants were significantly less likely to report pain in any area (odds ratio [OR] 0.799; P =.022), particularly in the lower legs, lower back, chest, and jaw. Losing >10% of body weight was associated with a greater decrease in pain compared with weight loss <10% (P =.019).

After weight loss, improvements were observed in symptom severity (P =.004), depression (P <.001), and fibromyalgia scores (P =.004). Somatic symptom scores and fibromyalgia scores improved more in men than in women (P <.01 for both).

Interleukin (IL)-10 levels increased significantly after weight loss (P =.002), as did the ratio of IL-10 to IL-6 and C reactive protein (CRP) (P <.05 for both). IL-6 levels were positively correlated with ACR total scores both at baseline and post-weight loss (P =.017 and P =.047). Following weight loss, higher BMI was associated with higher levels of CRP.

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According to Andrew Schrepf, PhD, research investigator in the department of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the study’s lead investigator, this is one of the first observational studies investigating “pain outside of weight-bearing areas following weight loss, which includes symptoms that interfere with quality of life, such as fatigue.” He concluded that “pain reduction and improvement in energy are added benefits of major weight loss.”

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  1. Schrepf A, Harte SE, Miller N, et al. Improvement in the spatial distribution of pain, somatic symptoms, and depression following a weight-loss intervention [published online August 25, 2017]. J Pain. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2017.08.004