You pull yourself out of bed in the morning and your backaches. You head into the kitchen to get breakfast and notice that your neck and shoulders are tense and your hamstrings tight and painful. Every movement hurts.
And you think, “Today, I’ve got to stretch.”
But what if those aching, irritated muscles have less to do with what you’re doing each day and more to do with what you’re eating?
That’s the conclusion of a brand-new study from researchers in Tarragona, Spain.
The food that makes your body hurt
It’s no secret that the rates of overweight and obese people are skyrocketing across the country and the globe. In fact, over the last four decades, the level of world obesity has tripled. And experts say that by 2030, more than 38 percent of the world’s adults will be overweight and a whopping 20 percent will be obese.
And of course, carrying too much weight has long been associated with a higher risk of developing chronic health problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and, yes… musculoskeletal pain.
But while most studies have focused on the load those extra pounds put on your body as a cause of that pain, those Spanish researchers weren’t so sure.
In fact, they theorized that both muscle pain and obesity have a common source that kicks it all off — ultra-processed foods.
Rising inflammatory molecules
To test their theory, the researcher fed mice a diet rich in either fats or sugars from those foods (think sweets, pastries and more) for a full six weeks. They then measured the number of adipocytes — fat cells — in the muscles of the mice as well as inflammation levels.
And what they discovered was pretty scary.
The team found that any diet rich in ultra-processed foods — whether from sugars or fats — led to an increase in the number of inflammatory molecules throughout the organism. And as inflammation went up, so did the mice’s excitability of the muscle nerves.
This phenomenon is known as musculoskeletal neurotransmission, and it causes pain! According to the researchers, it lasted for weeks, even after the diets had been stopped.
Avoiding ultra-processed foods and the inflammation they cause
This means that the muscle pain you’ve been living with could be due to the foods you choose to eat each day.
“Foods” to watch out for are ones that fall into that dangerous group of ultra-processed foods — made mostly from substances extracted from foods like unhealthy fats, starches, hydrogenated fats, added sugar, modified starch and other compounds, including artificial flavors, colors or emulsifiers.
- Soft drinks
- Packaged salty snacks
- Processed meats
- Chicken nuggets
- Powdered and packaged instant soups
Basically, if you would think of it as a “convenience food,” it’s one that could be causing your muscle pain. So, ditch them fast.
One thing that might make your transition easier is supplementing vitamin D if you’re not already. Not only does the sunshine tamp down inflammation, but it affects the body’s inflammation response in a way that lowers the sensation of pain. Studies have also identified vitamin D as beneficial to people trying to lose weight.