As chronic pain sufferers often have difficulty with their weight, it is well-known that food and pain are closely linked. A new study by the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience suggests that pain can affect the brain’s circuitry, which is responsible for pleasure and motivation. “These findings may reveal new physiological mechanisms linking chronic pain to a change in someone’s eating behavior,” stated Paul Geha M.D.. This can lead to obesity.
How our brain reacts to food is what makes us feel satisfied. Researchers looked at how the brain responds to sugar and fat in this study. Researchers altered the texture, sugar, and fat of the food by using a gelatin pudding and dessert. The researchers found that patients did not experience changes in their eating habits when they were given sugar but had a similar effect with fat. Patients with acute lower-back pain who had suffered from pain for a long time were more likely to feel less pleasure when eating pudding. However, patients with chronic lower-back pain that lasted at least one year experienced a change in their eating habits. However, chronic lower back pain sufferers did report that foods high in fats and carbohydrates like cookies and ice cream became problematic over time. Brain scans revealed disrupted satisfaction signals.
Geha was the first to publish a study in PAIN, which is being used in new research. These findings suggest that obesity in chronic pain patients may not be due to lack of movement, but they might change their eating habits.
Brain scans of study participants showed that the nucleus, a small part of the brain most known for its role as decision-making, may be able to give clues about who might experience a long-term change. Researchers discovered that the structure of this brain area was normal in patients who experienced changes in eating habits but did not experience chronic pain. Patients whose eating habits were normal but their pain became chronic had smaller nucleus-accumbens. The nucleus of accumbens was able to predict pleasure ratings in chronic back pain patients, and patients with chronic back pain who had experienced an acute bout. This suggests that the region is crucial in motivating chronic pain patients. Previous research by Geha found that a smaller nucleus can indicate whether someone is more likely to develop chronic pain.