It is well known that indulging in a tasty cuddle at the table helps us feel better when we are a little down in the dumps. A chocolate, an unscheduled sweet, a tasty sandwich filled between meals are all concessions that generate well-being and, in some way, help us to feel better. But what if the malaise is not psychological, but physical? Do these small concessions also help when you suffer from chronic pain, such as back pain or migraines? It would seem so and this is precisely the reason why those who suffer from chronic pain tend to gain weight.
Pain rules habits
Constant pain generates a state of continuous suffering and, just as happens with psychological discomfort, our body “asks” for those foods that are tastier and that generate pleasure. Add to this the fact that, due to pain, you are forced to reduce physical activity, you have the perfect recipe for gaining weight without realizing it.
The pleasure of the table
The taste and goodness of what we eat are the first engine that drives us to select what we will put on our plate. Food not only serves to nourish us and give the body the energy it needs, but it is also a source of pleasure and psychological well-being.
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Paul Geha, a psychiatrist specializing in the neuroscience of pain, hedonism and nutrition, led a group of researchers in a study that aimed to define the relationship between chronic pain, acute pain and certain dietary regimes. The results of the research – which lasted more than a year – highlighted strong differences in the diet of those suffering from chronic and acute back pain, depending on the pain.
The pleasure and the pain
The study involved a sample of patients divided between patients with chronic back pain and patients with acute (severe, but limited in time) low back pain. Chronic pain is almost always associated with anhedonia (the loss or inability to feel pleasure in carrying out rewarding activities) and decreased motivation, behavioral alterations almost always linked to alterations in the limbic system. This relationship could explain the increased risk of obesity in chronic pain patients.
Pain and fatty foods
In addition to the type of pain, the dietary profile followed was outlined for each patient and for all patients it was highlighted that the increase in pain systematically corresponds to a considerable increase in foods rich in fats. A hedonic elaboration of food.
The result of the research
A year later, research found that only patients with acute (time-limited) back pain returned to regular eating more easily. Patients affected by chronic pain that lasted for months, on the other hand, not only showed greater difficulty in following a regular diet, but as the pain continued, there was a directly proportional increase in the consumption of fatty foods. As if the taste alone was no longer sufficient and it was also necessary to increase the quantities.
The Nucleus Accumbens
Don’t worry, it’s not an insult or a magic formula. It is a structure of our brain that has been instrumental in researching the correlation between chronic pain and weight gain. The Nucleus Accumbensplays a decisive role in the cognitive processes of aversion, motivation, reward. But also in addiction and in the processing of feelings of pleasure and fear, as well as generating the placebo effect. During their research, Dr. Geha and his team saw how the function of this brain structure was normal in patients with acute pain, but gradually fading in patients with chronic pain. From this modification of the brain structures, the close correlation between chronic pain and a diet that favors foods rich in fats was highlighted. Hence a close relationship between chronic pain and the tendency to gain weight.