October 14, 2009

Both Chocolate And Water Are Natural Pain Relievers

A new study published Wednesday shows that chocolate activates a part of the brain that blunts pain and makes it difficult to stop eating, AFP reported.

However, University of Chicago neurology professor Peggy Mason and neurobiology research associate Hayley Foo also noted that drinking water has the same effect and does not contribute to the growing problem of obesity.

Mason and Foo, the leaders of the research, gave rats either a chocolate chip to eat or water to drink as they lit a lightbulb underneath their cages.

In most cases, the heat from the bulb normally caused the rodents to lift their paws, but when the rats ate chocolate or drank water, their pain response to the heat was dulled and they did not lift their paws as quickly as when they were not eating. They also kept on eating.

Eating stimulates a system in the part of the brain that controls subconscious responses, which is known to blunt pain, Mason said.

Therefore, while the natural form of pain relief may help animals in the wild avoid distraction while eating scarce food, it is likely contributing to over-eating and obesity in modern-day humans.

Mason told AFP that nature provided for it being difficult to stop eating by making food scarce, particularly energy-dense, high-fat, high-calorie food.

"But in the modern world, we've completely messed that up," she explained.

She noted that the cheapest thing a person can get is energy-dense food and once it's readily available and nearby, "you're going to eat it and you're not going to stop".

Mason called it a brainstem-mediated effect that leads to this overeating.

"We've gotten a lot more overweight in last 100 to 150 years," Mason said. "We're not more hungry; the fact of the matter is that we eat more because food is readily available and we are biologically destined to eat what's readily available."

Studies in the past have indicated that only sugary substances had a pain-dulling effect, but the response in the laboratory was the same regardless of whether they were nibbling chocolate or drinking water.

So Mason is now suggesting doctors change the way they calm patients' nerves.

"Stop giving patients lollipops. Ingestion is a painkiller but we don't need the sugar. Water blunts pain, too," she said.

Statistics show that two-thirds of American adults are obese or overweight, while about a third of U.S. children are overweight and one in six are obese.

The full study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.


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