Study sheds light on the connection between chronic pain and changed eating habits

Findings from a new study could help identify people with chronic pain who are most at risk of long-term changes in their eating habits.

Researchers examining the known link between food and pain say they may have unveiled the mechanisms linking pain to a change in eating habits, which can lead to obesity.

The study by a team from the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience in New York suggests that circuits in the brain responsible for pleasure and motivation are impaired when a person experiences pain.

Study participants were given a gelatin dessert and pudding, with the research team changing the sugar and fat content and texture of the foods. They found that sugar did not affect eating behavior, but fat did.

Those with severe lower back pain who later got better probably lost the pleasure of eating the pudding. Those with acute low back pain that persisted after a year and initially experienced no changes in their eating patterns found that a high-fat, high-carb diet eventually gave them problems over time. Brain scans showed disrupted satiety signals — the communication from the digestive system to the brain.

lead author dr Paul Geha said: “It is important to note that this change in food preference did not change their caloric intake. These results suggest that obesity in patients with chronic pain may not be caused by physical inactivity but may be caused by changes in their diet.

“These results could uncover new physiological mechanisms that link chronic pain to a change in a person’s eating behavior. And this change can lead to the development of obesity.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.