Chronic pain isn’t just a nag. It can make day-to-day life downright miserable.
It’s hard to focus on anything when you’re in pain. New research tells us why.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, sheds some light on exactly what goes on in the brain while folks are in constant pain …
Can pain change the brain? If so, can the changes be reversed?
For this study, researchers recruited eighteen adult patients with chronic low back pain.
Before they were given treatment for their pain, each patient was subject to a functional MRI (fMRI).
A control group of sixteen healthy, pain-free participants was also given an fMRI.
Here’s what happened:
The first thing researchers noticed was that a prominent region in the frontal cortex – called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) – was thinner in the lower back pain group than that of the pain-free group.
Next, during the brain scan, participants were asked to perform a mental task. They had to pick out a visual target from other characters.
Both groups performed the task equally well. The major difference was that those in pain had several more brain regions that were activated, including the DLPFC.
Once the brain scan data was collected, the patients received treatment for their pain.
Six Months Later
Post-treatment, the majority of patients reported being pain free.
Researchers then gave each one a new fMRI to see what changes occurred in the brain, if any.
It turns out that the thickness of the DLPFC increased in EVERY patient who reported an improvement in his or her pain.
Then, when performing the same mental task from the first fMRI, these former pain patients showed a significant decrease in brain activation than they did while in pain.
In fact, their brain scans looked like those of the control group.
New Horizons in Pain Management?
I found this study to be very interesting for two reasons…
1. It shows us that healing the body also heals the mind (quite literally).
2. It begs the question… could a focus on changing the mind first (instead of the body through invasive surgery or drugs) eventually become the preferred method of treatment?
More research needs to be done, to be sure. I just hope it gets done quickly.
Chronic pain sufferers may be the most under serviced…and downright mistreated people being herded through the health care systems of the world.
And despite all the cutting-edge research being done, (for example, we now know that emotions have a large effect on how intensely you feel pain. As well, it’s proven that stress and anxiety can change the structure of your brain for the worse) it seems like the day where doctors will turn to the mind as the first and preferred option for pain management is still far away.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinion!
There’s no doubt about it…
Our brains are powerful, efficient learning machines. Unfortunately, our ability to learn things at breakneck speeds can also be a curse.
The most recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  explains why this is true.
More importantly, it explains how habits and addictions can sometimes be nearly impossible to break free of, once we’ve been conditioned to enjoy them.
It’s All About Pleasure
You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know that we’re hard-wired to seek out and pay attention to things that are rewarding (or pleasurable).
It’s why things like food, alcohol, smoking, and gambling can become highly addictive.
Every time we partake, we get an instant reward.
But what happens when those things, that once represented a “reward,” are no longer a reward to us?
Are those things still powerful enough to get our attention – even when we’re busy paying attention to other things?
These are the questions neuroscientists at John Hopkins University set out to answer.
Subjects sat in front of a computer screen and were told to search for red or green circles. The circles themselves were scattered among numerous circles of different colors.
Each of the green or red circles was followed by a reward. For example, finding a red circle would be followed by a 10-cent reward. Finding a green circle was followed by a smaller 1-cent reward.
The participants did this task for over an hour… long enough to “wire” the brain to equate green and red with monetary rewards.
After completing this task, they were given a new assignment, which was to search for certain shapes among an array of other differing shapes. For instance, they had to find a circle among shapes like triangles, squares and stars.
In this second task, color was no longer the concern. More importantly, there was no monetary reward involved this time around.
From time to time, one of the items on the display was green or red.
When green or red items were displayed, the participants’ responses slowed down.
In fact, an overwhelming number of people in the study got distracted by the red or green objects.
This is despite the fact that they were told to completely ignore those colors… and when those red or green items were displayed, they were inconspicuous and had no relevance whatsoever to the task.
“It was clear to us that those red or green items had become valuable to the study subjects, because they were linked in their minds with a reward,” said Steve Yantis, the study’s lead author.
It Seems Rewarding Objects Can’t Be Ignored
Based on the results of this study, this holds true even when we’re consciously trying to ignore them.
It seems that once your brain has been “rewired” with the stimulus-response effect of the reward, it becomes VERY hard to suppress the desire to experience the reward again.
At least, through conscious will power.
Is it any wonder why so many people have a hell of a time trying to kick bad habits like overeating, smoking and drinking?
Consider this: did you know that certain combinations of salt, sugar and fat in food can activate the same area of the brain that cocaine does?
It affects the area of the brain that releases dopamine – the chemical messenger that makes you feel good.
With this kind of brain “rewiring” losing weight and keeping it off becomes an almost impossible task… especially if you’re trying to do it through will power and external quick fixes.
That’s why hypnosis is so powerful. It unravels your previous wiring and creates new reward associations – i.e. loving veggies, fruits and exercise. So the end result then becomes what the researchers found in this study. Instead of your mind getting distracted by something that was a “bad” reward… you’ll now find it almost impossible to ignore the “good” rewards that will get you where you want to be. .
You’re pulled to do the good things… the good habits that get you where you want to be. Best of all, you’ll have a hard time ignoring them!
Have you ever been distracted by, or found it too hard to ignore a “reward”?
I’d love to hear your stories and comments.
I’ve just come across some very exciting research that proves how important your “mindset” is when it comes to losing weight.
You’ll be surprised at the amount of control you have over your body and how it responds to food…
The Battle of the Bulge and the Mind-Body Connection
This study was recently published in the online journal, Health Psychology.
A team of researchers at Yale University decided to see how ghrelin, the “hunger” hormone, responds to mental perception.
Just so we’re on the same page, ghrelin is known as the “hunger” hormone because it’s responsible for sending a signal to your brain that causes it to “want” more food.
When your body’s ghrelin levels are high, the signal gets stronger – creating a tendency to overeat, even if you’re already pretty full.
Similarly, when ghrelin levels are low, we feel satiated and don’t feel the need to eat anymore.
Your ghrelin levels will typically increase before a meal and decrease after you’ve eaten.
Indulging vs. Being Sensible
The Yale research team divided study participants into two groups.
Group one was given a 380 calorie milk shake. However, here’s the twist:
They were told it was, in fact, a 620-calorie “indulgent” shake.
Group two was given the exact same milkshake (380 calories) that group one received. They were told it was a 140-calorie “sensible” shake.
After drinking the shakes, both groups’ ghrelin levels were measured.
Can you guess what happened?
The folks in group one – the ones who thought they were drinking the “fatty,” 620 calorie indulgent shake – had a dramatically steep decline in ghrelin levels after drinking it.
Those in group two who thought they were drinking a low-calorie sensible shake had a neutral ghrelin response. Their levels stayed pretty much the same… meaning their feeling of satiety did not increase.
Here’s the cool part: The actual ghrelin response that took place in the participants’ bodies reflected exactly what would have taken place if the calorie counts in the shakes had in fact been as high – or as low – as the researchers claimed them to be.
All that changed here was the participants’ perception of the shakes they were drinking.
“This study shows that mindset can affect feelings of physical satiety,” said Alia Crum, the study’s lead author. “The brain was tricked into either feeling full or feeling unsatisfied. That feeling depended on what people believed they were consuming, rather than what they actually were consuming.”
“What was most interesting,” Crum added, “is that the results were somewhat counterintuitive. Consuming the shake thinking it was ‘indulgent’ was healthier than thinking it was ‘sensible.’ It led to a sharper reduction in ghrelin.”
Think and Grow Thin?
It always floors me that the majority of people will try everything under the sun to lose weight – pills… extreme fad diets… potions… exercise gizmos… laser fat removal…
It isn’t until they’ve tried everything that they turn to hypnosis. That’s because changing their minds becomes the last thing they ever think of – it’s often the last resort.
Ironically, changing your mind should be the FIRST thing on the list to try. After all, external fixes only attempt to remedy the symptoms. They don’t address the root cause.
That’s why focusing on your mind, your habits, and your beliefs about a healthy lifestyle are so powerful at creating effective, powerful and long-lasting change.
And this study further proves how critical this piece of the weight-loss puzzle can be to your success.
Think about it: Ghrelin is responsible for those irresistible cravings you get. It takes part in making you hungry. As a result, it causes you to overeat. The excess calories then get stored as fat.
And thanks to the researchers at Yale, we’ve just learned that we can control (to a large extent) this entire process just by changing our minds and thoughts about the things we eat.
So, if we can use our minds to make ourselves “think” we’re being indulgent… we can actually be healthier.
Can you imagine how much frustration, time and money would be saved if most folks started their weight loss journeys by first addressing that thing between their ears?
I’d love to hear what you think. Let’s get a discussion going here and I’ll make sure to respond below in the comments section.