Science blast! New research on pain in the brain.
Reading New Scientist this morning with my breakfast, I saw this interesting little piece on CHRONIC PAIN, a subject I find simultaneously fascinating and gut-wrenching. I LOVE reading science that empowers people living with pain to make lasting changes that do not involve dependence on pharma or other external factors. This article presents new evidence about potential cause(s) of chronic pain and points to cognitive therapies, not drugs, as the best bets for treatment:
-> New links between chronic + elevated neuronal glial cell activity (IMMUNE response!?)!
Article also provides links to evidence supporting cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation and other neural 'rewiring' pathways (as opposed to drugs) in treatment of certain types of chronic pain...
"Neuroimaging is starting to reveal physical differences between the brains of people with and without chronic pain. This suggests doctors should be looking at people’s brains when there is no obvious physical explanation for their pain....Volunteers with fibromyalgia also had more active glial cells in their brains...the findings suggest that different types of chronic pain could be described as different brain IMMUNE disorders."
Woah!! There's INFLAMMATION again, which many scientists and medical professionals are now positing underlies ALL auto-immune and most other non-genetic diseases. (I'm currently reading "Grain Brain" by Dr David Perlmutter and it's already changed my life. I should post that book link too...it's amazing.) Interestingly, this article points to evidence that neuronal glia are elevated in regions of the brain associated w digestion and breathing. Hmm. If I were to take my scientist hat off for a second and hazard an (educated) guess, I'd predict that our inverted North American food pyramid - with grains and carbs as the foundation - is behind much of the unnecessary inflammation that is slowly and painfully killing us. (Read the book i mentioned above -> compelling evidence from all manner of studies.)
ALSO, on the role of EMOTIONAL PAIN in chronic physical pain:
"...Recent research has shown that emotion-linked pain has a separate pattern of activity that is distinct from pain processed from a site of injury. While both networks are active in response to an injury, the emotion-linked pain signature is what neuroscientists commonly see in the brains of people with chronic pain whose physical symptoms of injury have healed. This suggests that the signals from psychological pain networks may take over when the problem becomes chronic."
WOAH!! Actual physical evidence that emotional pain can manifest as physical pain! Huge. (http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article… -> note that the authors also clearly state that their results do not imply that all types of cognitive pain regulation influence pain in the same way.)
"...This raises the possibility that psychological interventions might be effective. A 2010 review of 30 studies concluded that, for people with chronic lower back pain, cognitive behavioural therapy and other coping techniques are more effective than standard treatments.
"Mindfulness meditation is a lower-tech way to achieve something similar. The goal is to achieve a state of “detached observation”, which can help people cope with pain. Studies so far suggest that it improves various types of chronic pain, including fibromyalgia and lower back pain. What’s more, a study of 17 people who practised mindfulness-based stress reduction found that, over time, meditators experienced increases in grey matter in regions of their brains involved in learning, memory and emotion – all of which influence pain perception."
Renew depleted gray matter through meditation!? Yes!
"...People can even be trained to more directly influence their own brain activity and, potentially, turn down the pain signal. In neurofeedback, electrodes placed on participants’ scalps are linked to a real-time display of their brain’s electrical activity. With training, people can learn to alter their brain activity to dial down their pain. Preliminary studies suggest that neurofeedback might be useful for people with fibromyalgia, as well as those with chronic pain resulting from spinal cord injuries and cancer."
WOW! More evidence-based research to say that yes, 'we are own healers.' Love it.