An interesting news article was recently published in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News about how acute and chronic pain are triggered by the activation of completely different neuronal circuits. In this recent study published in Cell from the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that mice that hadn’t eaten in 24 hours responded differently to longer-term inflammatory pain than mice who had been recently fed. These hungry mice still responded to acute pain, which is an important reflexive mechanism that protects us from serious injury. But the effects of hunger acted like anti-inflammatory painkillers to the mice, greatly reducing their responses to chronic pain. Amber L. Alhadeff, Ph.D., one of the UPenn researchers, said that this makes sense: “If you’re an animal, it doesn’t matter if you have an injury, you need to be able to overcome that in order to find the nutrients that you need to survive.”
This could be relevant for ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia patients, who experience chronic inflammatory pain. Indeed, patients in the community responded to the article on Derya’s Twitter post, and many said that they have noticed feeling better when fasting, or that eating in general has exacerbated their ME/CFS symptoms. However, others said that hunger can act as just another type of stress on their bodies and can make them feel worse, and that fasting is often difficult to tolerate. Research on hunger and its potential to reduce chronic pain is an interesting topic for future studies. The possibility of developing new medications that mimic the effects of hunger to suppress the chronic pain neuronal circuits may benefit those who suffer from chronic inflammatory pain.