Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chocolate & Pain

For the past week I've been seeing news stories about studies connecting chocolate to lessening pain in human beings.  Sisters and Brothers, if that is true, that may explain why The Chocolate Cult has almost cured my former drive to eat chocoalte blindly and in large quantities for emotional reason but has no effect on craving during that certain time of the month.  Let's look at some of these news reports.

I found seven news articles about this report that chocolate can lessen pain in the past week.  I'm going to look back at the studies chronologically to see if information has been added.  I'm linking the articles at the end of this post for you to examine yourself.  Remember that you should never just accept what mass media reports on health matters but think about it, try to find more evidence and ask some logical and rational questions.  Never trust companies selling chocolate to be completely honest about health benefits, even the most honorable company still has profit as the primary goal.

First, I note that once again this is a study done at the University of Chicago and published in the Journal of Neuroscience was conducted with rats then the results are being expanded to human beings without any research on humans.  What these studies clearly show is that rats can be distracted from their perception of pain when they eat or drink something.  That might be enough to get more grant money to study higher level animals but how is that evidence of what happens in humans?

Second, the study used three substances to distract the rats from pain: chocolate chip, sugar water and plain water.  Guess what?  They all seem to work about the same in terms of distracting the rat from feeling pain.

Third, the pain in question was purposefully added to the experiment.  So these weren't rats with chronic pain conditions or who had been injured but rat who were given something to eat or drink then heat was added to their cage to see if they would react.  Even in rats then we can't say that eating or drinking will reduce the perception of existing pain.   Further studies on these rats did discover that pain caused by induced illness was not dulled by eating or drinking.

Finally, the drink or food in question had to be pleasurable for the rats for the distraction to work. When they were given drinks that tasted terrible to them, they reacted as quickly to the pain stimulus as when they were doing nothing than just hanging out in their cages.  This is both bad and good news because if this is shown to be the case in higher animals as well, it may explain why we reach for fatty and sugary foods -- they taste better to many of us but they also aren't as healthy for us.  The study removed certain parts of the rats' brains in parts of the study and found that the distraction is purely biological and automatic not a reflection of conscious choice or valuation of the drink or food.  So it may not be so much about willpower as it is about your brain and body.

I hope, Sisters and Brothers, that I summarized the study well and asked a few interesting questions for you.  Maybe in the future studies will be done on humans you'll have an opportunity to volunteer in the name of science, of course.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

The Articles:
University of Chicago release
Newsport Online
The MoneyTimes

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