Pain changes your brain

Chronic pain afflicts over 3.4 million people in Australia. New research shows sufferers are dealing with much more than the physical impact of their condition, with research proving it can change a person’s personality.

Research results

The world-first study from Neuroscience Research Australia and the University of New South Wales, found people who live with chronic pain experience changes to their brain that cause negative personality changes. The brain’s key chemical messenger, glutamate, was found to be in smaller doses in chronic pain sufferers.

Associate professor Sylvia Gustin, the lead author of the study, believes pain induced disruptions in the brain can result in people feeling “more negative, fearful, pessimistic or worried”.

She said perceived personality changes were a constant issue raised by patients, many claiming not to feel like ‘themselves’ anymore and stigmatised as having a ‘negative personality’. The study revealed the lower the glutamate levels within the medial prefrontal cortex, the more a person experienced negative personality changes.

Stress was also linked to the changes because it kills the brain cells’ ability to communicate properly. Stress increases a person’s level of cortisol in the brain, cortisol is linked to glutamate, and the result is an increase in glutamate that is toxic and can kill brain cells.

Next Steps?

The next steps lie in developing a specific medication that can target glutamate, but while this is some time away some integrative doctors assist patients through compounded oral supplements that impact their glutamate level.

Supplements National Custom Compounding has had experience with include:

  • 5-HTP: your body converts 5-HTP into serotonin, and serotonin can enhance GABA activity.
  • Glutamine: Your body converts this amino acid into glutamate.
  • Taurine: This amino acid has been shown in rodents to alter brain levels of both GABA and glutamate.
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