A recent studypublished in Nature Medicine and carried out at Boston Children’s Hospital in America has shown that, under certain conditions, coffee could provide better pain relief than conventional pain medication such as ibuprofen and morphine. The study investigated the effects of sleep deprivation and various drugs on the pain responses of mice, and it came up with some interesting results.
The brain patterns of the mice were monitored using ERG (electroencephalography) and EMG (electromyography) through tiny headsets, which allowed the researchers to monitor when the mice were becoming sleepy and provide stimuli to keep them awake. The stimuli included nesting material and things they could chew, keeping the animals amused. This parallels what happens when people stay up late to watch TV or use social media.
To measure the response of the mice to pain, they were exposed to either extreme heat or cold, or had a small amount of capsaicin – the ‘hot’ chemical in chillies – applied to their paws. The researchers then measured how long the mice took to move away or lick their paws, the longer they took, the less sensitive they were to pain.
The research made several important discoveries that could have an impact on pain management in humans, particularly for people suffering from long term chronic pain. Firstly, they found that sleep deprivation can increase pain sensitivity, which will probably not come as any great surprise to anyone who has a chronic pain condition, but it does have clinical implications for pain management. They also found that conventional pain medication like ibuprofen and even morphine did not reduce the pain sensitivity caused by sleep deprivation, whereas caffeine did.
Caffeine is known to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain, and the researchers think that this is what is having an effect on pain sensitivity.
So, that cup of coffee may do more than wake you up a bit in the morning; it could also make your day a lot less painful – literally!