Science and Medicine

To the Brain, Getting Burned, Getting Dumped Feel the Same

“As a clinician, I like studies like this because patients often don’t understand why they have to do painful emotional work.”

Science has finally confirmed what anyone who’s ever been in love already knows: Heartbreak really does hurt.

In a new study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have found that the same brain networks that are activated when you’re burned by hot coffee also light up when you think about a lover who has spurned you.

In other words, the brain doesn’t appear to firmly distinguish between physical pain and intense emotional pain. Heartache and painful breakups are “more than just metaphors,” says Ethan Kross, Ph.D., the lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.

The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, illuminates the role that feelings of rejection and other emotional trauma can play in the development of chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia, Kross says. And, he adds, it raises interesting questions about whether treating physical pain can help to relieve emotional pain, and vice versa.

“What’s exciting about these findings,” he said, “is that they outline the direct way in which emotional experiences can be linked to the body.”

Kross and his colleagues recruited 21 women and 19 men who had no history of chronic pain or mental illness but who had all been dumped by a romantic partner within the previous six months. The volunteers underwent fMRI scans—which measure brain activity by tracking changes in blood flow—during two painful tasks.

Read more: To the Brain, Getting Burned, Getting Dumped Feel the Same

 

Tortoise’s Leg Amputated, Replaced by Wheels

Red-footed tortoises are native to South America and are common pets in Brazil.

Take one pet tortoise, add two wheels commonly used for office furniture and you’ve got the world’s first bionic turtle.

In late February, a red-footed tortoise in Brazil was given a new lease on life, when a team of veterinarians at the Veterinary Hospital of Uberaba in the country’s Minas Gerais state attached two wheels to its shell.

Originally the adult tortoise’s owner had brought the animal into the hospital in hopes that doctors could heal an infected leg wound. The tortoise had damaged its left leg on an electrical fence that had fallen down in the garden where it lives.

The team, however, had no choice but to amputate the tortoise’s entire leg after determining the infection posed a risk to the tortoise’s entire well-being.

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“Junk Food” Moms Have “Junk Food” Babies

“How ironic that your mother nags you to eat your fruits and vegetables, but it could have been her actions that helped you to prefer junk food!”

A new research report published online in The FASEB Journal suggests that pregnant mothers who eat high sugar and high fat diets have babies who are likely to become junk food junkies themselves. According to the report, which used rats, this happens because the high fat and high sugar diet leads to changes in the fetal brain’s reward pathway, altering food preferences.

Not only does this offer insight into the ever-increasing rate of human obesity, but it may also explain why some people easily resist fatty and sugary foods, while others seem hopelessly addicted.

“These results will help us to better help women about diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding for giving their infants the best start in life,” said Beverly Muhlhausler, Ph.D., co-author of the study from the FOODplus Research Centre in the School of Agriculture Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia.

To make this discovery, Muhlhausler and colleagues studied two groups of rats, which during pregnancy and lactation, were either fed standard “rat chow” or a junk food diet made up of a selection of common human foods high in fat and high in sugar. After the baby mice were weaned, the pups from both groups were allowed to select their own diets from either the same range of junk food or the standard rat chow. Brains from some of the pups also were collected at different times after birth and measured for the levels of the “feel good” chemicals (dopamine and opioids) and the receptors that these chemicals act upon.

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