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If you’ve skipped a meal, you’re probably hurting right about now. Here’s why: If you haven’t eaten since breakfast, chances are, you’re pretty cranky right now—even if you did scarf down a bag of chips at noon.
And here’s some bad news for you, crankypants: Not only are you likely hungry, but you may also be feeling pain more acutely. Food deprivation has been linked to greater sensitivity to pain, according to a study in the Journal of Psychophysiology.
In the study, 32 women were monitored in a controlled hospital environment. Twelve participants were served regular meals and snacks, while the others weren’t allowed to ingest anything except for non-carbonated water for two days. When exposed to “pain stimuli,” those who were starved reported a significantly higher amount of pain than those who ate regularly.
Study authors suspect that hunger hormone ghrelin may be linked to pain thresholds. Or in other words: Not eating leads to being hungry, which could lower your tolerance for pain.
It makes sense. If you’re hungry, you’re irritable, and then you might be more likely to feel greater pain. Mood impacts how people feel about pretty much everything from a psychological perspective, so the pain might seem more intense.
Although not eating for two days is an extreme condition to most, there’s still a lesson to be learned from this study for everyday health.
The bottom-line message here is to eat frequent meals to keep blood-sugar levels consistent. And that may help keep your mood—and perhaps your susceptibility to pain—consistent, too.