Pain is something a lot of people have to deal with on a regular basis — like the 35 million people in the U.S. alone who suffer from TMJ disorder. And when it comes to managing and treating pain, there aren’t really that many safe and effective options. Yes, there are options like surgery and pain medications, but these options can often have adverse side effects. But a new study found that there may be another way to increase your pain tolerance: caffeine.
While the study was very small, it showed surprisingly positive results. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama and was published in Psychopharmacology. The researchers asked 62 men and women between the ages of 19 and 77 to record their daily intake of caffeine for one week. This included any caffeine — coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and more.
Among all of the participants, the average caffeine consumption was about 170 milligrams per day, which is about two cups of regular coffee. But about 15% of the participants consumed over 400 milligrams of caffeine each day.
After the week was over, the participants underwent pain tolerance tests. These tests used a device that gradually increased pressure or heat on the participant’s back or forearm. When the sensation became painful, the participants pressed a button on a handheld device. And then when the sensation became intolerable, they pressed the button again.
And interestingly enough, the researchers found that those participants who consumed more caffeine on a daily basis had a higher tolerance for pain. According to the research, this may be because caffeine can help block receptors in the brain called adenosines, which, in turn, helps reduce the amount of pain that is being felt.
And the researchers say that it’s not only caffeine that can help someone form a higher tolerance to pain.
“Diet can actually be a useful intervention for decreasing pain sensitivity,” explained Burel R. Goodin, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It’s not just caffeine. A study has shown, for example, that a plant-based diet can actually help increase pain tolerance.”
So while these findings are small and there is certainly more research to be done, the 1.5 billion people around the world who suffer from chronic pain and the millions more who have injuries and diseases that cause them pain can have hope that there may be other options for pain relief.