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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Environmental Health Note/Chronic Pain, Shrinking Brain

Air Date: Week of November 26, 2004

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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a study that links chronic back pain with brain shrinkage.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Just ahead: why the mall is where it’s at in America. First, this Environmental Health Note from Jennifer Chu.

[ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH NOTE THEME]

CHU: Back pain is a common affliction for many, but its effects appear to go beyond simply crimping the ability to bend down. It can also cause the brain to shrink.

That’s according to a team of researchers at Northwestern University. They found that chronic back pain reduced the amount of gray matter in the brains of 26 test subjects by as much as 11 percent. That’s roughly the same amount lost during ten to 20 years of normal aging. Gray matter is the part of the brain that processes information and controls memory.

In an article in the current issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers discovered the shrinkage after reviewing the brain scans of people who suffered constant back pain for a year or longer. Scientists think the stress of prolonged suffering might overwork neurons in certain parts of the brain and cause them to atrophy.

They are now looking into the question of whether these reductions in gray matter are reversible. That’s this week’s Health Note, I’m Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

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[MUSIC: Galactic “Something’s Wrong with this Picture” AIN’T NO FUNK LIKE N.O. FUNK (Bullseye Blues & Jazz – 1998)]

 

 

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