We’re all familiar with that unpleasant, rumbly feeling in the stomach one experiences in the early stages of hunger. As hunger progresses, so may stomach discomfort. What may be surprising is that hunger may actually intensify pain in other areas of the body.
Deprivation of food has been shown in studies to lead to increased sensitivity to pain. So hunger may not cause renewed pain in a previously sprained joint, but it may cause a hungry person to feel any lingering pain more strongly, making the pain more intense. Ghrelin, a hormone caused by hunger, has been shown to have a direct linkage to pain resistance. But ghrelin is not the only factor that may cause unexpected hunger-related pains.
Headaches are an extremely common malady, with a variety of causes. Many people associate loud noises or bright lights with causing headaches, but hunger is certainly not blameless. Hunger headaches are not due to malnourishment, but actually due to the lack of food in the body. When the body is lacking in food, glucose levels drop, muscle tension rises, and blood vessels dilate. Each of these situations on its own may lead to headaches, so when the three combine, the threat of hunger headaches is tripled. The risk of hunger headaches is even greater in people with hypoglycemia, or people who are prone to low blood sugar. A diet high in carbohydrates and sugars increases the risk of these headaches, since carbs and sugars cause blood glucose to spike and then rapidly drop.
A diet high in protein may go a long way towards preventing any of these hunger-related pains. Lean proteins are absorbed slowly by the digestive system, making the body feel full for longer periods of time. This full-feeling prevents the irritation of the stomach, reduces ghrelin production, and prevents spikes and drops in glucose levels.