Missing that runner’s high? (Any high at all?) Your living circumstances or the losses you have endured may not be to blame. The loss of those good feelings may not be due to depression. Physiology could be behind all of them.
“Highs” or good feelings it turns out are, or should be, a natural part of living. Our body uses good feelings to reward good behaviors such as exercise.
But what if the reward system isn’t working? What if the production of those good-feeling chemicals are blocked? Does it result in something like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)?
The evidence – most of it indirect to be sure – suggests that many of the pathways that produce feelings of pleasure, relaxation and rest may be blocked in these diseases:
Rest and Digest Down – Arousal Up: Parasympathetic Nervous System Teetering in ME/CFS and FM
Studies suggest that the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” part of the autonomic nervous system is on the ropes in both ME/CFS and FM
It’s counterpart. the sympathetic nervous system, appears to be now firmly in control in both diseases. It leaves us wired, edgy and prone to catastrophic thinking. If you’re having trouble relaxing – a wimped out PNS could be a reason why.
Reward Down – Fatigue and Depression Up: The Whacked Basal Ganglia Dopamine Reward System in ME/CFS
Natural High’s Down – Pain Up: Endocannabinoid Activity Reduced in FM
A survey that found cannabis to be the most effective pain treatment for fibromyalgia suggested the cannabinoid system could definitely use a little strengthening
Leptin Up – Reward Down: Leptin Inhibits Reward and Movement in ME/CFS
Now comes a mouse study suggesting that leptin could also be blocking those feel-good systems.
The ME/CFS Connection
The leptin levels in Younger’s ME/CFS study were not high but still appeared to impact a wide range of immune variables. That suggested that even small increases in leptin may have a big impact in chronic fatigue syndrome
A Complete Blockade?
In an article on the recent leptin finding a biological anthropologist asserted that it takes a complex system to produce the motivation and ability to exercise. Every one of the systems he singled out could conceivably be impaired in ME/CFS and FM.
These findings suggest that virtually every “good-feeling” system in ME/CFS and FM may be blocked. That could help explain why studies find such low quality of life and functionality levels in these diseases.
Tie together under-active feel-good pathways with a physiological inhibition on movement and you’ve got a difficult situation.