This weekend I decided to do something crazy. I cycled 8 miles, every 4 hours, for 48 hours. I undertook this challenge inspired by David Goggins to raise awareness and funds for Little Drops Charity. In this arduous weekend, the only two things that were in my mind were how to help my muscles recover fast and how do I keep myself hydrated. Hence, this week’s curiosity box explores

1 – What is the science behind pain?

2 – What is the science behind hydration?

1 – What is the science behind pain?

Pain can stop you from doing things even though, physically, you can endure much more stress. Surprisingly, this inhibitor is also a reason why we survived as a species over the many moons. 

Nociceptors are sensors in specialised nerve endings designed to detect any mechanical, chemical, or thermal stressors. They pick up the stimuli and send electrical signals up the autonomous nervous system and onto the brain. This process is called Nociception.

But this is where pain gets confusing and acts funny. 

Experiencing pain can be subjective because Nociception and pain are not necessarily linked to each other as one can occur without the other. This has caused an on-going debate in the scientific community on the topic “Is pain purely psychological?”

However, studies show that our brain continually evaluates external conditions, including the process of checking if certain stimuli cause or can cause pain. There are a few factors that act as drivers for pain. Firstly, by paying more attention, studies show that paying attention to external stimuli that could cause pain amplifies pain perception. Secondly, pain can get addictive and the way you enjoy it alters how you perceive pain. Take experienced weight lifters who label pain as pleasurable and see that as a positive affirmation when carrying out their tasks. Thirdly emotional responses can amplify or dampen pain perception. Anxiety and stress can increase the perception of pain, while anger and fear can dampen the feeling. Finally, the way we respond to pain can alleviate, exacerbate, or prolong the pain.

In essence, the pain has many dimensions, and treating it through one angle alone does not suffice. A combination, therefore, is required. 

2 – What is the science behind hydration?

The cycling expedition had put me up for a challenge that I am not entirely comfortable with – endurance. In endurance-related activities, the critical element to keep a tab on is hydration. Water in the body is essential for many essential processes, like carrying nutrients to all parts of the body, excreting waste, lubricating joints and eyes, supporting the digestive process, and maintaining healthy skin.

Losing water, therefore, can affect a lot of functions in our body. We no longer will be able to perform at our optimum best, and we will endure what is called oxidative stress. Our bodies will lose their ability to moderate their internal temperature, and our brains can begin to reduce their performance level. The danger that lurks is that one can be utterly unaware that they are dehydrated until it is too late. 

Little did I know that hydration is not just the act of drinking water alone. 

The stomach is primarily a processing station. However, it can absorb a few elements, one of them being water. A little lesson of osmosis must spring up. The osmosis principle demonstrates a solvent’s movement through a semi-permeable membrane from a region of lower concentration to a higher concentration. 

Water flows within the body and acts as the medium to transport nutrients to different cells and, in exchange, get waste materials from the enclosure for the kidneys to process and finally pass it off as urine. The principle of osmosis applies here as the flow from one region to another is mediated. 

Therefore if one drinks just water, the necessary slats can get depleted. If you continue drinking water, it will only sit in the stomach without having the means to flow around. This can cause a sloshing experience for athletes and damage internal organs because water is not there to regulate the nutrients. 

Hence it is therefore essential to have water with essential mineral ions like Sodium. But for Sodium to be absorbed well, sugars are needed. Thus this calls for a balance required to avoid a water fiasco.

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