Increasing Neuroplasticity to Bolster Chronic Pain Treatment: A Role for Intermittent Fasting and Glucose Administration?

J Pain. 2016 Mar;17(3):275-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2015.11.002. Epub 2016 Feb 2.


Neuroplastic changes in brain structure and function are not only a consequence of chronic pain but are involved in the maintenance of pain symptoms. Thus, promotion of adaptive, treatment-responsive neuroplasticity represents a promising clinical target. Emerging evidence about the human brain's response to an array of behavioral and environmental interventions may assist in identifying targets to facilitate increased neurobiological receptivity, promoting healthy neuroplastic changes. Specifically, strategies to maximize neuroplastic responsiveness to chronic pain treatment could enhance treatment gains by optimization of learning and positive central nervous system adaptation. Periods of heightened plasticity have been traditionally identified with the early years of development. More recent research, however, has identified a wide spectrum of methods that can be used to "reopen" and enhance plasticity and learning in adults. In addition to transcranial direct current stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation, behavioral and pharmacological interventions have been investigated. Intermittent fasting and glucose administration are two propitious strategies, that are noninvasive, inexpensive to administer, implementable in numerous settings, and might be applicable across differing chronic pain treatments. Key findings and neurophysiological mechanisms are summarized, and evidence for the potential clinical contributions of these two strategies toward ameliorating chronic pain is presented.

Perspective: Neuroplastic changes are a defining feature of chronic pain and a complicating factor in treatment. Noninvasive strategies to optimize the brain's response to treatment interventions might improve learning and memory, increase the positive adaptability of the central nervous system, and enhance treatment outcomes.

Keywords: Chronic pain treatment; glucose supplementation; intermittent fasting; neuroplasticity; noninvasive interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / administration & dosage*
  • Animals
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Fasting / physiology*
  • Glucose / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Pain Management / methods


  • Analgesics
  • Glucose