Apparently, for rats, food and water acts almost like a drug, and the act of eating or drinking can grant them a higher tolerance to pain (and it's supposed, other externals not yet tested for).
The implications of this are huge. The article touches on what this probably means for people, and goes a long way toward explaining the problems some people have with eating until whatever is in front of them is finished. Our compulsion to overeat. (You know, like that bag of chips you sat down with in front of the television, and now it's gone? Or that carton of ice cream you JUST opened, but somehow is already half gone?) But, if it's also true that just plain water accomplishes the same state of higher tolerance to pain+ (Yes, pain+, no that is not a typo) then it could also mean we can take extra unnecessary sugar out of our habits, replace it with water, and have the same result. The article talks about substituting lollipops at the doctor's office with a cup of water instead, for kids.
Of course, this all rides on the supposition that the same applies to humans. Just because a rat calms down and stops responding to uncomfortable heat stimuli when it's sipping some water down, does not necessarily mean that it will be the same for a person. For starters, we're going to notice that someone yanked our sugary treat in favor of bland water, and while I personally don't understand how it's possible, there are some people out there who don't like the way water tastes. And don't like to drink it. (Maybe someone should do a study about that, because last time I checked, water was necessary to our survival. It seems to me people who didn't like drinking water should have been weeded out a long time ago on the evolutionary tree.)
All that aside, it's kind of fascinating. I mean, it's a known fact that humans can and do reach for food-as-comfort. Could this explain some of that impulse? Are we, essentially, drugging ourselves? Food-as-prozac or water-as-placebo-aspirin? What if the only thing we really need to do to relieve minor pain and ailments is have a glass of water, rather than popping ibuprofen or Tylenol? Somehow I don't think the pharmaceuticals will ever get behind research that suggests it, but man, how awesome would it be if we didn't really need those artificial drugs? If water could serve the same purpose?
Possibly I'm taking things to an extreme which isn't at all supported by the article, but I think that it's certainly something worth taking into consideration. Maybe we should all do a home experiment, and the next time we feel a headache coming on, pour ourselves a tall glass of water, sit down with it in our favorite chair, and take some nice slow sips.
Feel free to report back with your results. I'll be waiting!