Chili Peppers May Save The Day

Scientists have known for awhile that a natural chemical named capsaicin is responsible for the heat of chili peppers. Capsaicin has the ability to bind to receptors contained within the cells that line the inside of your mouth. The result is that familiar burning sensation of which some people can't get enough.

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Researchers at San Antonio's University of Texas (UT) are grateful to the chili pepper for helping them find a way to stem pain at its source. This finding promises hope to people all over the world who suffer from chronic pain. A report of these discoveries has been published in the April 26, 2010 Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Stopped Cold

The UT researchers found that something resembling capsaicin exists at points of pain within the body. They then saw that if they blocked the production of this substance, the pain too, was stopped cold. These capsaicin-resembling molecules trigger the pain receptor known as transient potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1). TRPV1 pain neurons are activated in response to trauma. Eating a chili pepper will also activate these TRPV1 pain receptors.

When scientists eliminated the gene for these pain receptors in mice, the mice no longer showed sensitivity to the capsaicin-resembling substance. The researchers also found that as pain is experienced, the body responds by producing something much like capsaicin. This substance is a mishmash of several fatty acids that combine to create oxidized linoleic acid metabolites (OLAMs).

Dr. Kenneth Hargreaves, lead researcher on the project said, "This is a major breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of pain and how to most effectively treat it." Hargreaves is a professor who chairs the Department of Endontics Dental School at the UT Health Science Center. "These data demonstrates, for the first time that OLAMs constitute a new family of naturally occurring capsaicin-like agents, and may explain the role of these substances in many pain conditions."

New Treatments

Hargreaves says that this hypothesis suggests the idea that blocking activity or the production of such substances may be the way toward finding new ways of treating a variety of pain disorders and inflammatory diseases.

The Texas team has already managed to devise two separate drugs that can either block or inactivate the OLAMs. They now hope to find a suitable way of administering these drugs as a topical or oral drug, or as an injection. Such a treatment method may prove invaluable for those who suffer from the chronic pain of fibromyalgia or cancer.

Experts believe that 50 million Americans are forced to live with chronic pain. A study performed in 2000 showed that 36 million Americans had lost work time because of chronic pain. This new finding should lead to non-addictive treatments that can target pain at its source as opposed to conventional pain meds which must travel all the way to the nervous system and the brain.

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