French researchers have discovered a breakthrough painkiller — and it’s been lurking in an unexpected place within our own bodies this whole time.
Pain: it’s a widespread problem, with many sources. It’s really just the body’s way of signaling that there is something wrong — most often some kind of tissue damage — and that it should take action and remove itself from the dangerous situation.
There are two major types of pain: acute and chronic. The acute form is characterized by a brief, sometimes intense burst of pain, usually localized to a specific area. Acute pain can spread out and often becomes more of an ache, but it typically does not last very long. Some examples include injuries such as cuts, broken bones, burns, headache, earache, muscle strain, heart attack, etc.
The chronic form is the kind of pain that lasts longer than it should — meaning that the event or object triggering the pain response is long gone and the pain response is no longer useful in helping the body avoid damage. Some examples of chronic pain include hernia, ulcers, cancer- related pain, certain types of back pain, arthritis, lupus, nerve pain, etc.
We’ve all experienced pain at some point and far too many of us have to deal with chronic pain on a daily basis. Painkilling treatments do exist, but more effective, less risky alternatives are always being sought out. This constant search is what has led to the latest discovery.
The French researchers first discovered a molecule in rats that could block pain. When they checked out humans to see if they had a similar molecule, they found a potent pain inhibitor that they named “opiorphin.” Where exactly did they find this stuff? In people’s saliva!
So, the researchers wanted to test out this painkiller to see just how effective it was. In tests involving rats, it was found that one milligram of opiorphin per kilogram of body weight had the same pain-blocking effect as three to six milligrams of morphine per kilogram of body weight did. Moreover, the newfound pain-inhibiting molecule worked against different types of pain, including forms of both chronic and acute pain. The theory on how it works goes like this: opiorphin could prevent the inactivation of “enkephalins,” which are natural painkillers (i.e. opiates) that exist in the human body.
There are several reasons why this “new” pain blocker is considered important. First of all, as mentioned, it has several times the power of morphine when it comes to suppressing pain. Second, since it occurs naturally in the body, it is used quickly and easily. Third, since it is a natural substance, it shouldn’t have the side effects that morphine does.
Negative effects of morphine include drowsiness, difficulty sleeping, hallucinations, vision problems, constipation, and the impairment of mental function, in addition to the drug being extremely addictive, of course. Plus, the researchers believe that opiorphin is more powerful and longer lasting than the only other natural painkiller that is in human body — endorphins. They also think that it has the potential to work for more different types of pain as well.
Now that researchers have discovered this potential pain blocker in our saliva, they need to figure out if it exists in other areas of the body and where it comes from — the brain, blood, a specific organ, etc. They also need to see how opiorphin interacts with the body’s other natural painkillers (i.e. endorphins). The scientists also plan to work with opiorphin to create and study variations of the molecule — basically, to see if it can be synthesized and improved for future medical applications.