“Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that is associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in such terms.” - International Association for the Study of Pain
Pain is often regarded as the worst enemy of mankind than death itself. The science behind pain should be known in order for us to treat it.
Simply put, when you have a painful stimuli, nociceptors or the pain receptors in the skin or the tissue will be stimulated. They will send impulses along the axons of the sensory neurons into the spinal cord. From there, another neuron will take this signal to the brain. Before going to the brain, this pain sensation is taken to the thalamus for processing. After that the processed information goes to the sensory cortex of the brain and you will feel pain. This is a very concise version of how you will feel pain. This pathway is called ascending pain pathway. There are also descending pathways that modify how you feel pain. The actual process is much more complex and involves many theories and is important in modulating pain and getting relief from it.
There are many types of pain. Acute pain is what is felt suddenly. For example, it is felt when you prick your thumb with a needle.
Chronic pain is felt long term. This is important because chronic pain leads to an independence of the pain happening. Analgesic drug abuse is commonly seen in this population. These patients often get lot of prescription, opioid drugs as well. With time, they become addicted to these drugs and it becomes hard to get over from them.
Prescription opioid abuse
In the recent years, opioid abuse has been a major issue in the United States and the world. According to an epidemiological survey in 2003, opioid analgesic drugs were found to be one of the most frequently abused drugs among secondary students. Alarmingly, there has been a great increase in the use of opioid medicines ever than before. This has paved the way for addiction and major social problems.
Long term use of prescription opioid drugs has been associated with addiction or abuse among 2.8–18.9% of patients according to research. Therefore we need effective alternative pain relief methods.
How does hydrogen relieve pain?
Molecular hydrogen has lot of amazing properties which makes it a useful medical therapy in many diseases. Scientists are currently researching its use for these disorders. One of the well known effects of hydrogen even before it was formally recognized was its ability to relieve pain. This is a very useful property and, in the future, can be used especially by chronic pain patients to relieve their suffering.
There are many studies regarding this pain-relieving property of hydrogen. Let us take a look at some of them in order to better understand the mechanisms behind it. Molecular hydrogen has anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptotic and anti-oxidant effects among many. Therefore, scientists thought hydrogen could alleviate pain which involves many cytokines and other inflammatory mediators. It is known that reactive oxygen and nitrogen species are key molecules that mediate pain.
In a study by Chen et al. in 2015, neuropathic pain was induced to a group of rats. Neuropathic pain is caused by injury to nerves and it is an excruciating and persistent pain that is difficult to treat. When the rats were injected with molecular hydrogen twice a day into the peritoneum, the pain was tested by the release of inflammatory cytokines. They found that hydrogen could inhibit the neuropathic pain by reducing hyperalgesia or hypersensitivity to pain. Hydrogen increased so called HO-1 mRNA and special protein expression. It improved activities in the process of pain. Scientists suggested that there is an anti-nociceptive effect for hydrogen in addition to anti-inflammatory effect.
In another study, hydrogen rich saline was administered intra thecally for neuropathic pain, wich was induced by L5 spinal nerve ligation in a rat model. The results were promising. The researchers found that hydrogen reversed the tyrosine-nitrated MnSOD overexpression (a kind of dismutase enzyme). They also found that the analgesic effect of hydrogen-rich normal saline was associated with reduced activation of astrocytes and microglia (special nerve cells) which was induced by overproduction of hydroxyl and peroxynitrite. There was also an attenuated expression of interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) in the spinal cord. Ge, Y., et al. hypothesized that the anti-oxidant property of hydrogen can be used as an analgesic.
Since the therapeutic effects of hydrogen were discovered only recently, there is still ongoing research to determine its efficacy. Although it has only been tested on rat models yet, many humans have already ingested molecular hydrogen to help them self. There are many testimonials on how hydrogen could alleviate various chronic aches and pains. Hydrogen is very important as it could be the next best pain reliever as it has no known side effects at recommended doses. Hydrogen has a promising future in defeating the opioid abuse culture and lead to effective, simple methods of pain relief without addictions.
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