Less pain with fish oil
Performing at high level is a painful business, so athletes, gurus and scientists are always on the lookout for substances that can help enhance performance by reducing pain. Japanese researchers discovered one that you can buy in almost every supermarket: old-fashioned fish oil capsules.
Heard of the Animal Liberation Front? The terrorist organisation that carries out attacks on buildings and people that do experiments using animals? We're not a member. Animal tests are awful, but diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's are worse. If animal tests can help to control cancer, and there are no alternatives, then researchers should definitely do them. That's our opinion.
Pain & DHA
Nevertheless, in the biomedical literature, which we at Ergo-Log regard as our playground, you come across experiments which make you wonder if they really were necessary. Like the animal tests done at Kobe Gakuin University that this article is about. The researchers gave mice an oral dose of 5, 15 or 25 mmoles per kg bodyweight of the fish fatty acid DHA. The mice in the control group were given nothing.
Thirty minutes after administering the fish oil they gave the mice pain stimuli. The exposed the tails of the mice to heat and monitored how long it took before the animals pulled their tail away from the heat source. The more DHA the mice had been given, the longer it was before they withdrew their tails, as the first figure below shows. So DHA reduces pain sensation. The effect disappeared when the researchers gave the DHA mice naloxone [NLX]. Naloxone blocks the effect of painkilling opiates and endorphins.
In a second experiment the researchers injected acetic acid/vinegar into the mice's digestive tract and measured how often the animals writhed from the pain. Again, DHA reduced the pain, and once again naloxone blocked the painkilling effect of the fish oil.
In the third experiment the researchers injected formalin into one hind paw of the mice, and then counted how many times the animals chewed on the spot where the injection had been given, licked their paw or shook it. As you can see in the figures above, DHA reduces the intensity of the pain, and naloxone once again reduced the painkilling effect of the fish oil.
During physical exertion the body produces endorphins. These reduce the sensation of pain, and also play a role that we don't yet completely understand in the positive effects of physical exertion on the immune system and recovery. It seems that fish-oil supplements help endorphins to do their job better. How that works, the Japanese did not go into, but the message for athletes is clear: fish oil supplementation raises your pain threshold.
Biol Pharm Bull. 2010;33(6):1070-2.
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