Michael Pearce, Immunotec Consultant

When Fighting Pain, Being Inhibited Is Not a Bad Thing

Written By: Robin - Apr• 20•10

shoulder painWhen pain from arthritis and gout strikes the body, most people don’t care how their medicine works, as long as it does work. What many pain sufferers take for granted is the complex chemical process that allows their pain medication to work. It’s the same chemistry that is making tart cherries the preferred “medication” for a booming generation of pain sufferers.

Drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They work by inhibiting two enzymes, cyclooxygenase I and II (popularly known as COX 1 and COX 2), which are produced by the body as a response to pain. NSAIDs prevent chemical messages from binding to cyclooxygenase. The normal messages are not delivered, so the body does not feel the pain and doesn’t become inflammed (1).

Unfortunately, many patients must take pain medication daily, which can cause numerous side effects, including upset stomachs, vomiting, kidney damage and, possibly, ulcers. This is because NSAIDs inhibit both COX 1 and COX 2, but the COX 1 enzyme is also important for maintaining normal cell function within several organs (2).

Tart cherries contain flavonoid compounds that function in the same manner as NSAIDs and can inhibit both COX enzymes. However, research also shows that flavonoids can protect against stomach damage, unlike their NSAID counterparts (3). It is suspected that the high levels of antioxidants found in cherries, particularly melatonin, provide a protective function and prevent unwanted symptoms. This makes concentrated cherry products superior to over-the-counter pain relief because cherries block pain in the same manner and reduce potential side-effects (4).

(1) H. M. Berman, et al, “The Protein Data Bank,” Nucleic Acids Research, 28, 2000: 235-242.
(2) Perazella, Mark A., “COX-2 Inhibitors and the Kidney,” Hospital Practice, September 15, 2001.
(3) Blank, M.A., et al, “flavonoid-induced gastroprotection in rats: Role of blood flow and leukocyte adherence,” Digestion, 58 1997: 147-154.
(4) Wang, Haibo, “Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory Compounds in tart Cherries,” doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 1998.

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