We're a little crazy, about science!

No pain, no [weight] gain?!


Pain is… well a pain. As it turns out pain does more than just hurt. A study just released shows that chronic pain not only lowers life expectancy, but can also slow the metabolism.

“We think that blocking this pain receptor and pathway could be very, very useful not only for relieving pain, but for improving lifespan and metabolic health, and in particular for treating diabetes and obesity in humans,” said Andrew Dillin, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and senior author of a new paper describing these results. “As humans age they report a higher incidence of pain, suggesting that pain might drive the aging process.”

For those of you who keep up with such things– and who wouldn’t let’s face it, science is awesome!– researchers have already shown that a diet high in capsaicin [a compound found in spicy food] will reduce the risk of diabetes and metabolic issues.

That is because capsaicin is known to activate that very pain receptor pathway, known as TRPV1 [or transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1]. Constant activation of the receptor on a nerve cell results in death of the neuron, mimicking loss of TRPV1, which could explain why diets rich in capsaicin have the effect that they do.

More relevant therapeutically, however, is an anti-migraine drug already on the market that inhibits a protein called CGRP that is triggered by TRPV1, producing an effect similar to that caused by blocking TRPV1. This study showed that giving this drug to older mice restored their metabolic health to that of younger mice.

“Our findings suggest that pharmacological manipulation of TRPV1 and CGRP may improve metabolic health and longevity,” said Dillin, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Distinguished Chair in Stem Cell Research. “Alternatively, chronic ingestion of compounds that affect TRPV1 might help prevent metabolic decline with age and lead to increased longevity in humans.”

So cutting right to the point, TRPV1 is a receptor found in the skin, nerves and joints that reacts to extremely high temperatures and other painful stimuli. The receptor is also found in nerve fibers that contact the pancreas, where it stimulates the release of substances that cause inflammation or, like CGRP [calcitonin gene-related peptide], prevent insulin release. Insulin promotes the uptake of sugar from the blood and storage in the body’s tissue, including fat.

Why this is cool!

Genetically modified mice that lack the TRPV1 receptor have been shown to live 14% longer than mice with the receptor. Or in human terms, if the average life expectancy is 80 years old, this would bump it up to over 91 years old. Not only that, the average metabolic health would be increased as well, possibly eliminating aging related issues like type 2 diabetes or even obesity.

It’s so promising that UC Berkeley and The Salk Institute filed a patent for the technology as of May 16. Future studies will ideally involve people and that  anti-migraine drug I mentioned earlier.

Because I love you guys so much, I tried to hunt down exactly what drug they were talking about. The closest thing I could get to an answer was the class of CGRP receptor antagonists, not the exact medication, sorry guys and gals.

Wrote a book on the transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1? You probably want the full study —here!

Huising R.C.E. (2014). TRPV1 Pain Receptors Regulate Longevity and Metabolism by Neuropeptide Signaling, Cell, 157 (5) 1023-1036. DOI:

2 responses

  1. Interesting. I struggle with migraine, and moderate weight gain. After finding a good neurologist, I am only recently controlling the migraines, with Amitriptyline as a preventative and two different triptans as a treatment for attacks. This abstract mentions another class of drugs with the same efficacy as triptans….at least that’s what I’m reading? I’m going to have to keep an eye on this research 🙂 The triptans have saved my sanity this year, but the weight I gained over the last few years isn’t shifting yet…


    May 23, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    • Well it’s unfortunate, but weight coming off always takes a little longer than weight going on. It’s good to hear that you got the migraines under control. That can be a life changer on it’s own depending on how bad they were.

      You are correct about the abstract I linked to, they are suggesting the same medication type that is used in the study, a CGRP receptor antagonist is just as good at controlling migraines [specifically the gepants class. The problem is I cannot find a single one that is used right now for prescription since they are all still being researched.


      May 24, 2014 at 11:11 am

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