We all know that aging brings with it many aches and pains. Studies have also shown that those with chronic pain live shorter lives. You would probably guess that’s because most people with chronic pain have health issues, not because pain itself shortens people’s lives.
But a new study by the University of California, Berkeley begs to differ. The study looked at two groups of mice-- a control group, and a group genetically engineered to lack TRPV1-- a pain receptor shared by both mice and humans. Those without the pain receptor lived an average of 115 days longer than those who had it. Not only that, the mice without the receptor also had much faster metabolisms and exercised more, even when given a high fat diet.
Why would a pain receptor affect metabolism? Every time TRPV1 is triggered by pain, it releases Calcitronin Gene-Related Peptide (CGRP), a protein that stops a creature’s pancreas from releasing enough insulin. This lack of insulin causes metabolic problems. But the mice without TRPV1 get all the insulin they need, and therefore have stronger metabolisms. Plus, the lack of pain may cause them to exercise more, since they don’t have to deal with sore muscles.
So the takeaway for humans is we should get rid of our TRPV1 receptors, right? Wrong. Scientists have tried this before and found that not only did it remove the subjects’ pain (which, let’s keep in mind, though annoying does actually serve a useful purpose), it also stopped the subjects from being able to regulate their own body temperature. Many developed hypothermia.
However, there’s still hope we can use this information to our advantage. Several drugs are currently being developed that target CGRP. Only time and several experiments will tell whether these new treatments will be able to speed up our metabolism and slow down our aging.