COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Antioxidant-based pain killers may one day become a viable alternative to addictive medications such as morphine.
Researchers found that synthetic antioxidants practically eradicated pain-like behavior in nearly three-quarters of mice with inflamed hind paws.
"When it comes to pain killers, there aren't many choices between over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin and prescription opiates like morphine," said Robert Stephens, a professor of physiology and cell biology at Ohio State University. He's the lead author of a study examining the effects of antioxidants as pain killers.
"We need drugs that fall somewhere between these two extremes," Stephens said. "Someone suffering from chronic pain can become dependent on, or even addicted to, heavy-duty pain killers like morphine."
The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Behavioural Brain Research.
Chronic pain is such a formidable problem that, in 2000, Congress passed a bill designating January 1, 2001 as the beginning of the "Decade of Pain Control and Research."
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, substances that damage cells. While our bodies constantly produce free radicals, healthy tissues inactivate these damaging substances and keep their levels in check. It's when free-radical production somehow exceeds the body's natural defenses that problems occur. Researchers have linked this excessive production to diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's.
A handful of studies published in the last 10 years suggest that free radicals may also contribute to chronic pain. Left unchecked, free radicals build up in the body and can further damage already-injured tissue.
An equally small number of studies, including those by Stephens, suggest that antioxidants may fight chronic pain by helping the body to break down free radicals.