A neuroscientist and some grape skins vs. the pharmaceutical industry.

A brief primer on a tarnished miracle cure

In late 2017, NPR aired a two-minute segment on the science behind our new pain cream. It became such a popular segment that it left our customers hungry for more detail. So by popular demand and for the first time ever, here’s part 2 of an 11-part story on the discovery and creation of Ted’s Pain Cream. To read from the beginning, click here.

If you’ve heard of resveratrol before, you likely know it for its alleged heart-health or anti-aging properties. Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant, and became big years ago in the health food supplement scene as a miracle age-defying treatment. Sadly, the claims of its purveyors didn’t appear to hold up, and resveratrol’s reputation had been on a steady decline – at least in the evidence-based world of the scientific community.

But that was before Ted and Greg came along. Their peer-reviewed research suggested that resveratrol, when used to fight pain instead of aging, and when applied topically instead of taken orally, might be truly special. Once-in-a-generation special.

To understand why, we need to go into the high-energy, glamor-oozing world of topical pain treatments.

The most stagnant aisle at the pharmacy

All things being equal, a topical pain treatment should really be everyone’s first choice for dealing with serious pain. No need to take a pill, no need to send a drug where it’s not needed, no risk of addiction or overdose. You apply where it hurts, and that’s it. It just makes sense. The problem is that all things are not actually equal. Why not?

If you’ve used a topical before, you already know the answer. Sadly, topicals just don’t work that well.

And the reason they don’t work that well? On that question, science has something to say. For as long as there have been drug stores, there have been only two ways of treating pain topically: either numb it, or distract from it. That’s it. In the “numb it” camp we have the lidocaines and benzocaines. In the “distract from it” camp we have, surprisingly, most of the big enduring brands, most of which use various mixtures of menthol or capsaicin.

Dr. Greg DussorNumbing is a less than ideal strategy for obvious reasons: one, it only works as long as you happen to have fresh medicine on your skin; and two, you numb the whole region of all sensation, whether it’s pain or heat or cold or pressure – valuable information without which you risk greater injury. This strategy is especially dangerous for athletes, who need to know when to listen to important pain and protect injuries while they heal.

Distraction is the other strategy. It may be less dangerous as a strategy for dealing with pain, but it’s also less effective. “Cool” and “heat” treatments (menthol and capsaicin) fall into this camp, and they’re essentially counterirritants. They trigger a low-level irritation which fills the nerve pathways, so you are a little less aware of the pain for a while. Not exactly state-of-the-art thinking. People in real chronic pain don’t need to be told that if either of those strategies were good long-term solutions, then the Chronic Pain Crisis may have been averted. To say nothing of the Opioid Crisis.

 

The true enemy: false pain   Next >

 

 

Ted's Brain Science