Key compounds in over-the-counter fish oil supplements have been found to ease chronic pain, potentially offering a healthier non-narcotic alternative to dangerous and addictive prescription painkillers.
In a new report published online in the Annals of Neurology, Duke University scientists said they have discovered that derivatives of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) — a main ingredient of in fish oil capsules — can sooth and prevent neuropathic pain caused by injuries to the sensory system.
The compounds are bioactive fatty acids produced by cells and are present in human white blood cells.
"These compounds are derived from omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, but are 1,000 times more potent than their precursors in reducing inflammation," said lead researcher Ru-Rong Ji, professor of anesthesiology and neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center and principal investigator of the study.
The team tested the compounds on laboratory mice with nerve injuries and found they not only alleviated the pain, but also reduced nerve swelling following the injuries. The compounds' analgesic effects stem from their ability to block inflammation so the injured animals feel less pain.
"Chronic pain resulting from major medical procedures such as amputation, chest, and breast surgery is a serious problem," Ji said. "We hope to test this compound in clinical trials. DHA is very inexpensive …The ultimate goal is to develop a safer approach to managing chronic pain."
The research was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
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