New research suggests a link between gut and sex pain tolerance

It is hoped that the finding of the APC study could lead to new forms of gender-specific pain treatment such as antibiotics and fasting.

New research indicates that specific bacteria in the gut microbiome may lead to differences in pain sensation between men and women.

The research is published by APC Microbiome Ireland, a research center of the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), based at University College Cork (UCC) and Teagasc.

While it has been established that several factors may play a role in sex differences with pain, the underlying factors are not yet fully understood.

The APC study of whether the critical signaling components of gut bacteria affect pain thresholds. The study also examined whether the menstrual cycle and use of hormonal contraceptives may also play a role in gender differences in pain perception.

In the new study, the APC researchers found that the pain tolerance threshold was significantly lower in women than in men. The research also suggests that the amount of certain bacteria was linked to pain sensation thresholds and stress hormone levels in women during a specific phase of the menstrual cycle.

In the study, women showed stronger associations than men between microbiota, stress hormones and inflammatory factors in blood and pain levels. The study also found that the use of hormonal contraceptives was associated with increased gut permeability markers in the blood and specific bacteria in the gut.

It is hoped that further research may lead to more effective, gender-specific pain treatments. Principal investigator Dr. Siobhain O’Mahony said the study is one of the first to highlight the possibility of “individual microbiota-targeted therapies.”

“Our research highlights the need to design innovative gender-specific interventions, perhaps for all disorders related to the gut microbiota.” O’Mahony said: “Our findings support the hypothesis that the gut microbiota may be one of the influencing factors that determine the physiological inter-sex differences in pain perception.

“We plan to continue this exciting research to unravel the molecular mechanisms by which specific sex hormones and gut microbes modulate pain signaling pathways,” O’Mahony said.

President of the College of Anesthesiologists at UCC, Prof. George Shorten, said the study’s findings are “new and exciting” because the associations could improve our understanding of pain states.

“The implication is that maintenance or manipulation of the gut microbiota could positively influence pain perception, providing new intervention targets,” Shorten said. “This may include prebiotic or probiotic administration, timing or choice of antibiotics, diet and fasting protocols for those undergoing surgery.”

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