What The New Study Says About The Gender Pain Gap
The researchers took on a known issue in pain medication: the fact that women often don’t respond with the same success to opioid pain medication as men. The reason for this pain discrepancy, the scientists theorized, might be in the brain’s microglia, a central part of its immune system.
Microglia seem to be an integral part of a healthy brain’s functioning. They’re the central nervous system’s primary line of defense against problems, and when they detect an issue, they “activate” to destroy potential threats, remove damaged cells, and manage the brain’s inflammatory response to trouble. They can also, however, be seriously destructive. “It is widely accepted,” one research paper from 2013 notes, “that microglial-mediated inflammation contributes to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.” While the microglial system is the brain’s army, it can also turn on itself and create havoc, which is why the scientific method behind this study is so important: you can actually turn microglia off.
By fiddling with the brain’s signaling system, they can simply be made inactive, and it doesn’t seem to have terrible after-effects for neural health or success. Previously this has been a focus for helping people with the beginnings of neurodegenerative disease (soon, dementia sufferers may go to get their microglia knocked out as part of normal treatment, which would be a weird day at the hospital), but this new research indicates it’s got something else to do: give a gendered response to pain. Continue…