Scorpions are the stuff of nightmares for some people, but they might be able to do more good than you’d think. One of the compounds found in scorpion venom could help treat one of the most common and painful conditions in the country: rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the joints–especially the fingers, wrists, and knees. This can cause pain, inflammation, and difficulty moving the joints.
In a new study, researchers discovered that venom from the Buthus tamulus scorpion (also known as the Indian red scorpion) can reduce the severity of the disease. In some cases, it can even reverse the symptoms entirely.
While this venom might be deadly in its raw form, the compounds derived from it could stop the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and lead to a better way of life for over a million Americans.
Want to know more about how this venom could help you? Let’s get into how it works.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
It’s estimated that about 1.5 million people in the U.S. are living with rheumatoid arthritis. The condition is especially common among women and the elderly community.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system targets your joints. It affects joints on both sides of the body–like both hands, both wrists, or both knees. This sets it apart from other types of arthritis.
It’s a chronic disease with the main symptoms of inflammation or pain. These symptoms can occur in short bursts of intensity known as flares. Other periods are known as remission, where symptoms may appear to be less severe or even dissipate entirely.
Here are some common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis:
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Joint stiffness
- Difficulty moving joints
- Physical deformity
- The sensation of pins and needles
How Can Scorpion Venom Help?
Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by cells called fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS). As these cells move from joint to joint, they release compounds that can damage the lining of the joints. This leads to swelling, inflammation, and pain.
Once arthritis starts to progress to a more severe stage, the joints may become enlarged and hard to move. This long-term damage can prevent individuals from working or going about their day to day life without assistance.
The Indian red scorpion might seem like an unlikely species to help give you relief. It’s one of the deadliest animals in the world–its sting can kill a person in less than 72 hours.
But the secret of scorpion venom’s effectiveness lies in one special compound that can help combat the FLS cells: iberiotoxin. Here’s a little more about how it works–and what it could mean for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Iberiotoxin and Arthritis
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis come from a potassium channel on the membrane of the FLS cells. This potassium channel–called KCa1.1–is what causes the progression of the disease.
Potassium channels allow potassium ions to flow in and out of the cell. This is necessary for the cell to function.
For snakes and scorpions, venom is designed to block those channels and responses in order to paralyze or kill their prey. While each type of venom has a different effect, the Indian red scorpion’s venom specifically blocks the potassium channel of FLS cells and not the channels of other important cells.
Iberiotoxin, a key compound found in the venom of the Indian red scorpion, can block the potassium channel in FLS cells in order to stop the progression of arthritis.
In the study, researchers treated rodents with iberiotoxin to target the KCa1.1 channels, while keeping other cells safe. Not only did the scorpion venom compound stop the arthritis progression, but rodents also showed improvements in inflammation and mobility of the joints.
The study showed promising results for the future of rheumatoid arthritis treatment. Not only did it slow the progression of the disease in rodents, but it also showed potential to reverse the symptoms.
Even better, iberiotoxin didn’t lead to any adverse side effects in the rats. This is an improvement from other attempts at using potassium channel blockers–like paxilline, which caused tremors and difficulty urinating.
Because iberiotoxin affects only the potassium channel in the FLS and not the channels in other cells, scorpion venom is a perfect fit for arthritis treatment.
Although the results showed a lot of promise, it has yet to progress to human trials. While there are further studies needed, scorpion venom could open the door to more effective and safe treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.
So even though scorpion venom could be a future solution, there is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Once individuals start to experience a loss of mobility or are struggling to manage their pain, an assisted living community could help elderly sufferers with their day to day functions.
Finding Relief from Rheumatoid Arthritis
Scorpions might be the last thing you’d think of when it comes to relief from rheumatoid arthritis. But scorpion venom could be the first step towards an effective treatment for arthritis–so individuals suffering from arthritis can live their best lives.
There’s still a lot of important work to be done and the perfect treatment is yet to come. This study just leads to more opportunities for developing the right treatment and moving on to human trials.
You never know! Relief might be just around the corner–coming from one of the most deadly animals on the planet.
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