Aspartate and the Pain You Feel

Aspartate (Asp) is one of about 500 different amino acids

Amino acids are the basic building blocks that are assembled in different combinations to form different proteins. Your body uses these proteins to form the many different tissues such as your skin, muscle, and nerve tissue.






Aspartate is a Non-Essential Amino Acid

Asp is one of the many amino acids found in your body. It is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that your body can synthesize aspartate when it needs it. There are nine essential amino acids that you need to take in as food because your body cannot make them from other elements.

Because it is an amino acid Asp is found throughout your body as a building block in many different tissues including your nerves, liver and muscles.

Used by Body Builders to Increase Muscle Mass

Various forms of Asp are taken as supplements by body builders to build muscle. It is also found in animal protein such as meat, chicken and fish. Non-animal aspartate is available in nuts (walnuts or almonds), seeds (sunflower or pumpkin), and legumes (beans or lentils).

Asp is also a neurotransmitter.

As a neurostransmitter Asp is excitatory (increasing the nerve signal).

Blocking its receptors will tend to decrease your perception of pain. 


Neurotransmitters are small molecules that transmit the nerve signal between nerves.

Some are inhibitory and will suppress the signal and suppress your pain.

Others are excitatory and will sharpen and quicken the signal increasing your pain.

Image thanks to Rhoda Baer via Wikimedia Commons


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Special pain receptors called N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) are stimulated by Asp when you feel neuropathic pain such as diabetic neuropathy and complex regional pain syndrome.

These receptors have been identified centrally in the brain. Medications such as ketamine and dextromethorphan are thought to have their anesthetic affect by blocking these receptors and preventing their activation by Asp. 

Finding ways to Block Neuropathic Pain

Identifying peripheral receptors and finding a way to block them may lead to more effective treatments for neuropathic pain. This would include conditions like trigeminal neuralgia, phantom limb pain, diabetic neuropathy, shingles and post herpetic neuralgia, among many others.

Recent research is beginning to identify NMDAR receptors in peripheral nerves at the nerve endings in your skin and scientists are studying different drugs that may be able to reduce pain by blocking these receptors and preventing their activation by Asp.

How frequently neuropathic pain occurs in the general population is not known. Some researchers think that it is underdiagnosed and undertreated. They estimate that annually 1% of the general population will experience some type of neuropathic pain.

Making Progress but Not Yet Available

At the present time there are no medications available for the treatment of chronic pain that work in this way. However it is an interesting area that shows promise for the future treatment of neuropathic pain and research is continuing. 

You can read more about the latest research at The Journal of Psychopharmacology.



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