Prostaglandins. I always thought that word sounded a bit rude – and they were in fact first isolated from semen in the 1930s by a Swedish scientist – but it turns out that these are hormone-like chemicals that play a central role in our lives. Anyone who’s ever been in pain will experience their effects. Sprain an ankle or get a knot in your shoulder and you’ll know all about them.
Prostaglandins are also central to the role played by anti-inflammatories like Voltaren. NSAIDS or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( a class which also includes Ibuprofen and Aspirin) work by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins. When tissue is injured, prostaglandins not only cause it to swell, they also amplify the electrical signal sent out by the nerves. So they increase the level of pain you feel.
Anti-inflammatories block the effect of Cox-1 and Cox-2 inhibitors, special enzymes which go into making prostaglandins. Fewer enzymes, fewer prostaglandins, less pain.
As with anything in a complex system like the human body, prostaglandins have more than one role. One type of prostaglandin also protects the lining of the stomach, which is why it’s recommended that you take NSAIDs with food. Certain newer NSAIDs were designed to avoid this, but it was found that they increased the risk of heart attacks, so were taken off the market after a huge scandal in the early 2000s.
The ingredient in Voltaren is Diclofenac, which was first developed in 1973 and is commonly used to treat musculoskeletal pain, migraines and period pains. By way of comparison, Ibuprofen was developed in the 1960s, while Aspirin has been around since 1897.
I’ve used all three for years, and I’ve only got around to learning about how they actually physically work in the body now – and finally understood why it’s so important to take any NSAID with food (because not all prostaglandins are bad prostaglandins).