Wasabi Provides Link Between Ammonia and Pain

Wasabi, the spicy Japanese horseradish often accompanying sushi, might also provide a link to a poorly understood pain mechanism. In fact, eating too much wasabi can result in legitimate receptor-induced pain, according to a recent finding.

According to Japanese researchers, the “hotness” felt when eating wasabi is associated with a specific receptor, a fact that was already commonly understood. But surprisingly, this same hot-wasabi receptor (specifically referred to as “transient receptor potential (TRP) A1 receptor”) was observed to “sense alkaline pH,” which results in pain from strong bases (high pH), such as ammonia. The study was conducted to TRPA1 containing (normal) mice, and those lacking the receptor, and the results overwhelmingly showed that when a strong base was administered, “transient pain-related behaviors” resulted.

It’s been common knowledge that bases induce pain for some time, but the specific mechanism by which this occurs has been unknown. This study might provide the key, through wasabi, to how this occurs. Professor Makoto Tominaga says that his research provides “the first report showing molecular entity for the alkali-sensor. You could feel pain when you eat too much WASABI with Japanese Sushi. We found that this pain sensation is the same with that caused by ammonia.”

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Tominaga, Makoto. Journal of Clinical Investigation news release. November 2008.