How ion channels affect your health

By • Published: May 18th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Ever wondered how ions flow in and out of your body’s cells? Unless you’re a scientist, a doctor or you’ve been in a chemistry class lately, the answer is: probably not.

But the journeys of these electrically charged particles in and out of your cells actually play a critical role in the workings of your body. And the channels that they travel through are the directors, controlling who gets in the show and who goes home… in turn, playing their own starring role in causing different health problems and diseases.

A malfunction in any one of these channels can wreak havoc, preventing ions from getting in or out at the right times. In fact, many scientists are working on treatments for conditions such as heart diseases, diabetes and chronic pain by finding ways to turn on or block these channels from letting certain ions pass through.

In late 2010, researchers from the University of Buffalo discovered how inflammatory signals can turn off a certain type of potassium ion channel in cells, causing a person to feel pain. The researchers think drugs to keep these channels intact and allow potassium ions to pass through could be a way to stop chronic pain.

In other cases, finding ways to block certain ion channels could lead to treatments, too. Scientists from the University of California at Riverside are using spider venom to try and develop a better understanding of ion channels and block calcium channels. Studies show preventing calcium ions from infiltrating your heart and blood vessels could help lower blood pressure and reduce chest pain.

You may not be able to get a tune-up for ion channels when they malfunction, but know scientists are working to keep your ions on the right path. This could make you and your little electrical particles happier and healthier.