Tarantula Venom May Help Manage IBS Pain, New Study Finds

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Woman with Stomach Pain

Unless you're reading Charlotte's Web (and subsequently weeping), it can be hard to feel much favor toward spiders. But a new study published in the journal Pain may encourage people living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to develop a newfound appreciation for the eight-legged creatures. 

According to the research, conducted by the University of Queensland, a specific kind of tarantula venom may help manage the pain of gastrointestinal disorders like IBS. We understand that this idea may take some getting used to (we're still processing it ourselves), but for the scientists, the results were 15 years in the making. 

Over the course of that time, researchers analyzed potential medicinal benefits of different types of spiders. In terms of managing pain, the most promising benefits came from the venom of the Venezuela Pinkfoot Goliath tarantula (Theraphosa apophysis). You know, just the largest known spider in the world.

So how does it work?

To break it down: Internal organs are made up of a network of sensory nerves, and each of those nerves contains a channel or receptor that detects stimuli, lead researcher Richard Lewis, Ph.D., explains in a news release. "The hypersensitivity of these nerves in disease often contributes to the development of pain," he says. 

In an IBS model, the tarantula venom was able to inhibit ion channels (aka pain-triggering receptors) from opening. There were two specific peptides within the venom that elicited this reaction. One, in particular, was able to lower the sensitivity of the nerves in the bladder and the colon, which can help manage gastrointestinal pain. 

"All pains are complex, but gut pain is particularly challenging to treat and affects around 20% of the world's population," Lewis says. He conducted this research in hopes of finding a treatment, and he got one step closer.

"We now have a really strong understanding of the structure and function of these spider venom peptides," he says. "The highly selective ones have potential as treatments for pain, while others are useful as new research tools to allow us to understand the underlying drivers of pain in different diseases."

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So should we be looking for spider venom at the drugstore?

Not just yet. While the findings are promising, these studies were conducted on mice and have yet to be tested on humans. Spider venom (like bee venom) can stimulate an anaphylaxis response in some people and, therefore, should only be taken in a controlled environment, prescribed by a medical professional. Taking it in any other circumstance has the potential to be deadly.

So while science may be heading in the direction of spider-venom treatment, it's not far enough along to recommend it safely. You can rest easy for now, arachnophobes.

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