Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Hydrogen Sulfide May Reduce Inflammation in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Hydrogen sulfide is a potentially deadly gas in the environment. It often smells like rotten eggs and is both flammable and explosive. However, a very small quantity of hydrogen sulfide is produced inside our body, where it has important functions, including reducing inflammation.

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School have discovered that the level of hydrogen sulfide is up to four times higher in knees affected by rheumatoid arthritis than in normal knees. This increase is strongly correlated with a decrease in the number of inflammatory cells in the knee. The researchers say that instead of causing the inflammation in the knee the hydrogen sulfide is actually reducing it. They've done further research to confirm their belief that hydrogen sulfide reduces inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis.

Hydrogen sulfide gas in the environment often smells like rotten eggs.
Photo by anon at morguefile.com

It's helpful to know a little about rheumatoid arthritis in order to understand how hydrogen sulfide may help the condition.

Our immune system normally protects our body from infection and attacks invading bacteria and viruses. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. In this type of disease, for some reason the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own cells.

When a joint is affected by rheumatoid arthritis, cells in the joint called B cells multiply too rapidly and secrete chemicals that promote inflammation.

Temporary inflammation is helpful when the body is under attack or is injured, but chronic inflammation is harmful. Swelling is part of the inflammatory response. The chronic inflammation and swelling in rheumatoid arthritis cause pain and slowly destroy the affected joint.

Researchers have found a donor molecule that slowly releases hydrogen sulfide. They believe that this donor molecule could be used as a medication. In lab experiments the hydrogen sulfide released by the donor molecule inhibits the secretions of the inflammatory chemicals produced in arthritic joints. It also inhibits the activity of several enzymes involved in the inflammation. The researchers say that hydrogen sulfide can't stop arthritis from developing but is very successful at reducing inflammation in in lab tests. Clinical tests are needed to see if it works in patients.

The team investigating the effects of hydrogen sulfide on arthritis have also found that people who are overweight or who have diabetes have a lower level of hydrogen sulfide in their body than healthy people. Both these conditions involve inflammation. In the future, medication that release hydrogen sulfide in a safe and effective concentration may help rheumatoid arthritis sufferers and other people with inflammatory diseases. It's strange that a gas which is so dangerous in the environment may be so useful in our body!