A QUEST to understand the biology of pain and explore more effective ways of managing chronic pain explored in the latest issue of a magazine.

The January 2020 issue of National Geographic Magazine, which goes on sale tomorrow (Wednesday, January 8), reveals how researchers are making significant strides in understanding the roles of specific genes that help explain why the perception and tolerance of pain vary so widely.

The feature explains how the pain transmission system can become hypersensitive in the wake of an injury, but that it also “can go haywire on its own or stay in a sensitized state well after an injury has healed”.

This pain is not a symptom; it’s a disease – one caused by a malfunctioning nervous system.

With this in mind, the issue talks to neurobiologist Clifford Woolf who stresses the need for chronic pain to be medically accepted as a condition, rather than a symptom.

Explaining Woolf’s findings, National Geographic contributor Yudhijit Bhattacharjee says: “Pain, it turns out, is a complex, subjective

phenomenon that is shaped by the particular brain that’s experiencing it.

“How pain signals are ultimately translated into painful sensations can be influenced by a person’s emotional state.”

This month’s issue also features physician Zoanne Clack and her exploration into the chronic pain of women, and in particular, how this is often disregarded or too quickly dismissed.

She refers to her findings as a global phenomenon, researching the burden that women take on to look after children, parents, partners and other loved ones, adding: “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says the world’s women spend more than 1.1 trillion hours a year on unpaid care of children and the elderly. Men spend about a third as much.”

Zoanne is also an executive producer on the ABC series Grey’s Anatomy where she advises all medical aspects of the show, and strives to portray the reality of the medicine world.

She researches the gender bias problem in medicine, and also how women are treated as patients, explaining that “when women—and especially women of color—raise concerns about their health and demand they be investigated, they are much likelier than men to be brushed aside, not believed, even mocked into silence by health-care professionals.”

This issue of National Geographic Magazine also explores the diets of the residents of the planet’s ‘Blue Zones’, who have the longest lifespans in the world, from Sardinia to Okinawa.

It also includes a striking gallery of colourful images by molecular biologist Martin Oeggerli, which showcases the trillions of microbes that call our bodies home, and explores how in the future, machines could be programmed to assist and comfort the elderly—and help meet the escalating demand for caregivers.

For more details on these storues, visit www.nationalgeographic.co.uk