Neanderthals were long thought to have been tough and not scared of anything, but according to a new study, they had a much lower pain threshold than most modern day humans. According to a new study, genetic analysis of Neanderthals has indicated that they had a type of gene that made them very sensitive to any type of pain.
The gene affected was a “gatekeeper” protein that amplified their pain as much as seven percent. What’s even more incredible is that the gene passed down through generations and as many as one in 250 people today carry that more sensitive pain threshold. Hugo Zeberg, who is a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Karolinska Institutet as well as the lead author of the study, explained this further, “The biggest factor for how much pain people report is their age,” adding, “Carrying the Neanderthal variant of the ion channel makes you experience more pain similar to if you were eight years older.”
To further explain this, those who inherit the Neanderthal gene have an ion channel that is three amino acids different than the rest of today’s humans. Having a difference of three amino acids would cause them to have a higher level of pain sensitivity.
One of the co-authors of the study, Svante Pääbo, noted, “Whether Neanderthals experienced more pain is difficult to say because pain is also modulated both in the spinal cord and in the brain,” adding, “But this work shows that their threshold for initiating pain impulses was lower than in most present-day humans.”
This may be the reason why Neanderthals took “Aspirin” for their toothaches. Back in 2017, it was reported when researchers studied a jawbone belonging to a Neanderthal, they found an antibiotic fungus called Penicillium and bits of a poplar tree that carried salicylic acid which is an active ingredient in Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). He apparently took the medicine to help relieve the discomfort he would have felt from the plaque and tooth abscess that the experts found when analyzing the jawbone.
An interesting study was recently conducted on women who were in labor and the results showed that one percent of them had a rare genetic variant called KCNG4 which raised their pain threshold to astonishing levels and acted like a “natural epidural”. In fact, their tolerance for pain was so high that several of the women were able to give birth without any anaesthetics. Luckily for those women, it appears as though they don’t carry the Neanderthal gene.