When chronic pain flares up, it can be difficult to focus on anything else until you find relief. Over-the-counter and prescription painkillers may seem like an easy fix. But the side effects of both are well-known and can be devastating. Fortunately, recent research has pinpointed a compound known as palmitoylethanolamide (PEA for short) as a potent, natural pain reliever. Read on to find out what it is and how it can help you.
Why you should consider a natural remedy like PEA
Whether it’s neck pain, chronic lower back pain or achy knees, more than 20% of American adults suffer from chronic pain on a daily basis.
And more than 30 million folks reach for NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen every day. The hitch: These drugs can cause bothersome health hassles such as nausea, heartburn and GI upset. And when used on a regular basis, research in the Annals of Long-Term Care reveals NSAIDs may increase the risk of peptic ulcers, kidney trouble and stroke.
Prescriptions medications don’t fare any better. Opioids such as hydrocodone, which are sometimes prescribed for severe pain, can become addictive. Plus, they can cause side effects such as insomnia, headache, constipation, dry mouth, chest pain and more.
The good news: experts say the natural compound palmitoylethanolamide has the potential to reduce or even eliminate chronic pain for many sufferers.
What is palmitoylethanolamide?
“Palmitoylethanolamide is a relatively large organic molecule the body produces,” explains Connor Brenna, MD, a clinical research fellow at the University of Toronto’s Perioperative Brain Health Centre. Dr. Brenna has studied studied the compound’s ability to fight chronic pain.
“PEA is one part of a complex metabolic orchestra that plays within our cells,” notes Dr. Brenna, a resident in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine’s Clinician Investigator Program. “But it also appears to perform other microscopic roles as a signaling molecular — kind of like a cellular telephone — and possibly as an anti-inflammatory agent like aspirin,” he adds.
In other words, PEA is one of many compounds that the body produces to keep things running smoothly. But what has many experts buzzing is its natural painkilling ability.
How does palmitoylethanolamide ease pain?
“The mechanism for treating chronic pain is still something of a mystery,” admits Dr. Brenna.
Some researchers suspect it works in similar ways to other known pain relievers. That means it interacts with pain receptors to tame inflammation or calm overactive immune cells.
At this stage in the research, Dr. Brenna says scientists are focusing more on determining whether it is truly effective than why it works. And the results appear to point to yes.
What benefits can you expect to see?
One study in CNS Neurological Disorders — Drug Targets found palmitoylethanolamide provides two key benefits. When folks supplemented with 600 mg. of palmitoylethanolamide daily, 88% reported that they were now able to comfortably move about.
What’s more, 82% of people taking PEA as part of the study reported that the severity of their pain decreased by 50% or more in three weeks. Those are results on par with those of OTC and prescription pain medications.
Further proof it works: A review in Nutrients conducted by Dr. Brenna and other researchers found palmitoylethanolamide is an effective and well-tolerated treatment for chronic pain. It even significantly outperformed ibuprofen in one study. And it did so without the side effects of OTC and prescription meds.
Can you get palmitoylethanolamide from food sources?
Palmitoylethanolamide is produced naturally by many plants and animals, and you likely already consume it. “You can find PEA in soy lecithin, beans, egg yolk, peanuts, alfalfa and milk, among other foods,” Dr. Brenna says.
However, studies on palmitoylethanolamide for pain management used much larger doses than those found in food. “The studies we found applied wide-ranging doses of 150–600 mg. either once or twice per day,” adds Dr. Brenna.
“To replicate these doses without supplementation, a person would have to consume a pound of soy lecithin or a hundred thousand peanuts every day — likely to cause other problems,” notes Dr. Brenna.
How much PEA in supplement form should you take to relieve pain?
To reap the study-proven benefits, aim for a daily dose that falls within the study-proven range of 150 to 600 mg. Dr. Brenna adds that it’s possible an even lower dose could prove helpful for chronic pain, so you can start small and work your way up to a larger dose if needed. One to try: Nootropics Depot Palmitoylethanolamide Capsules (Buy from Amazon, $33.99). The cost works out to roughly $2 a day if you take one 400 mg capsule daily.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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