Exploring Natural Options for Chronic Pain Relief: The Benefits of Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA)

by LukeAdmin

by Diana Arundell university qualified Naturopath and Nutritionist

PEA also stands for Palmitoylethanolamide which is a natural compound showing great benefits in the treatment of pain, inflammation and neurological disorders. 

Chronic unresolved pain can affect the quality of life for those experiencing it as well as those around them. Physical, emotional and mental health can deteriorate if living with chronic pain and as much as pharmaceutical drugs can provide significant relief and improve quality of life, sometimes the side effects prevent their use for safe longer term pain management. This is where it’s often worthwhile investigating natural anti-inflammatory options to try before heading down the pharmaceutical path that is always available if the natural options are insufficient. It’s also worth considering using natural options alongside pharmaceuticals so a minimum dose can be taken to reduce undesirable side effects. Of course drug/herb/nutrient interactions need to be evaluated.

It’s very difficult to find a medication that has the ability to suppress one system of the body eg. pain sensory or inflammation, without suppressing other systems and creating flow on undesirable and at times dangerous side effects. For example ibuprofen (eg Neurofen) is an effective anti inflammatory medication however the pathway by which that drug works also interferes with the pathway in the body that creates mucous to protect the gastrointestinal lining from erosion by stomach acid. Therefore a potential side effect of long-term use of that medication (or the class of drugs know as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs NSAIDs) can increase the risk of ulcer and bleeding in the digestive tract. Ideally these medications should be used for short-term acute pain management and inflammation, with other options considered for longer-term support.

Many studies and clinical experience has confirmed the benefits of therapeutic doses of practitioner grade fish oil, MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) and herbs such as Curcumin and Boswelia to be useful in managing chronic pain and inflammation involving connective tissue. There is now another natural compound available which has been shown to be effective in reducing inflammation and pain. PEA (palmitoylethanolamide) is a natural cannabimimetic compound produced naturally by the body and it works by suppressing triggers produced by over stimulated mast cells in the body. 

It’s important to understand that an acute inflammatory response is a crucial natural response by the body to increase blood flow and immobilise a damaged area so the body can go about producing healing substances and send chemical messengers to deal with the damaged tissue. Once the damaged tissue is repaired, this cascade of natural inflammatory compounds produced by the body should reduce and eventually turn off as the body returns to a normal state. It’s when the damaged tissue can not be resolved, then these chemical compounds released by the body to create short term inflammation are not switched off and a vicious cycle of chronic inflammation and pain develops. 

Clinical trials have shown PEA to be beneficial in reducing inflammation and pain modulation in the following conditions: nerve pain (including chemotherapy induced), osteoarthritis, sciatica, migraine, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and even depression. Clinically PEA has proven to be safe with no drug interactions to date or dose limiting side effects and excellent tolerability. The metabolism of PEA is not reliant on kidney or liver function. There is positive research so far on combining PEA with other pain modulating drugs to optimise pain relief. 

Despite the body’s natural ability to produce PEA itself to deal with inflammation and pain, it’s been observed that some pathological states result in such a strong inflammatory cascade that this endogenous production of PEA isn’t enough. During these situations, a supplemental form of PEA may provide added natural pain and inflammation modulation. The supplement form of PEA is derived from plant fatty acid amides and as with any supplement, quality and bioavailability (ability of the body to actually absorb and utilise) is of utmost importance. A qualified natural health practitioner can prescribe the best form and dosage tailored specifically to individual requirements and can also recommend diet and lifestyle options to create stronger, healthier foundations for wellness and to reduce chronic pain and inflammation. 

Diana Arundell is a university-qualified naturopath and consults from her Avoca Naturopath clinic. She has a special interest in fertility and pregnancy health, digestive health, immune function and family wellness programs. She was a nutrition lecturer at Macquarie University for 10 years, and is an accredited Journey Practitioner. For further information or to make an appointment please contact Diana Arundell at Avoca Naturopath on 0410 465 900.

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