Over 100 MILLION Americans experience chronic pain.
On any given day, more experience the debilitating effect of pain in their lives than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes COMBINED.
The cost of chronic pain in terms of treatment cost and lost productivity is $600 billion a year according to a study from the Institute of Medicine.
This study was instituted by Congress and concluded we do not manage pain very well in the U.S.
Nearly one-third of Americans deal with more than life’s little strains or aches and pains.
Our main way of dealing with this often means the use of pharmaceuticals which can have a host of side effects and some have risks of abuse and addiction.
Some may be helped by a recently discovered fatty acid naturally in the body that targets the underlying cause.
It works at the pain site to turn off the pain signal.
Unfortunately, because this is not a patentable drug it is not getting the attention it deserves.
Also, unfortunately, because it is not a drug when people seek to find it, you have to hope you are actually getting the supplement because it is not regulated.
Palmitoylethanolamide or PEA
This is a drug (or supplement) has been touted for relieving various pains, especially neuropathic pain.
PEA is not a drug exactly but is a substance made by our bodies. Technically it is a fatty acid.
It is related to the cannabinoids and is important in cell to cell communication.
Most researchers in the field of chronic pain believe the immune system is much more involved in pain than previously thought.
There are two immune cell types that are thought to be involved — glial cells and mast cells.
Glial cells are the most abundant type of cell in the central nervous system by at least 3:1 and maybe as much as 10:1 compared to neurons.
Glial cells have different functions.
The oligodendrocytes wrap certain neurons with a fatty sheath called myelin which is like a slick skinsuit on a swimmer.
Others cells have sophisticated jobs like the astrocytes which maintain a proper physical and chemical environment for good function and communication of the neurons.
Then there are microglia.
Some scientists don’t even consider them to be true cells at all, instead giving them the lowly title of macrophage.
Basically garbage men, microglial cells are resident macrophages in the nervous system.
The other cells are mast cells.
These are non-resident immune cells that roam around the body.
They are activated by infiltration of bacteria. For instance, when your skin is cut these cells get to work to protect you from infection.
Remember that PEA is a signaling molecule made by neurons and immune cells.
PEA naturally inhibits the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals from mast cells.
How the immune system, which is supposed to get involved to clean things up, evolved to cause us seemingly unnecessary pain is not well understood.
If the neurons send more signals to the brain because the glial cells and mast cells told them to, then anything which shuts down the microglia and mast cells should do the opposite and relieve pain.
That’s the theory, or one theory.
Taking extra PEA, beyond what your body already makes is the hope for pain relief.
PEA is not something dreamed up by the holistic health movement.
It has actually been studied in clinical conditions and the results show some promise.
One study involved 600 people with sciatica.
For three weeks, in a randomized and double-blind study, 200 people took a placebo, 200 people took 300 mg PEA/day, and 200 took 600 mg PEA/day.
There was a significant dose dependent response in the PEA group.
The 300 mg/day group showed more reduction in pain than the placebo group, and the 600 mg/day group showed more pain reduction than the 300 mg/day group.
The results of this study were more promising than nearly any other drug out there.
Unfortunately, the study also showed that it didn’t work for everyone.
But there are no known negative side effects from taking additional PEA.
But the disadvantage of PEA is that it does have the same downsides of traditional pain management medications.