Palmitoylethanolamide, or PEA for short, is a naturally occurring fatty acid amide that helps to control pain and inflammation. But is there any benefit to increasing levels of PEA, and how might PEA-rich foods and supplements support well-being? To find out, keep reading.
PEA occurs naturally inside the body, playing an essential role in pain and inflammation. Interesting, the fatty acid amide acts somewhat like an endocannabinoid (internally produced compounds similar to the cannabinoids found inside industrial hemp) by influencing G protein receptors and several other special receptor types.
However, with PEA synthesised on demand and stored in virtually all tissue (including the brain), is there any need to increase levels through food or supplementation? The answer to that question depends not only on your lifestyle and wellness goals, but on understanding PEA’s effect on the body.
Before deciding if PEA is something you want to add to your daily wellness routine, it helps to recognise how it works in the body and the potential benefits of supplementation.
When the body encounters physical, mental, or chemical stress, it starts producing PEA, using the fatty acid to trigger numerous biological actions. Then, when PEA isn't needed, an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) helps to break down the excess, and any residual PEA gets stored in tissue all over the body.
The primary mechanism of action for PEA is via proteins from the PPAR family and their associated receptors. We won't go too deep into the specifics of PPAR, but know that PPAR-α, specifically, is linked to fat breakdown in the liver and metabolic processes in the heart and kidneys.
Another possible mechanism of action is via G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR). Again, we won't go into specific details, but some researchers consider these receptors to be novel cannabinoid receptors, as they share similarities with the traditional cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2.
The G protein receptor’s link to the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS) may assist PEA in performing its role in energy homeostasis—an umbrella term that involves food intake, metabolism, and liver function.
We've thrown a lot of functions, scientific terms, and receptor types at you, but what does this mean for everyday mental and physical well-being? Below is a breakdown of several interesting areas of research.
Most of PEA's influence on areas such as metabolism, fat burning, and energy homeostasis stems from its impact on PPAR-α. A 2022 animal model study identifies "PEA and PPAR-α activation as the main mechanism by which PEA can rewire energy-storing white into energy-consuming brown-like adipocytes […]". In simpler terms, it describes how PEA can aid in the conversion of white fat cells into brown ones.
This transformation is important because brown fat breaks down glucose and other fat cells to help maintain body temperature. It's a far more helpful form of fat, but is usually only activated when the body detects cold conditions. However, researchers found that PEA, through its impact on PPAR-α, could simulate the body's reaction to cold temperatures and kickstart the fat conversion process.
PEA has been extensively studied for its proposed anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective potential, including animal model research focusing on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Several of these studies suggest that PEA, combined with antioxidant flavonoids (such as luteolin), could “blunt” the cellular breakdown caused by these conditions.
However, many of these mechanisms are indirect (meaning PEA encourages other compounds to take action), presenting a promising yet complicated picture for future human studies. Fortunately, with PEA's "high safety" and antioxidant synergy, researchers have high hopes.
Although it may appear that PEA is a fantastic compound for wellness, supplementation is not without its downsides.
• First, the body already does an excellent job of producing the PEA needed to support critical functions. Sometimes, consuming PEA from external sources can upset the body's biochemical balance. If you're considering taking PEA supplements or increasing your intake of PEA-rich foods, it's best to consult your doctor or physician first.
• Second, there is limited data on PEA’s long-term efficacy and safety. Some evidence suggests the fatty acid is safe to take for up to three months, but much of the evidence comes from animal model studies. Again, it's important to discuss the implications with a medical professional for case-specific advice.
• Finally, there isn't too much qualitative data regarding the ideal dose of PEA. That's not to say supplemental intake can't be beneficial, but the complexity of its mechanisms means we still have much to learn. PEA doses used in research range from 300 to 1200mg, with many studies opting to split intake across two servings per day.
Increasing PEA levels by eating specific foods is a gradual process with a lower risk of side effects than supplementation, but it has its shortcomings. Food sources are typically less concentrated in the substance, and PEA's low bioavailability means not as much of the fatty acid reaches its target area.
Still, if you're interested in food sources of PEA, add the following to your meals:
• Egg yolk
• Soy products
• Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Considering the types of foods containing PEA, there may be instances where people could benefit from supplementation. In fact, anyone with food sensitivities or a restrictive diet should discuss the nutritional implications with their doctor to ensure they're getting the vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids their body needs.
The body is well-versed in dealing with PEA, so the fatty acid is well-tolerated, with only mild nausea reported as a possible side effect of supplementation. However, there are still questions about PEA’s long-term efficacy and safety.
As a precautionary measure, it's best if children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers avoid using PEA supplements due to the lack of extensive studies on its safety. For everyone else, PEA certainly seems like a promising compound, but only a doctor or physician can help you decide if palmitoylethanolamide is the right choice for your wellness needs.
Fortunately, with the crucial role PEA plays in inflammation, pain, and several other essential processes, researchers are keen to understand the full extent of supplementation. The key will be deciphering the compound's multiple mechanisms of action and determining effective dosing guidelines.
Are you considering PEA as part of a balanced approach to well-being? Why not browse the Cibdol store for PEA-containing supplements? Or, to learn more about the different receptors inside the body, visit our Education section.
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 Annunziata C, Pirozzi C, Lama A, et al. Palmitoylethanolamide promotes white-to-beige conversion and metabolic reprogramming of adipocytes: Contribution of PPAR-α. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4923/14/2/338/htm. Published January 31, 2022. Accessed August 25, 2022. [Source]
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