Palmitoyethanolamide: protector and regenerator, a pleiotropic molucule

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Since life started, and plants and animals emerged, their cells became targets of all kinds of injury and damage, and nature created restorative and protective mechanisms and biochemical pathways. One of the most ancient cellular protectants and regenerative molecules synthesized by living beings is most probably the simple lipid compound bearing the not pronounceable name of palmitoylethanolamide. Let us, for the sake of simplicity, call this molecule PEA.

PEA was first synthesized by Ordovicium sea-animals

PEA was first synthesized by Ordovicium sea-animals

Most probably as long as 450.000.000 years ago, in the Ordovicium, simple animals like sea urchins already synthesized PEA. Nature’s invention of this molecule apparently was very promising, as Since the Ordovicium nearly all animal species and most plants started to synthesize and use PEA to protect cells against injury and damage, and to help cells to restore the equilibrium.

For instance plants synthesize more PEA if the environment is too dry and cells dry out. By doing this the cells activate their defense systems. Thus life is protected.

The same holds true in animal cells. If tissue is damaged, cells produce more PEA to decrease the bad influence of the damage and to increase repair. Only 1 family of animals did not use PEA to protect, the insects.

Therefore PEA is an intrinsic compound to be found not only in many animals, including humans, and pants, but also in all kinds of food, from eggs to peanuts, from shellfish to liver.

imgresAround 30 years ago professor Erminio Costa explained why modern medicine needs to be reformed. He started a plea to follow were nature leads. To use compounds known to the body, which can trigger our own healing capacities. His good friend and Nobel laureate professor Rita Levi-Montalcini worked together with Costa on this item. She was the first exploring palmitpylethanolamide in great detail. Already in the early nineties of last century she unravelled the key mechanism of PEA and made the compound known to the world.

However, already in 1973 the supportive and positive effects of PEA were well established; The investigator dr Perlik stated at that time:

“It has been shown that t N-(2-hydroxyethyl)-palmitamide (PEA) can decrease the intensity of several inflammatory and immunological processes…..Recently the interest on biological properties of PEA has been revived because of its capacity to increase nonspecific tolerance to several bacterial toxins.”

PEA was found to be able to protect animals against the damage done by bacterial and viral infections.

Levi-Montalcini explored the efficacy of pure PEA

Rita Levi-Montalcini was awarded the Nobel prize for her discovery of the nerve growth factor. A protein with an important role in growth and cellular functioning. Due to her work in this field Montalcini realized that on a cellular level there must be certain molecules able to regulate repair and protective mechanisms. She described the function of these molecules and revived an old biological term to describe such molecules, autocoids. Autocoids are regulative molecules which are produced locally in tissue and excert their function also locally. So autocoids are kind of local produced and acting hormones.

Palmittoylethanolamide was one of the molecules she expected to have such a local action, PEA was an example of an autocoid. Why did she come to that conclusion?

She knew from older literature, literature since the fifties, that PEA was a molecule synthesized by animal cells and tested in many animal models as well in human trials as a prophylactic and therapeutic agent against the flu, influenza. In animal models PEA showed many protective properties, and PEA synthesize could for instance be found in the cardiac muscle during and after an infarction.

She ordered pure palmitoylethanolamide, 99.9% pure and started a number of experiments. During the 5 years she conducted and supervised these experiments, she discovered the autocoid properties of PEA.This was a reason for her to use the new term Aliamide for PEA. Alia-mide stands for molecules with specific properties: Autocoid Local Injury Antagonism.

Since Montalcini highlighted the protective role of PEA many clinical trials have demonstrated that she was a visionary scoentists. And that she was right. Since the 90s of last century hundreds of experiments with pure palmitoylethanolamide have been conducted, and all the results supported Montalcini’s vision.

PEA as tablets for human use: deviations from Levi-Montalcini’s recipe

Various companies started to make pills out of palmitoylethanolamide, but most of these tablets consisted and consists of much less than the 99.9 % of pure PEA as explored by Levi-Montalcini. In certain tablets the PEA concentration is even below 15%.

Now, one can perhaps compensate for such low concentrations by administering more tablets, but there is a second drawback. The remaining percentage in each tablet consists of chemical and pharmaceutical compounds, which are not natural, such as magnesium stearate or povidone. Or in certain tablets the producer mixed herbal extracts. None of these mixtures have ever been explored by levi-Montalcini. Furthermore, the clinical advantage of these mixtures are not proven and the safety of some not well documented. That is one of the reason why one advices not to use PEA products consisting of PEA with added herbal extracts.

PEA in pure form, capsules

Happily there are at least 2 formulations which followed the rule of purity, and brought to the world a pure supplement, consisting of pure PEA in capsules, and demonstrated its purity by a certificate of analysis. These formulations do not contain anything else but PEA.

More info in PEA under this link

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