Reprinted with permission of Life Extension®.
Supplements That Fight Pain
Fortunately, we don't have to take endorphins in order to enjoy their pain-killing benefits. Instead, we can use natural substances that protect or boost the endorphins in our bodies, allowing their levels to rise to higher, more powerful levels. Here are some of the supplements you may want to consider if you suffer from chronic pain:
Tyrosine. Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid that is manufactured by the body or absorbed from food. The body uses tyrosine to make the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, all of which play a role in elevating mood and keeping us alert. Suggested dose: 500 mg, two to three times a day.
Phenylalanine. Like other amino acids, this one comes in "d" and "l" (right and left) forms. The difference between the forms is like the difference between your hands. They're identical but opposite, mirror images of each other. The "left-handed" form is known as l-phenylalanine, or LPA. This is the form in which phenylalanine is normally found in foods. The "right-handed" form is known as d-phenylalanine, or DPA. This is the form that protects endorphins in our bodies and helps us to fight pain and depression. A mixture of the two forms, which has been used to fight pain since 1978, is known as dl-phenylalanine, or DLPA.
Phenylalanine protects our endorphins. It has helped many people overcome pain, as well as the depression that often accompanies chronic pain. Three of the ten patients in the original study of phenylalanine's effects on pain reported significant relief. It has also proved effective against painful inflammation.
Phenylalanine is not a drug, and it does not work directly against pain. Instead, it acts as an "endorphin shield," battling pain indirectly by helping the body's built-in pain-control system grow more powerful.
Phenylalanine was first tested against pain in a 1978 study at the Chicago Medical School. Researchers began by timing how long laboratory mice would remain on a hot plate before jumping off. Then they injected hundreds of mice with phenylalanine and again watched to see how long the mice would remain on the heated surface before scurrying off.
The amino acid blocked pain in 70% of the mice, allowing them to stay on the hot surface longer. The pain-blocking action actually grew stronger with time. Standard medicines tend to become less effective over time, as the body grows accustomed to them, but phenylalanine was actually more effective on the ninth day than it was on the first. And there was more good news. Phenylalanine worked with other medicines, making them stronger, and did all this without any apparent side effects.
Excited by these surprisingly positive results, the Chicago scientists tested phenylalanine on humans. The results were astounding. Ten patients suffering from long-standing chronic pain-people who had not been helped by modern medicine-found relief with this simple amino acid. Phenylalanine relieved chronic pain that had not been helped by conventional methods. There were no harmful side effects, and no one became addicted (as can be the case with powerful pain medicines). Also, no one developed a tolerance to phenylalanine, requiring larger and larger doses to get the same effect, as is often the case with conventional pain drugs.
Further research supported the early promising results. In one landmark study, 43 patients suffering from various types of severe pain were given 250 mg of phenylalanine four times a day. Some of the patients reported marked relief within one week. But by the end of the fourth week, 75% of the patients said their pain had been relieved.
In Great Britain, a double-blind controlled study was undertaken to determine whether the amino acid really worked or whether the pain relief reported in other studies was caused by the so-called placebo effect. It's well known that the power of belief can act as a medicine. Thus, if you give people pills that contain no medicine but tell them that the pills are powerful drugs, many patients will get better.
The participants in this study were adults suffering from long-standing, intractable pain of varied causes that had not been cured by conventional drugs or physical therapy. Despite the fact that lower doses of the substance were given and a 50% reduction in pain was required to qualify as improvement, more than 30% of the participants enjoyed significant relief. Phenylalanine outperformed the placebo, showing that it is, indeed, a powerful medicine.
There are some people, however, who cannot use phenylalanine. This includes those born with a genetic deficiency called phenylketonuria (PKU) that prevents them from metabolizing phenylalanine; those with pre-existing high blood pressure (phenylalanine can elevate blood pressure in people who are already hypertensive); and people with cancer (phenylalanine can promote cancer-cell division).
Although phenylalanine is a powerful pain killer, it does not begin to work as rapidly as aspirin and other pain medications. This is because the amino acid helps to increase the body's supply of endorphins, rather than attacking pain directly. Strengthening the body's natural pain-control mechanisms is a very effective strategy, but it takes time to begin working. For headaches and other acute pain, people naturally prefer the instant pain relief they get from aspirin and other conventional medications.
What about chronic pain that does not respond to standard medicines, physical therapy, or surgery? Phenylalanine has ample time to begin working in such cases, so why isn't it used more? Because for drug companies, phenylalanine isn't profitable. It's a simple amino acid that cannot be patented. Thus, most doctors know that phenylalanine is an amino acid, but have never heard of its powerful anti-pain properties, because no drug companies promote it.
Suggested dose: 500 mg, 2 to 3 times a day.
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