Viruses such as influenza and other respiratory viruses activate an immune response in the human body which includes antiviral and pro-inflammatory responses. The extent of this response is influenced by several factors and explains why one person can experience mild symptoms from the same cold or flu virus whilst another can experience more severe symptoms and illness. Infections with particularly virulent respiratory viruses may also trigger excessive and uncontrolled production of inflammation-producing chemicals contributing to a more severe illness presentation and potential complications.
Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is an endogenously produced molecule with well established anti-inflammatory properties for chronic and neuropathic pain. However, it was originally explored as a therapy for the common cold and influenza within six double-blind, placebo-controlled trials in adults and children. These trials were able to demonstrate the efficacy of PEA in both the prevention and treatment of colds and influenza when taken in a supplemental form.
Mechanisms of action
PEA is known as an autocoid, a self-produced regulatory molecule made by immune cells to counteract localised inflammation caused by various triggers including injuries, infections or other stressors.
As a critical regulatory molecule, it plays a key role in controlling inflammation-signalling pathways and delivering effective and appropriate immune responses.
Furthermore, PEA has shown an ability to inhibit overactive immune cells such as mast cells in response to viral illnesses, a contributing factor towards respiratory complications.
Through some of these key mechanisms, PEA has demonstrated clinical efficacy in reducing the incidence, severity, and duration of respiratory viral infections of various pathogenic origins in both adult and child populations.
Summary of Clinical Studies
- 223 factory workers took PEA: 1800mg/day for 12 days and experienced a 45.5% reduction of fever, headache, sore throat, number of sick days after 1 week
- 436 members of an army unit took PEA: 1800mg/day for 8 weeks and experienced 40% lower incidence of acute respiratory disease in PEA group at 6 weeks and 32% lower incidence at 8 weeks compared to placebo
- 901 members of an army unit took PEA: 1800mg/day for 3 weeks + 600mg/day for 6 weeks (Total treatment period of 9 weeks) and experienced a 34% lowering of acute respiratory disease cases in the PEA group vs placebo
- 610 members of an army unit took PEA: 1800mg/day for 3 weeks + 600mg/day for 6 weeks (Total treatment period of 9 weeks) and experienced a 52% reduction of acute respiratory disease cases vs placebo
- 335 members of an army unit took PEA: 1800mg/day for 3 weeks + 600mg/day for 6 weeks (Total treatment period of 9 weeks) and experienced a 63% reduction of acute respiratory disease cases vs placebo
- 196 school children took PEA: 600mg/day for 8 weeks and experienced 15.7% reduction of disease incidence at 8 weeks in the absence of an influenza epidemic period.
Paladini A, Fusco M, Cenacchi T, et al. Palmitoylethanolamide, a special food for medical purposes, in the treatment of chronic pain: a pooled data meta-analysis. Pain Physician 2016; 19: 11-24
Murphy, E. An effective treatment strategy for cytokine storm in severe influenza. American Laboratory. 2017 (Web article)
J. M. Keppel Hesslink. Evolution in pharmacologic thinking around the natural analgesic palmitoylethanolamide: from nonspecific resistance to PPAR-α agonist and effective nutraceutical. Journal of Pain Research 2013 (6) 625-634
J. M. Keppel Hesselink, Tineke de Boer, and Renger F. Witkamp, “Palmitoylethanolamide: A Natural Body-Own Anti-Inflammatory Agent, Effective and Safe against Influenza and Common Cold,” International Journal of Inflammation, vol. 2013
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