Phenethylamine, also known as PEA is a chemical that is found naturally in the body. It is also naturally occurring in algae, bacteria, eggs and chocolate and can be produced from the dietary supplement L-phenylalanine although it is predominantly converted to L-tyrosine. There is no established Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for Phenethylamine.
Phenethylamine is similar in structure to the chemical drug amphetamine in that it has the ability to influence hormones involved in happiness and wellbeing by regulating brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. It is used as a supplement for different purposes including cognitive enhancement, mood improvement, ADHD and as a concentration aid. It is also used for the purposes of a weight loss aid.
Depression- It has been hypothesized that low levels of PEA may be a causative factor in the development of depressive illness. A number of studies have shown PEA to be effective in providing sustained relief of depression in a significant number of patients, including some unresponsive to the standard treatments. An example includes a study of fourteen patients with major depressive episodes who responded well to treatment with PEA at a dose of 10-60mg daily even after 20-52 weeks when they were re-examined and the antidepressant effects were found to be maintained (1). There is also thought to be a link between PEA and exercise in reducing depression. In subjects exercising on a treadmill for half an hour at 70% of their maximal heart rate (in the middle of the 60-80% range where increases in mood are reported the amount of phenylacetic acid in the urine was increased albeit to a highly variable degree, suggesting PEA is a factor in the antidepressant effects of exercise (2).
Weight Loss– The effects of PEA on improved mood are thought to be linked with a potential for PEA to be beneficial for weight loss due to reduced appetite (3).Furthermore, a study of a supplement containing PEA amongst other ingredients was shown to help promote thermogenesis in the body, encouraging the burning of fats and calories to be used as fuel (4).
Parkinson’s disease- the part of the brain where PEA is synthesized and utilized becomes dysfunctional, resulting in low concentrations of PEA in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid as demonstrated by Zhou et al, 1997 (5) who noted a negative correlation between cerebrospinal fluid content of phenylethylamine and the severity of Parkinson’s disease. Since chocolate is a rich source of phenylethylamine a trial is currently underway to determine the effects of chocolate on motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease patients.
ADHD- Low levels of PEA is thought to be a factor in the development of ADHD and LD (learning disability). This is because many studies have shown that PEA is significantly lower in children with both of these conditions (6). In another study, it was found that the average urinary levels of PEA were significantly lower in LD and ADHD compared to age matched control groups (7).
Anti-bacterial– Phenylethylamine has also been shown to be involved in bacterial interactions. PEA was shown to reduce cell count from E.coli when incubated with infected meat products (8).
Depression- Low levels of phenylethylamine is associated with depression. A supplement may, therefore, provide benefit to those suffering from depression when used alone or in combination with exercise, according to research.N.B Those experiencing depression should always consult a GP or specialist to discuss appropriate treatment.
Weight loss- phenylethylamine may be useful as a supplement to promote weight loss due to its reported thermogenesis action in the body.
Treatment of ADHD and learning difficulties- many studies show that low levels of phenylethylamine are associated with both ADHD and learning difficulties. Phenylethylamine is believed to have an influence on hormones and chemicals in the brain which may influence cognition and concentration and therefore may be useful as a supplement for those experiencing learning difficulties and those with ADHD.
Phenylethylamine may cause similar side effects to the drug amphetamine which can include agitation, anxiety, headache, digestive upset, insomnia, changes in appetite, nervousness, weight loss. Symptoms usually subside after a few days however if symptoms persist it would be advisable to seek medical attention. Phenylethylamine may interact with other medications and therefore it is advisable to check with your GP or pharmacist if you are taking other medications. There is no established Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Phenylethylamine.