Natural pain relief through Endorphins
Chronic pain is intensively difficult to bear and treat. Luckily, there are multiple factors that can modulate and ease the experience. Looking at what happens in our brain when we have pain can help us to find solutions to this gnawing problem.
Of course, pain is a self protective mechanism. It allows us to sense that there is something wrong or harmful going on in our bodies that we need to attend to. It prevents us form overstepping our boundaries and thereby make the problem worse. But many people with chronic pain are plagued by an ongoing perception of pain that may or may not have a physiological basis.
Research has shown that the perception of pain can indeed be modulated in the brain. In fact, the brain can suppress the sensation of pain through a “gate” in the spinal cord. And the mind may decide the degree to which the “gate” is open, which therefore influences the amount of pain we actually experience. Thus the mind and the brain have some level of control…
The brain exerts this control via certain neurotransmitters, primarily serotonin, GABA and the endorphins. These are the molecules of natural pain relief. Unfortunately, chronic pain itself and multiple other stressors, especially if combined with a low protein diet, can deplete their production and thus make the problem worse.
Let’s have a look for a moment at the endorphins. We all know that exercise, laughter and joy, and a variety of “peak experiences” can release endorphins, and that this is associated with a wonderful “high”. They are the body’s own form of morphine and actually thousands of times stronger. Chronic pain sufferers, however, typically become significantly deficient in their endorphin-producing capacity. This makes it more difficult for them to find natural pain relief. And what’s more, even if these patients are already on opioid medications, they still need to produce their own endorphins activity to support their effectiveness. Thus supporting the body’s production of endorphins can be critically beneficial.
There are several ways to raise one’s capacity to produce endorphins. First of all, it is essential to have a high protein diet that provides the necessary amino acids. To raise and sustain endorphin levels, daily protein consumption should be at least 30 grams, three times per day. A supplement of all 22 amino acids at 700 mg 3x/d can also be very helpful for natural pain relief.
In addition, there is an amino acid, d-phenylalanine (DPA), that slows the action of the enzymes that degrade the endorphins.4-7 Unfortunatley, our endorphins are constantly being broken down. If we can manage to slow this process down, pain can diminish within twenty-four hours. In certain pain clinics that use more natural methods, pain relief has been witnessed within ten minutes after the ingestion of as little as 500mg of DPA.
The usual dose in chronic pain patients is 500-2000mg of d-phenylalanine, two to four times a day. This will optimize natural pain relief. I recommend starting with 500-1000 mg and increase the dose as desired.
There is a further refinement to this method: instead of taking DPA, one may wish to consider taking DLPA, a form of the amino acid that is bound to l-phenylalanine (LPA). LPA is an essential amino acid used by the body to create a number of vital compounds, including l-dopa, dopamine, norepinephrine, adrenalin, and thyroid hormone. DPA is quite a lot better at preventing the breakdown of endorphins, but DLPA is more energizing as it is involved with a larger variety of neurotransmitters. It is also more readily available in health food stores.
For anxious or agitated patients, DLPA can sometimes be experienced as overly stimulating, while more mood-stable patients find it to be both pain-relieving and energy-enhancing. The usual recommended DLPA dose is: 1000-2000mg, three times a day. I recommend to start at a dose of 750-1000 mg and go up from there to accomplish the desired result without getting overstimulated. It is best to not consume after 4 pm to not interfere with restful sleep.
Although this will not completely end the pain, it will help the brain to modulate it to the best of its ability. We will look at the other two neurotransmitters, Serotonin and GABA in a future post. We will also look at a variety of more psychological techniques that can help to ease pain. Many of these are based on Eastern traditions, as these inherently have a deep understanding of our innate ability to release pain.
by Angela Ingendaay, M.D.