Evolution in pharmacologic thinking around the natural analgesic palmitoylethanolamide: from nonspecific resistance to PPAR-α agonist and effective nutraceutical
Jan M Keppel Hesselink
Department of Pharmacology, University of Witten/Herdecke, Witten, Germany
Abstract: The history of development of new concepts in pharmacology is a highly interesting topic. This review discusses scientific insights related to palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) and its progression over a period of six decades, especially in light of the work of the science sociologists, Ludwig Fleck and Thomas Kuhn. The discovery of the cannabis receptors and the nuclear peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors was the beginning of a completely new understanding of many important homeostatic physiologic mechanisms in the human body. These discoveries were necessary for us to understand the analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity of PEA, a body-own fatty amide. PEA is a nutrient known already for more than 50 years. PEA is synthesized and metabolized in animal cells via a number of enzymes and has a multitude of physiologic functions related to metabolic homeostasis. PEA was identified in the 1950s as a therapeutic principle with potent anti-inflammatory properties. Since 1975, its analgesic properties have been noted and explored in a variety of chronic pain states. Since 2008, PEA has been available as a nutraceutical under the brand names Normast® and PeaPure®. A literature search on PEA meanwhile has yielded over 350 papers, all referenced in PubMed, describing the physiologic properties of this endogenous modulator and its pharmacologic and therapeutic profile. This review describes the emergence of concepts related to the pharmacologic profile of PEA, with an emphasis on the search into its mechanism of action and the impact of failing to identify such mechanism in the period 1957–1993, on the acceptance of PEA as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic compound.
Keywords: palmitoylethanolamide, sociology, science, paradigm, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-alpha, nutraceutical
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