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Complementary Medicine

For What Supplement is DLPA Used for and Is it Safe to Take?

09/06/2002

Question:

What is the supplement DLPA is used for and is it safe to take? Are there any foods that would provide this compound?

Answer:

DLPA stands for DL-phenylalanine. It is reported in the literature to improve pain tolerance by acting on one`s own "endogenous analgesia system" which acts to alleviate pain. I`ve never heard of it`s use in practice, and didn`t see anything in the literature regarding safety or potential for addiction or tolerance (wearing off). Much of the literature states that it enhances the pain relieving effect of acupuncture. Below is an abstract (in scientific jargon) that gives more information if you`re interested. In the author`s clinical experience, concurrent treatment with DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) often appears to potentiate pain relief and also ease depression in patients receiving opiates for chronic non-malignant pain. An analysis of this phenomenon suggests that it may be mediated, at least in part, by up-regulation of the `endogenous analgesia system` (EAS), a neural pathway that projects caudally from medullary nuclei to the dorsal horn of the spinal column; when stimulated by chronic pain or therapeutic measures such as opiates or acupuncture, the EAS suppresses activation of second-order pain-receptive neurons in the dorsal horn, and thereby alleviates pain. Since serotonin and enkephalins are key neurotransmitters in the EAS, it is reasonable to predict that measures which promote serotonin activity (such as 5-hydroxytryptophan and serotonin-reuptake inhibitors) as well as enkephalin activity (such as D-phenylalanine, an enkephalinase inhibitor) should potentiate EAS-mediated analgesia - a view consistent with much previous medical research. Comprehensive support of the EAS with well-tolerated nutrients an pharmaceuticals may amplify the analgesic efficacy of chronic opiate therapy, while enabling dosage reductions that minimize opiate side-effects. Analogously, this approach may complement the efficacy of acupuncture and other analgesic measures that activate the EAS. Copyright 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd. 

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Response by:

Tanya I Edwards, MD, MEd Tanya I Edwards, MD, MEd
Formerly, Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University