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Phenylethylamine: Is It Really The Love Drug?

Phenylethylamine: Is It Really The Love Drug?
Reading Time: 5 minutes

What Is Phenylethylamine?

Phenylethylamine (PEA) is a trace amine which causes dopamine and norepinephrine to be released in the brain. Dopamine is connected to sexual drive, feelings of pleasure, and the brain’s reward system. Norepinephrine is thought to lead to heightened attention and increased heart rate and is connected to the fight-or-flight response. [1]The mechanism of action of phenylethylamine is that it causes B-endorphin to be released, which then causes dopamine and norepinephrine to be released while simultaneously blocking the receptor sites of these compounds. This has the effect of increasing dopamine and norepinephrine concentration, which results in a pleasurable and energy-boosting effect. It is important to  note that all three chemicals work together to give this cumulative effect as it is not achieved if one is not present, primarily PEA, which acts as the initiator and ultimate sustainer of the reaction.[2]

In the body, PEA is made from the amino acid phenylalanine through enzymatic decarboxylation (a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group and releases carbon dioxide). Phenylethylamine is found in many plants and animals, including humans, and also in many foods. It is also produced by certain fungi and bacteria (among which are the Lactobacillus, Clostridium, Pseudomonas, and Enterobacteriaceae families) and works powerfully against certain strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli 0157:H7) at sufficient concentrations.[4] There is no recommended limit for phenylethylamine, however, it is most effective at dosages of 100-500mg. Phenylethylamine has a half-life of roughly 5 to 10 minutes, though it’s half-life in the brain is only

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Facts About Phenylethylamine

  • PEA could start a migraine in those who tend to get them.
  • Due to the “feel-good” effects associated with PEA it is said to give the warm fuzzy feeling that is experienced when falling in love and has been labelled as the “love drug.”
  • Other names associated with phenylethylamine are beta-phenylethylamine or 2-phenylethan-1-amine.
  • It is used to treat depression, improve mood and attention, and aid weight loss by curbing one’s appetite.
  • It may worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions.
  • Phenylethylamine is found in foods like chocolate and this is why people often find chocolate to be a romantic and exciting treat. It should be noted that PEA is present in higher concentrations in dark chocolate.
  • PEA is known to increase focus and concentration.
  • It is not recommended that phenylethylamine be taken late at night, as this may interrupt one’s normal sleep pattern.[3][4][6]
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Foods Containing Phenylethylamine 

A variety of foods contain phenylethylamine, such as chocolate, cheese, sausages, red wine, soy sauce, pulses, nuts, seeds, and eggs. PEA is also sold as a supplement in powder or tablet form as an energy booster and mood enhancer. The standard dosage which is most effective is in the range 100 – 500mg per day, with mild effects of enhanced mental activity being experienced at 100mg. At higher doses of 250mg, more pleasurable effects are experienced and doses up to 500mg tend to give a stronger energy boost and is therefore recommended for body builders. Persons also tend to take phenylethylamine with a cup of coffee to get a stronger energy boost.[2][3]

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Phenylethylamine: Is It Bad For You?

Being a naturally occurring stimulant, it is difficult to determine whether or not supplementing it is bad for one’s health. The real concerns with supplementation are overuse and interactions due to medications or differing biological processes. If taken by people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, it can possibly increase hallucinations or delusions and cause a change from depressive to manic. Those about to have surgery are recommended to stop PEA supplementation two weeks prior to surgery, due to the effects phenylethylamine might have on the central nervous system. Women who are breastfeeding should exercise care in taking PEA as it may slightly inhibit prolactin secretion, which is responsible for milk production – quit PEA supplementation if you notice a drop in milk.[7]

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Benefits of Phenylethylamine

The benefits of phenylethylamine are varied, however, most involve a marked change in mood and mental clarity. Phenylethylamine can be a great aid in fighting off the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which makes day-to-day living more manageable. Persons suffering from depression tend to have low amounts of endorphins, but phenylethylamine fills this shortage and creates a kind of balance which fights feelings of lethargy and results in increased interest and energy.

Phenylethylamine also plays a vital role in memory and overall brain function. As a result, learning, executive function, and overall attention span is improved. Concentration is sharpened and is sustained for a longer period of time.

Phenylethylamine increases metabolism, so weight lifters use it as a supplement during training. This increased metabolism is caused by the cumulative effect of dopamine and norepinephrine plus the constriction of blood vessels.

In addition, it is also used as a weight-loss supplement due to the action of dopamine which suppresses one’s appetite.[5][6][8][9]

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Negative Impact of Phenylethylamine

As with all stimulants, naturally occurring or synthetic, there are side effects associated with phenylethylamine which are largely a result of overdose and abuse, but also from adverse reactions or drug combinations. Side effects can include nausea, heartburn, dizziness, constipation, insomnia, agitation, elevated blood pressure, and migraine headaches.

Migraine sufferers have a reduced ability to break down monoamines, especially phenylethylamine, which results in it quickly being absorbed by the body and causing the excruciating pain and hypersensitivity to light and sound associated with migraine headaches. Also, some people may be taking medication that is also a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). These MAOIs hamper the breakdown of PEA, which creates a build-up in the body that prolongs effects of PEA in susceptible individuals. When phenylethylamines are taken at higher doses or combined with other stimulants or with MAOIs, more severe side effects will be encountered such as high blood pressure, flushing, rash and jitters.

In research done about the use of PEA mixed with other drugs by teenagers at parties or other social events, it was found that these combinations resulted in a negative mental state. Phenylethylamine should not be taken with amphetamines, as PEA was found to increase the effects of amphetamines. Most amphetamines have an effect similar to that of PEA, of releasing neurochemicals like dopamine or norepinephrine, and inhibiting their uptake. It is rather common to have psychotic episodes from these chemicals, therefore, it is critical that the combination of phenylethylamine and amphetamines be avoided.[8]

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How To Minimize Exposure

Due to the fact that phenylethylamine occurs naturally in the body and is a necessary compound, it is actually good to eat foods that naturally contain PEA. However, it is a good idea to avoid the use of chemically synthesized PEA supplements sold for weight loss, mood enhancing and body building. Care should also be taken when taking other supplements which may be a combination of PEA and other mood enhancers; it is important to carefully read the labels of all supplements being taken.

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Should You Worry About Phenylethylamine? 

Phenylethylamine naturally present in the body poses no health risks; rather, it is very beneficial and is associated with an excellent mood and improved brain function. The negative effects associated with phenylethylamine from food and supplements are mostly due to overuse; however, since the body is able to rapidly break PEA down with monoamine oxidase B enzyme (which gives PEA its short half-life) , the occurrence of toxic overdose is limited.[7] Phenylethylamine poses little risk of dependency and little possibility of long term damage due to the body’s mechanism for dealing with this compound. Remember though, that phenylethylamine is better avoided for people with neurological disorders (such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), high blood pressure, migraine sensitivity, or who are taking MAOI medication or are pregnant or breastfeeding. In addition, those who are planning to undergo surgery should avoid taking phenylethylamine as it may affect the central nervous system; recommendations are for avoidance two weeks before actual surgery.

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Final Thoughts On The Love Drug

Phenylethylamine produces mostly positive effects when consumed via food or when taken at the recommended dosage (100-500mg) as an occasional supplement.  Since the body has a means of dealing with any excess, there is no concern of overdose at that dosage, which means that it is generally safe to use, except as noted above.

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