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Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) for Respiratory Infections

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Despite the fact that there’s decades of published research on palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), this compound has only recently become readily available on the Australian market for use by Australian health professionals. 

PEA is most known and utilised for its application in pain therapy, particularly nerve pain. However, one review published in 2013 examined the potential for PEA in being deployed for influenza, the common cold and other respiratory infections based on several studies dating back to the 1950s. The results cited in this review offer an interesting viewpoint for the potential of PEA in cold and flu season.

It is PEA’s mode of action on inflammatory cytokines that makes it pertinent for use in influenza and respiratory infections, since the body’s response when exposed to infection is to initiate many of these cytokine processes. Increased production of specific inflammatory cytokines, such as tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, interleukin (IL)-1, IL-6 and IL-10, is characteristic during an influenza infection, and it’s well documented that aberrant and excessive cytokine production is linked to increased morbidity and mortality from influenza infection. 

The review explored six clinical trials, totalling over 4000 collective subjects, spanning 10 years (1969-1979). All trials were double-blind, placebo-controlled trials; one was in children and the other five were in adults. Of the adult trials, four were conducted on army personnel and one on car-factory workers.  

Collectively, it was shown that PEA not only had treatment potential but also prophylactic potential for influenza and respiratory infections. The studies reflected reductions in common symptoms such as fever, headaches and sore throat in the treatment groups versus the placebo arms. There was also evidence of PEA contributing to a reduction in the overall number of days of reported sickness. PEA did not, however, show significant benefit in symptoms such as nasal stuffiness or cough. 

The most notable reoccurring theme throughout all the trials examined in the review was the lack of reported side-effects, making PEA an obvious choice for compliance as well as efficacy. The authors of this review lend credence to the possibility of PEA as a safe, effective and judicious choice for helping people ride out respiratory infections using an agent that will not contribute to infection resistance like other pharmaceutical interventions. 


  1. Keppel Hesselink JM, de Boer T, Witkamp RF. Palmitoylethanolamide: A Natural Body-Own Anti-Inflammatory Agent, Effective and Safe against Influenza and Common Cold. Int J Inflam 2013; 2013: 151028 [Full Text]


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