A question about using the amino acid DPA (d-phenylalanine) to help wean off prescription pain medication was posted on the blog. She was also hoping it would help ease her pain while she was weaning and improve her poor sleep too. I share my feedback on DPA for weaning, timing of vitamin C, additional information for sleep support and using DPA for emotional eating too. Concerns about oxalates and pain are mentioned and the importance of a comprehensive approach.
Here is the question that was posted:
Hi Trudy, I am trying to get off prescription pain medication and have read that DPA really helps – do you have any knowledge and/or experience with this?
There is a very popular opiate withdrawal support website that recommends DPA 500mg 3x/daily. Since amino acids need to be taken away from food and other amino acids, I feel like it could be very easy to make the DPA go to waste if not taken at exactly the right time every day.
The insomnia is the worst part of opiate withdrawal for me – days can go by with only 20-45 minutes of sleep. I have a little one to care for and the stress of no sleep just makes me want to give up.
No sleep worsens my physical pain as I toss and turn for hours on end. It isn’t a surprise that then causes terrible emotional distress.
One more question…since Vitamin C does help withdrawal does it affect/break down DPA? I take a liposomal version multiple times a day.
Here is my response: Yes, DPA (d-phenylalanine) does help with withdrawal from prescription pain medication and I’ve used it for this purpose with great success with many clients. It does need to be used away from protein and the dosing can vary for each person.
A starting dose of DPA is 500mg and it can be used 3- 4 x day to start, and we increase from there based on the unique need of each person. We typically adjust the DPA up as the prescription medication is tapered very slowly, and under the guidance of the prescribing physician.
I share more about her vitamin C and insomnia questions below.
If you are new to DPA and endorphin support
DPA/d-phenylalanine is an amino acid used as a supplement.
DPA destroys the enzyme that breaks down/inhibits endorphins and in essence raises endorphin levels. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals that you experience with an endorphin rush when you go for a run or when someone gives you a big hug, when you show kindness to someone or an individual does something nice for you.
Taking the amino acid, DPA, as a supplement helps to raise your endorphins and helps when you feel weepy and overly emotional and reduces the need to self-medicate with treats as a reward or for comfort (more on that below). This amino acid is a favorite with so many of my clients and community because it makes them feel so lovely.
In addition to helping with emotional pain, DPA also helps with easing physical pain. And for this reason it can be used to help get off prescription pain medications.
In summary, these are the signs of low endorphins:
- Heightened sensitivity to emotional pain
- Heightened sensitivity to physical pain
- Crying or tearing up easily
- Eating to soothe your mood, or comfort eating
- Really, really loving certain foods, behaviors, drugs, or alcohol
- Craving a reward or numbing treat
DPA and endorphin support for pain: the research
Here is one paper, which discusses how DPA inhibits or breaks down enkephalins (endorphins are closely related compounds) and as a result helps with depression and pain, and acts as an anti-inflammatory: “proven to be beneficial in many human patients with chronic, intractable pain.” The authors also state that a compound such as DPA “may alleviate other conditions associated with decreased endorphin levels such as opiate withdrawal symptoms.”
This paper discusses beta-endorphins and the reward mechanism and how they can induce euphoria, reduce pain and ease addictions and distress: “Long known for its analgesic effect, the opioid beta-endorphin is now shown to induce euphoria, and to have rewarding and reinforcing properties.”
I would love to see DPA used instead of pain meds when possible or used in conjunction with prescription pain medications when they are needed.
I am also very curious to know which opiate withdrawal support website is recommending DPA. I’m so pleased to hear this because it helps so much – for physical pain relief and for weaning off pain medications.
Is DPA the same as DLPA?
DLPA (dl-phenylalanine), although similar sounding, is not the same as DPA and only offers about half as much endorphin support. It also provides dopamine/catecholamine support (i.e. focus, motivation, mood, energy) and this aspect means DLPA has the same precautions as tyrosine. It also means DLPA can affect sleep if used from midafternoon onwards.
I seldom have clients use DLPA and prefer DPA for endorphin support and tyrosine for dopamine/catecholamine support if needed.
Keep in mind, the amino acid DPA, is not the same as the omega-3 fatty acid called docosapentaenoic acid and also abbreviated as DPA.
The brand of DPA that I recommend for my clients
The brand I recommend for my clients is Lidtke Endorphigen. You can read about it and the other supplements I recommend on the supplements blog here.
My recommendation has always been to chew the DPA capsule for the best effects and to get results quickly (in 2-5 minutes). Instead of chewing the whole capsule I now recommend opening the capsule into your mouth. You can read more about using DPA and some client feedback here.
I’ve used Endorphigen personally too and it’s always with me as part of my travel first-aid kit. I write about using DPA, GABA and acupuncture for pain relief after my back injury and I had DPA, GABA and arnica on hand when I sprained my ankle while hiking in Red Rocks.
Benefits include reduction of emotional/comfort eating too
As I mentioned above, with DPA there is the bonus benefit of endorphin support to help end emotional/comfort eating where you are seeking treats as a reward i.e it helps with physical pain and emotional pain.
You may relate to this if you are someone who would say or think “I just LOVE chocolate-chip cookies!” or “PLEEEEASE don’t make me give up my treats, it’s all I have left after I gave up my coffee and wine! I deserve something nice!”
This emotional attachment to sweet treats and reward-eating is very common with low endorphins.
Using vitamin C with the amino acids and watching for oxalate pain adverse effects
She is correct, vitamin C is best used away from the amino acids so as not to reduce the beneficial effects.
I do caution clients to find the right amount of vitamin C as too much can increase pain in individuals with dietary oxalate issues. I write about oxalate crystal disease here and vitamin C and oxalates here. Both can aggravate insomnia too and increase anxiety.
Address low serotonin, low GABA and/or high cortisol for sleep too
With sleep issues we may also look into supporting low serotonin with tryptophan or 5-HTP, and/or low GABA levels with GABA and/or theanine. These amino acids can also help with reducing pain in some instances.
Opioids have an endocrine effect via impacts on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, affecting sex hormones levels and cortisol levels. Endocrine dysfunction can adversely impact sleep and make anxiety worse, and needs to be addressed. GABA and serotonin support can help with some of the sex hormone imbalances and Seriphos helps when cortisol is too high.
A comprehensive approach is key
Of course, a comprehensive approach is key, so it’s important to remove inflammatory foods (gluten, maybe all grains, sugar, caffeine, unhealthy fats etc), add fish oil if omega-3s are low and include anti-inflammatory nutrients such as turmeric.
And we always want to figure out the root cause of the pain and address it. Also, ruling out if dietary oxalates (and vitamin C) are an issue is important and often overlooked.
I’m a big fan of working with a physical therapist and acupuncturist too.
Resources if you are new to using the amino acids as supplements
If you are new to using the amino acids, DPA, tryptophan or GABA, as supplements and want to know more, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution and a brief overview here, Anxiety and targeted individual amino acid supplements: a summary.
If you suspect low endorphins, low serotonin or low GABA levels and do not yet have my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings, I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in and using amino acids so you are knowledgeable.
Can you relate to any of this? Has DPA helped your pain and/or helped you withdraw from prescription pain meds? And did you even know this was an option?
Did it also help you sleep and make you less anxious/worried because of the reduction in pain?
What about less emotional eating when using DPA/Endorphigen?
Feel free to post your questions too.