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Phenylethylamine as a possible cause of "runner's high"

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  • Forbes-Ewan, Chris
    A constituent of chocolate that has been suggested as a possible cause of chocoholism (addiction to chocolate) is also being touted as a possible cause of
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2001
      A constituent of chocolate that has been suggested as a possible cause of
      'chocoholism' (addiction to chocolate) is also being touted as a possible
      cause of the feelings of euphoria ("runner's high") experienced by many

      It would be interesting if the same chemical--phenylethylamine--did turn out
      to be responsible for encouraging both running (which is associated with low
      body weight and high physical fitness) and bingeing on chocolate (which is
      more likely to be associated with obesity and sedentary lifestyle than with



      Complete transcript is below my signature block

      Chris Forbes-Ewan

      Task Coordinator, Nutrition
      Defence Nutrition Research Centre
      76 George St
      SCOTTSDALE Tas 7260

      Phone: Int + 61 3 6352 6607 (03 6352 6607 in Australia)
      Fax: Int + 61 3 6352 3044 (03 6352 3044 in Australia)

      E-mail: chris.forbes-ewan@...

      The opinions expressed in this message are those of the author and should
      not be taken to represent the official position of the Defence Science and
      Technology Organisation or of the Australian Department of Defence

      >From BBC Science/Tech - online (27 Sep 01):

      Scientists may have identified a chemical which could explain why exercise
      is an anti-depressant. Until now, it has not been clear why exercise has
      that effect. But, doctors from Nottingham Trent University suggest the
      chemical phenylethylamine could play a part.

      Phenylethylamine is a naturally produced chemical that has been linked to
      the regulation of physical energy, mood and attention. An enzyme changes the
      chemical into phenylacetic acid. There is evidence that levels of both
      substances are low in the biological fluids of depressed patients. In what
      are thought to be the first attempts to test the effects of exercise on
      levels of the chemical, the researchers found, overall, levels of the acid
      increased by 77% after exercise.


      Twenty healthy men, with an average age of 22 were tested. All regularly did
      around four hours of moderate to hard aerobic and
      anaerobic exercise each week. Before the study began, they refrained from
      exercise for a day, and a urine test was done to check for levels of
      phenylacetic acid, the most accurate measurement of the chemical. The next,
      the men exercised on a treadmill at 70% of their maximum heart rate capacity
      for 30 minutes. Doctors chose that level because mood changes are commonly
      reported at that level. The men were also asked to rate how hard they had
      found the exercise. When urine levels were checked, it was found
      phenylacetic acid levels were increased in 18 out of the 20 participants.
      Though the average increase in levels was 77%, the increases in individuals
      ranged from 14 to 572%. But the highest rises were seen in two out of the
      three who had rated the exercise as hard.

      Research possibilities

      The research team say though there may be many factors involved in the
      phenylacetic acid response, because its chemical structure is very similar
      to that of amphetamines, it may be that this chemical is part of a "runner's
      high", a phenomenon linked to natural endorphin activity in the brain. They
      suggest phenylacetic acid could also be important because it can cross from
      the blood to the brain, something endorphins cannot do.

      Dr Ellen Billet, who was one of the team of researchers from Nottingham
      Trent who carried out the research, told BBC News Online: "We felt there may
      be an effect of exercise on phenylethylamine." GPs can prescribe a drug
      based on the chemical which is known to have beneficial effects on patients.
      Dr Billet said: "We also know that moderate exercise has these beneficial
      effects. "So we wondered 'what if this was how exercise works'". She said
      more research needed to be done to develop their initial finding, including
      why different people's phenylethylamine levels are affected in different
      ways by exercise and if different kinds of exercise have the same effects.
      But she said people should still exercise, because of its benefits on both
      mental and physical health.

      "This could be used as and adjunct." A spokeswoman for the mental health
      charity Mind said: "Physical exercise has a valid place in the treatment and
      prevention of some mental health problems. "In a recent Mind survey of
      Cannons gym users, 75 % said they exercised to reduce their stress levels
      and 67% said they used exercise to maintain their mental health, like
      lifting 'low' moods. "Mind is calling for all GPs to offer exercise sessions
      on prescription to patients with mental health problems, particularly as we
      know that most people with mental health problems don't know this non-drug
      'treatment' option exists."

      The research was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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