Amino Acids in Mental Health
by Vanita Dahia
Communication within the brain & between the brain & the rest of the nervous system occurs through chemical “languages” called neurotransmitters.
The central nervous system is almost completely regulated by amino acids & peptides.
Amino acids needed to manufacture neurotransmitters
Amino Acid Neurotransmitter(s)
Cysteine Cysteic Acid
Glutamine GABA, Glutamic acid
Lysine Pipecolic Acid
Phenylalanine Phenylethylamine, Dopamine, Noradrenaline, Adrenaline
Tyrosine Dopamine, Noradrenaline, Adrenaline, Tryptamines
Tryptophan Serotonin, Melatonin, Tryptamines
Amino Acids acting as Neurotransmitters
Amino Acid Neurotransmitter(s)
Alanine Inhibitory or Calming
Aspartic Acid Excitatory
GABA Inhibitory or Calming
Glutamic Acid Excitatory
Glycine Inhibitory or Calming
Taurine Inhibitory or Calming
Amino acids, such as tryptophan, phenylalanine, and methionine, can influence pain threshold, mood, and sleep patterns. Tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin, which influences sleep patterns and mood.
Phenylalanine converts to the neurotransmitter tyrosine and to the adrenal catecholamine, noradrenaline (NA), both of which influence mood and behaviour.
Tyrosine appears to prevent the behavioural depression and hypothalamic NA depletion observed following an acute stress and to suppress the rise in plasma cortisol. Tyrosine’s impact on mood may be partly related to its function as precursor to the thyroid hormones, thyroxin and triiodothyronine.
The analgesic peptides, endorphins and enkephalins, are composed of amino acids; methionine enkephalin has an analgesic potency 20 times that of morphine.
Stress & Mood-cure
The most spectacular organ known to humanity – the brain – increasingly taken for granted in today’s “feel good – look good” outlook to life; still calls the shots in our overall well-being. As little as it is, the brain consumes 25% of all the body’s metabolic energy. The integral workings within the brain is reliant upon neurotransmitters. Mood disorders such as depression or anxiety are linked to excesses or deficiencies of neurotransmitters, almost all made of amino acids.
The awareness of mood disorders is prevalent in all facets of society. Even children relate to the word stress. However, this matter can be deadly serious as in 2015, preliminary data showed an average of 8.3 deaths by suicide in Australia each day and this figure is unfortunately increasing.
Our focus is on a comprehensive natural approach that not only addresses Stress and Mood-management but allows one to jump-start the brain via a powerful combination of amino acids coupled with a high protein, healthy fat, and nutritional diet; exercise & lifestyle approach.
SAMe is a naturally occurring amino acid available in tablet form and now approved for use in Australia. SAMe is available without a prescription but should not be used with prescription antidepressants and bipolar disorders.
A 1994 meta-analysis of controlled trials found that 70 per cent of depressed subjects responded to SAMe, compared with 30 per cent of those taking a placebo. SAMe has been shown to be as effective as some anti-depressants & work faster than St Johns Wort . SAMe has been shown to be effective in inflammatory conditions like migraine & arthritis through its mechanism of methylation.
Stress will strip your body of essential nutrients like a thief in a jeweler’s shop. Unfortunately, with the high-pressure demands of our society, continual contact with the factors that cause stress—called stressors—is inevitable.
Stressors can be physical (physical exhaustion, starvation), emotional (anger, fear, frustration; allergic reactions to food or the environment, infections, degenerative conditions) and even include insomnia.
The biological response to stressors is called GAS (general adaptation syndrome) through increased neurotransmitter & adrenalin production to maintain a state of stability or homeostasis.
The aminos, Tyrosine, Methionine and Phenylalanine, are critical at this point, as without these aminos, your brain wouldn’t be able to produce all the adrenalin it needs to help you respond to stress.
An amino acid complex of Tyrosine, Methionine, Glutamine, Glycine & Phenylalanine is the foundation of the most powerful natural antidote to stress.
This blend of amino acids for stress is useful when:
• you’re recovering from an illness, under heavy demands from work or emotional worries or
• when stress becomes a burden.
Memory & alertness
“Memories are made of these.” Senile patients have been found to have low levels of spermine, a product of arginine.
To improve the ol’ memory, use a combination of methionine, arginine & ornithine.
Anxiety is a stress response, an alarm bell, causing quickened heartbeat, queasy stomach, sweats, mental alertness, and other unpleasant symptoms.
Histidine & Glycine act as neuro-inhibitors by promoting the alpha wave function which calms & relaxes the mind. Taurine found in excitable tissue, like heart & skeletal muscle is also useful.
To ease anxiety, use a blend of Histidine, Taurine, and Glycine.
Depression is described as “the loss of capacity to enjoy life, combined with a poverty of thought & movement”. The neurotransmitters that govern our excitatory emotional responses are called catecholamines – adrenaline & noradrenaline, derived from amino acids, phenylalanine & tyrosine .
Phenylalanine is able to prevent the breakdown of endorphins (morphine-like substances produced by the adrenal glands, the body’s natural pain killers).
Phenylalanine strengthens the whole metabolic pathway by stimulating catecholamine release allowing nerve cells to perform naturally.
One controlled trial found that phenylalanine worked as well as imipramine, while another found it to be effective for women with premenstrual low mood. Tyrosine is a product of phenylalanine and is one step along the metabolic pathway that leads to adrenaline, encouraging the stress response.
The primary brain fuel is glutamine, employed to rid the brain of excess ammonia, a poisonous natural chemical via the urea cycle. Glutamine, also known as “brain food” has shown promise in the treatment of depression.
Glutamine is used to assist in overcoming symptoms associated with jet lag, exam pressure, difficulty in concentration, and lack of enthusiasm.
Methionine is a precursor to SAMe (responsible for converting noradrenaline to adrenaline) and removes excess histamine (an inhibitory neurotransmitter contributing to depression).
To assist with depression, supplement with phenylalanine, tyrosine and methionine.
To address short term depression, Proline & Glutamine are useful to perk you up. Depression narrows our view to life, convincing us of our fragility and, in severe cases, of the futility of life.
Perchance to sleep
Insomnia is caused by the deficiency of the inhibitory neurotransmitter serotonin, the chemical responsible for making us sleep. To address Sleep disturbances, supplement with tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin to restore the ability to sleep by strengthening the serotonin-producing pathway. Supplement with L-Tryptophan, GABA and Inositol for a deep sleep.
Safety and Precautions
Amino acids, even though natural building blocks of protein, should be used with caution as they can interfere with or may potentiate some drugs.
It is advisable to consult with your health care practitioner for optimal amino acid supplementation tailored individually for you.
• Phenylalanine is contra-indicated in phenylketouria and a phenylalanine-restricted diet.
• Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, and Tryptophan—Avoid if you are taking monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, the manufactured antidepressants prescribed under many different brand names. Concerns have been raised with regard to tryptophan and complications of pregnancy and liver damage. Phenylalanine & tyrosine should be used with doctor’s guidance in hypertensive patients.
• Arginine is contra-indicated in herpes patients.
• Histidine- Consumption of four grams or more of the amino histidine has been known to cause early menstruation. Histidine is contra-indicated in schizophrenia.
• Methionine-Magnesium supplementation is recommended when taking methionine.
Ref: Beckmann H et al, DL-phenylalanine versus imipramine, Arch Psychiatr Nervenkr (1970). 1979 Jul 4;227(1):49-58.