How Amino Acids Impact Mental Health
What are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are essential for many bodily functions. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be used to make proteins, and our bodies can produce some of them, while others must be obtained from the diet.
Amino acids play a role in many bodily functions, including the production of neurotransmitters (your body’s “happy hormones”), which are chemicals that transmit signals in the brain. Some of the most important neurotransmitters for mental health are made from amino acids, including serotonin, which is involved in regulating mood, and GABA, which helps to calm the nervous system.
Deficiencies in certain amino acids can lead to imbalances in neurotransmitters and contribute to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
What are Essential vs. Non-Essential Amino Acids?
There are two different categories of amino acids: essential and non-essential.
Essential amino acids are the ones that our bodies cannot make on their own so we need to get them from the food we eat, while non-essential amino acids are the ones that our bodies can make by themselves. Both types of amino acids are important for our bodies to work properly, but essential amino acids are especially important because we can only get them from food.
There may be certain situations in which the body is not able to produce enough of a particular non-essential amino acid, such as malnutrition, metabolic disorders, genetic disorders, and other chronic diseases. In these instances, supplementing with non-essential amino acids may be beneficial. For example, supplementing with non-essential amino acids, like tyrosine, can be helpful for fatigue, cognitive function, and enhancing overall mood.
What are Free Form Amino Acids?
The main difference between free form amino acids and amino acids found in your diet is their form and bioavailability.
Amino acids found in your diet are typically bound to other amino acids in the form of proteins. These proteins must be broken down by enzymes in the stomach and small intestine before the individual amino acids can be absorbed and utilized by the body. This process can be less efficient, meaning that not all of the amino acids from food sources may be fully absorbed and utilized by the body.
Free form amino acids, on the other hand, are single amino acids that are not bound to other amino acids or proteins. They are typically found in supplement form and are intended to be taken as a dietary supplement. They are easily absorbed and utilized by the body, and can be taken on an empty stomach without any digestion required. They are considered as more bioavailable than amino acids from food sources.
Trytophan for Serotonin
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is found in many protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, soy products, beans, nuts, and seeds. It is also available as a dietary supplement.
Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays an important role in regulating mood, sleep, and appetite. Serotonin is converted to melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles.
When tryptophan enters the brain, it competes with other amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain, it is converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and then to serotonin. An increase in the amount of serotonin in the brain can lead to an improvement in mood, a decrease in anxiety, and an improvement in the quality of sleep.
Supplementation with tryptophan or 5-HTP has been found to help with certain mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, sleep disorders and insomnia, and some eating disorders. Tryptophan is also used to help people quit smoking, to reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Tyrosine for Adrenaline and Noripenephrine
Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that can be found in many protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, soy products, beans, nuts, and seeds. It is also available as a dietary supplement.
Tyrosine is a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline), which play important roles in cognitive function, mood, attention, and the body's response to stress. Dopamine is involved in motivation, pleasure, and reward, while norepinephrine plays a role in attention and alertness.
Supplementation with tyrosine has been found to improve cognitive performance and mood under conditions of stress, fatigue, and sleep deprivation, and may also help with depression and anxiety. It is also used to improve symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and to enhance athletic performance.
GABA for GABA
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid and neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating the activity of nerve cells in the brain. It works by inhibiting the activity of certain neurons, which can have a calming effect on the brain. GABA supplements are available in the form of oral capsules or powders and are intended to be taken as a dietary supplement.
GABA supplements are believed to work by increasing the levels of GABA in the brain, which may help to reduce anxiety, improve mood, and promote relaxation. Some studies have found that GABA supplements may be helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety and improving sleep.
Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that can be found in many protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, soy products, beans, nuts, and seeds. It is also available as a dietary supplement.
Phenylalanine is a precursor to endorphins, which are natural chemicals that are produced in the brain and body to help reduce pain, improve mood and promote feelings of well-being. It's believed that phenylalanine may help to boost endorphin levels, which may help to reduce feelings of pain and improve mood.
Some studies have found that phenylalanine supplements may be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression, pain and PMS symptoms.
The Vital Role Amino Acids Play
In conclusion, amino acids play a vital role in many bodily functions and are the building blocks of proteins that are essential for many bodily functions. Essential amino acids must be obtained from food, while non-essential amino acids can be synthesized by the body.
However, in certain situations such as malnutrition, metabolic disorders, genetic disorders, and chronic diseases, the body may not produce enough of a particular non-essential amino acid, making supplementation beneficial.
Additionally, certain amino acids like tryptophan, tyrosine, and GABA have been found to have potential benefits in mental health conditions. It's always best to consult with a doctor or a qualified healthcare professional before taking any supplement. One way to determine which supplement may be best for you is through assessments like Julia Ross's Mood Cure assessment.
There are many foods that are high in protein and therefore contain a variety of essential amino acids. Some good sources of protein include:
- Meat, poultry, and fish
- Dairy products
- Legumes (such as beans, lentils, and peas)
- Nuts and seeds
- Tofu and other soy-based products
Animal-based products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are complete proteins which means they contain all the essential amino acids in good quantity and this help to meet the requirements of the body.
It's also worth noting that some plant-based foods, such as quinoa, soy, and hemp seeds, are also complete proteins and can be a good source of essential amino acids for vegetarians and vegans. By including a variety of different types of food in your diet, you can ensure that you're getting all of the essential amino acids that your body needs.
Since amino acids are the building blocks of protein, it makes sense that they are found primarily in foods that are high in protein. Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids that are folded into specific shapes, which gives them the ability to perform a wide variety of functions in the body. When we eat protein-rich foods, our digestive system breaks them down into their component amino acids, which can then be used by the body to repair and build new proteins.