Amino Acids are critical to the formation and functioning of neurotransmitters which regulate the levels of our brain chemicals and are closely linked with mood. What we eat has a tremendous effect on our levels of neurotransmitters and therefore on our mood. Stress and nutritional deficiencies alter our brain chemistries and are common precursors to many illnesses and disorders including depression.
Brain chemicals associated with our mood include serotonin, catecholemine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and endorphin. When in balance, these neurotransmitters help us in being alert, optimistic, calm and resourceful. A proper diet helps us to maintain a good balance; however imbalance can result from improper diet, poor digestion, stress, prescription drugs, and deficiencies or imbalances involving other nutrients.
Serotonin is our natural calming neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, sleep and appetite. Low levels of serotonin lead to anxiety, sleep disorders, food cravings, panic attacks, etc. L-tryptophan is the amino acid integral to the production of serotonin. Food sources of tryptophan include brown rice, cottage cheese, meat, peanuts, and soy protein. The amino acid supplements for increasing serotonin levels are L- tryptophan and 5- HTP. Both can be used to increase serotonin levels in the body – the one that will work best for you depends on your body chemistry.
Catecholemine is our natural caffeine. Symptoms of low catecholemine include depression, lack of energy, lack of drive, and lack of focus. L-tyrosine is the amino acid necessary for catecholimine production. It is also the precursor to the thyroid hormones. Supplementation of l-tyrosine tends to increase our energy levels along with having a mild antidepressant effect.
GABA is a natural relaxant. It is derived from glutamic acid and can be supplemented directly. Symptoms of low GABA include stiff and tense muscles, stress, feeling burned out, and inability to relax.
Endorphins are our feel good chemicals. People low in endorphins are very sensitive to both physical and emotional pain, they cry easily and crave comfort. They also love certain foods or alcohol. Endorphins are metabolized from phenylalanine. The best supplement form is the DL-phenylalanine form which is used to elevate mood, decrease pain, suppress the appetite and aid in memory and learning.
Another amino acid helpful in balancing brain chemistry is l-glutamine. Supplementation with l-glutamine stops carbohydrate cravings and moodiness by preventing low blood sugar in the brain.
As with any supplementation, there are certain conditions in which amino acids would be contraindicated. Check with your health care practitioner if you are considering taking any of these supplements.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas. www.naturalcowgirl.wordpress.com