Taurine, tryptophan and tyrosine are three amino acids that begin with the letter ‘T’. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are classified as essential if they cannot be made by the body on its own and must be acquired through the diet. They are classified as non-essential if the body can make them. However, we can become deficient in the non-essential amino acids if we do not take in the nutrients necessary to make them.
Taurine is a non-essential amino acid. Zinc and vitamin B6 are some of the building blocks for taurine and both zinc and vitamin B6 are common deficiencies. Taurine is known to help stabilize cell membranes in electrically active tissues such as the brain and heart. It is also a component of the bile produced by the liver and is important in preventing gallstones and for keeping cholesterol soluble.
Stress, alcohol consumption and vegetarian diets will cause taurine deficiencies. Taurine is useful as an anti-convulsant and is often used clinically to treat epilepsy. Taurine is also used to prevent potassium loss from the heart muscle, helping to prevent cardiac arrhythmias. Food sources of taurine include eggs, fish, meat and dairy products.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that was banned from the supplement market until recently. Tryptophan is necessary for the production of vitamin B3 and is also used by the brain to produce serotonin. Tryptophan helps control hyperactivity, alleviates stress, is good for the heart, aids in weight control by reducing appetite, and enhances the release of growth hormone. It is also good for migraine headaches if they are caused by serotonin deficiency. Food sources of tryptophan include brown rice, cottage cheese, peanuts, and soy protein.
Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that is the precursor to several hormones including the thyroid hormone thyroxin and the pituitary hormone norepinephrin. Tyrosine is commonly used to treat depression because it is the precursor to norepinephrin and dopamine which are neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. Tyrosine also acts as a mild antioxidant, suppresses the appetite and helps to reduce body fat. Tyrosine enables weight loss if hypothyroidism is part of the weight issue because tyrosine helps to form active thyroid hormones and stimulates the release of growth hormone which helps increase muscle mass. Tyrosine also aids in the production of melanin (skin pigment). Symptoms of tyrosine deficiency can also include low blood pressure, low body temperature and restless leg syndrome. Food sources of tyrosine include almonds, avodacos, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
Amino acid supplements can be very helpful. A common issue I see in amino acid deficiencies is either insufficient protein intake or impaired protein digestion. In order to digest and assimilate protein, stomach acid is necessary. Those taking acid blockers need to supplement a digestive enzyme containing protease to help digest essential nutrients.
Margaret Durst is a naturopathic doctor who owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.