Using Amino Acids for Specific Health Needs
You have already learned some of the basics about essential, nonessential, and conditional amino acids in All About Aminos Part I. Here, we will look at some of the specific uses of amino acids to support mood, cognition, and more.
Amino Acids for Mood Support
One of the most well-known amino acids for mood support is 5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP. It is related to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that influences mood, sleep, and pain. 5-HTP has been used to raise serotonin levels as a way to address low mood. 1 While 5- HTP is not found in food, your body can make it from the essential amino acid tryptophan (even though this appears to have little effect on 5-HTP levels). Another essential amino acid, tyrosine, is sometimes used with 5-HTP as it is an essential precursor to dopamine. A balance of this neurotransmitter combination may help with mood. Because every person is unique in how much of each amino acid they need to address mood issues, it is best to look to a healthcare practitioner for recommendations and guidance.
Relaxing with Amino Acids
The amino acid L-theanine has been shown to increase alpha brainwave activity, which can help increase attention as well as promote a feeling of relaxation. It can be useful for people who need to “come down” from their day and for those who do not handle stress well. 2 Additionally, L-theanine increases synthesis of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that helps promote healthy levels of dopamine within the brain. Green tea, including decaffeinated varieties, features this amino acid.
Amino Acids to Support Cognition
L-carnitine is a derivative of the amino acid lysine, and has been shown to help improve memory and mental functioning in elderly people. 3 Additionally, branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine are “helpers” in many of the chemical functions of the brain, such as protein synthesis, energy production, and synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Restricting BCAAs for Weight Management
Limiting certain dietary branched-chain amino acids has been shown to improve metabolic health, even if calories are not reduced. 4 Researchers reduced BCAAs in obese mice to see if it would help with glucose levels and be comparable to the benefits experienced through protein restriction (which restricts all amino acids). The low BCAA diet (which included a low-fat diet) produced a greater amount of weight loss and improvement in glucose tolerance than a low-fat diet alone. 5
Beauty and Amino Acids
Amino acids also help our hair and nails. Cysteine is important for hair growth and improves hair texture and strength by providing sulphur to hair cells. Another amino acid for hair growth is methionine, which acts as an antioxidant, provides sulphur, and is important for synthesis of collagen that helps strengthen the hair shaft. Collagen formation is also helped along by lysine, which may help to prevent male pattern baldness. Nails can also benefit from branched-chain amino acids due to an ability to repair and regenerate tissue. Glycine, cystine, tyrosine, glutamine, and proline also play roles in helping to produce collagen that boosts the growth of hair and nails.
In addition to dietary sources of amino acids, there is a plethora of supplements available, many of which focus on addressing specific needs. Ask your healthcare practitioner for more information about amino acids.
1. Birdsall TC. 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Altern Med Rev. 1998;3(4):271-280.
2. Nobre AC, Rao A, Owen GN. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-168.
3. Badrasawi M, Shahar S, Zahara AM, Nor Fadilah R, Singh DK. Efficacy of L-carnitine supplementation on frailty status and its biomarkers, nutritional status, and physical and cognitive function among prefrail older adults: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Clin Interv Aging. 2016;11:1675-1686. Published 2016 Nov 17. doi:10.2147/CIA.S113287
4. Hill C, Morrison C. Dietary branched chain amino acids and metabolic health: when less is more. J Physiol 596.4 (2018) pp 555–556
5. Siddik AB. and Shin AC. Recent progress on branched-chain amino acids in obesity, diabetes and beyond. Endocrinology and Metabolism 3 (2019): 234-246