Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Benefits of Amino Acids

Though most of the amino acids needed are manufactured by the body, nine are not; these are known as the essential amino acids — L-histi-dine, L-isoleucine, L-leucine, L-lysine, L-methionine, Lphenylalanine, L-thre-onine, L-tryptophan, and L-valine — and all are provided by proteins in the diet. The other fifteen not needed in the diet are alanine, arginine, asparginine, aspartic acid, carnitine, cysteine, cystine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, hydroxyproline, ornithine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. The line between essential and nonessential amino acids is fuzzy, as children require arginine for growth and, for adults under such condition as stress to the body (extreme heat, extreme cold, shock, drugs, toxic agents), illness (fever), or pregnancy, any one of the nonessential amino acids, mostly the "branchchain" ones (leucine, isoleucine, valine), can become essential. Those with allergies, for example, use an excess of histamine in their bodies, which is manufactured from histidine. Genetic problems can also lead to deficiencies.

Complete proteins provide the proper balance of all the amino acids, and these foods include meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, milk, and cheese. Incomplete proteins — such as those found in beans, grains, nuts, peas, and seeds — lack some essential amino acids and must be eaten in combination for best results.

The functioning of the brain relies on amino acids, as these are the essential components for the development of neurotransmitters. In turn, neurotransmitters are important factors in brain chemistry, as certain deficiencies or excesses of some neurotransmitters can cause mood disorders. Though amino acids play an essential role in brain function, there are some experts, such as Dr. Andrew Weil (author of Natural Health, Natural Medicine) and Dr. Stuart Berger, who do not believe they should be taken as supplements, as they can severely disrupt the brain chemistry. Some reference texts, such as the Psychotropic Drug Handbook, caution that nondietary amino acid supplements may produce effects different from those found in food. Also, a highly imbalanced intake of amino acids could have an adverse effect on protein synthesis in children.

Amino acids can be in either the "L" or "D" form. The "L" forms are readily absorbed and utilized by the body as proteins, while the "D" forms must be converted by the body into a usable form first; despite the therapeutic value found in some "D" forms, the FDA bans sale of the latter, so you may not encounter it when buying supplements.

Freeform amino acids are ones that have been taken from complex proteins, and you must be sure that, when buying powdered amino acid supplements, the label specifies the amount of free-form amino acids in the product. Chances are that if the label says only "amino acids," the bottle may contain mostly inexpensive protein filler and not much of any amino acids. Amino acids should be taken with cofactors — such as vitamins, minerals, or nutrients — that assist the body in metabolizing them; it is also a good idea to take a variety of amino acids together and in their proper proportions to one another.

There is one instance, however, where two amino acids play opposite roles and are not compatible with each other: L-tyrosine, which the brain uses to manufacture the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine —both of which have a stimulating effect, contributing to clear , fast thinking, long-term memory, and alertness — and L-tryptophan, used by the brain to synthesize the neurotransmitter serotonin— which has a sedative effect on the brain, leading to a slower reaction time, a feeling of fullness after a meal, and sleepiness. To get the mental lift from L-tyrosine, it is necessary to eat the proteins (meat, poultry, seafood, beans, tofu, and lentils) in the meal before the food that contains carbohydrates. To relax or fall asleep, it is necessary to eat the foods high in Ltryptophan (bananas, milk, sunflower seeds) first, along with the foods rich in carbohydrates, because they enhance the effect of L-tryptophan. In order to get an energy boost, it is necessary to eat foods high in L-tyrosine. The reason for this is that, even though L-tryptophan needs carbohydrates to get into the brain, it does so much more readily than L-tyrosine.

The following is a description of the benefits and effects of various amino acids on the body and the mind

AKA: L-arginine. Arginine is needed for the normal functioning of the pituitary gland.

Food Sources: Carob, cereals, chocolate, gelatin desserts, nuts, oatmeal, popcorn, protein-rich foods, raisins, brown rice, sunflower and sesame seeds, whole wheat bread.

Effects: The body converts it to spermine, found in semen, blood tissue, and brain cells. It is said to help fight cancer by boosting the immune system (more specifically, by stimulating the production of T-cells), protect the liver by detoxifying harmful substances, and increase the sperm count in men. Reduced levels have been found in people with senility and memory loss. Though it does seem to have a stimulating effect on human growth hormone when taken along with lysine, and thus may be of some benefit to bodybuilders, it apparently does not reduce fat to any significant extent. A deficiency can result in male infertility, premature aging, increased free radical activity, and obesity.

Precautions: Supplements should not be taken by those with schizophrenia, though there is no evidence that it aggravates this condition. Those with any form of liver or kidney failure should take high doses for a prolonged period of time only while under the care of a physician. Supplementary forms should not be taken by children or teenagers, as there is the possibility it could cause bone and skin disorders. Too large a dose can result in diarrhea, nausea, a thickening or coarsening of the skin, and the possible promotion of the herpes virus (though Sheldon Saul Hendler, M.D., Ph.D., says this last has not been proven). In fact, those with herpes should avoid arginine supplements and argininerich foods, though sufficient amounts of lysine may help counteract this; in such cases, ornithine may be used in place of arginine. Dosages over 20 to 30 grams a day could lead to enlarged joints and bone deformities.

Dosage: The RDA has not yet been established. The large doses given to sick people are safe only for short periods of time; the safe level for healthy people has not yet been determined, though Leon Chaitow recommends up to 8 g/day and Hendler suggests a more conservative dose.of 1.5 g/day.

AKA: L-carnosine. Carnosine is a composite of two amino acids that work synergistically with other antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, B-complex, beta-carotene, selenium, and the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine.

Food Sources: It is found only in animal foods such as eggs, fish (all kinds), meat (all kinds), and milk.

Effects: Carnosine stabilizes some thirteen important functions of the body and is also an antioxidant that fights certain free radicals found in air pollution and second-hand smoke.

AKA: Cysteine hydrochloride monohydrate, L-cysteine, NAC, N-acetyl-cysteine, N-acetyl-Lcysteine. Manufactured from methionine or serine by the liver.

Food Sources: Some cereals, dairy products, eggs, meat.

Effects: Cysteine is a strong antioxidant believed to purify the body, removing heavy metals and protecting the blood, lungs, intestinal tract, and liver against the harmful effects of alcohol, smoking, and pollution by detoxifying acetaldehyde. It plays a role in the formation of the skin, helps prevent cataracts, helps offset the effects of iron deficiency, and is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, bronchitis, cancer, hardening of the arteries, and chronic diseases. It may boost the immune system and help fight liver cancer, and has been used to treat allergies, arthritis, cataracts, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and the adverse consequences of radiation in chemotherapy and X-rays. It has been proven to extend the life span of mice and guinea pigs, possibly because it contains sulfur, a substance that deactives free radicals; Pearson and Shaw claim that it can restore hair growth and extend a person's life span. Cysteine helps protect against radiation damage when combined with vitamins C and Bl, and also works synergistically with vitamin E and selenium. N-acetylcysteine (NAG) is form of cysteine more fully utilized by the body. Both NAG and cysteine are helpful in preventing damage to the body and subsequent side effects from radiation, particularly in relation to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Precautions: Anyone with diabetes or blood sugar problems should not take supplements in doses above 3000 mg and in combination with large doses of vitamins B-l and C except under the guidance of a physician, as it can inactive insulin production. On the other hand, Pearson and Shaw recommend taking three times as much vitamin C as the total cysteine intake and plenty of fluids to prevent the formation of kidney and bladder stones. Anecdotal evidence indicates that it could increase the toxicity of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in those already susceptible.

Dosage: Up to 1 to 3 g/day, along with vitamin C (in doses three times the amount of cysteine so that the body does not produce too much cystine) and vitamin B-6, though Sheldon Saul Hendler, M.D., Ph.D., recommends no more than 1.5 g/day. It should also be taken on an empty stomach and with water. Ray Sahelian, M.D., states that because cysteine cannot cross cell membranes, supplements are useless.

Effects: Cystine removes heavy metals from the body and is used in the treatment of psoriasis and eczema. It may also help tissue healing after surgery protect the liver against damage from exposure to carbon tetrachloride.

Precautions: Cystine should be used with caution by those susceptible to kidney, liver, or bladder stones.


A synthetic amino acid.

Effects: EDTA has been used in chelation therapy to treat Alzheimer's patients. It works by binding to harmful metals in the brain and body and removing them. Subjects in the early stages of Alzheimer's have shown definite improvements in brain-cell function.

AKA: 5-hydroxy tryptophan, 5-hydroxy 1-tryptophan, 5-OHT, oxitrip-tan.

Effects: It is converted by the body into serotonin after it has been converted from the amino acid tryptophan. It induces calmness and reduces insomnia, and has shown some promise as an appetite suppressant and in treating mild depression. It has also shown promise in treating anxiety, obsessivecompulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, fibromyalgia, PMS, and migraine headaches. Unlike serotonin, it can cross the blood/ brain barrier. It works synergistically with melatonin.

Precautions: It should not be taken by anyone with ulcers or other gastrointestinal diseases, Crohn's disease, scleroderma, excess prolactin secretion, or carcinoid syndrome. Those over 60 may need smaller doses. Nausea and fatigue occur initially, but may eventually disappear. Daytime drowsiness, nightmares, loss of appetite, diarrhea, cramps, upset stomach, gas, vomiting, sweating, and lowered sex drive may also result, generally from higher doses. Rare side effects include long-term fatigue, stuffy or runny nose, and headaches. Daily use can lead to increased tolerance, with the result that higher doses are needed to achieve the same effects, and it can sometimes be hard to determine if 5-HTP will make you alert or drowsy (dosage, time of meals, time of day, supplements or medications, age, and hormonal levels all play a part). Long-term effects are not known. Overdose symptoms include the serotonin syndrome, where serotonin levels are too high, and which is characterized by restlessness, confusion, sweating, diarrhea, excessive salivation, high blood pressure, increased body temperature, rapid heart rate, tremors, seizures, and — in rare cases — death. Recovery is complete if dosage is stopped. Some 5-HTP supplements contain vitamin B-6 (pyroxidal phosphate), which helps to convert tryptophan to melatonin. However, there is concern that the vitamin may convert 5-HTP to serotonin in the blood or tissues, which could cause adverse reactions or increase the manufacture of norepinephrine and dopamine, counteracting any sedative effects of 5-HTP. More ominously, while the brain creates 5-HTP and immediately destroys it, the pill distributes it, through the bloodstream, all over the body; the consequences of this are as yet unknown. It should not be combined with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants, or the diet drug dexfenfluramine (Redux). It should only be combined with MAO inhibitors under the guidance of a physician; combining 200 mg of 5-HTP with MAO inhibitors can result in high blood pressure and emotional instability. When combined with St. John's Wort, both should be taken in smaller doses to prevent the serotonin syndrome.

Dosage: It is about ten times more potent than tryptophan. Ray Sahelian recommends 10 to 50 mg one-half to one hour before sleep. Side effects generally occur in doses above 100 mg. It should be taken no more than once or twice a week. Taking it with 25 to 50 mg of vitamin B-6 may increase the amount converted to serotonin in the brain, and eating it with carbohydrates may help improve the rate at which it enters the brain.

AKA: L-glutamine. A free-form amino acid that produces glutamic acid, a brain chemical that protects against ammonia metabolic waste.

Effects: Subjects have reported clearer thinking, improved alertness, and better moods. It manufactures GAB A, a neurotransmitter which soothes and calms the mind. It has also reportedly helped in the control of obesity (by reducing the craving for carbohydrates) and alcoholism, in reducing the healing time for ulcers, and for the relief of depression, fatigue, and impotence. It has been used to treat schizophrenia and senility, and research has shown that it can offset the adverse effects of immune system suppression caused by intense exercise. Laboratory tests have shown that glutamic acid retards the formation of or dissolves kidney stones. A deficiency can result in moodiness, ill temper, and a weakened immune system.

Precautions: Glutamic acid, unable to cross the blood-brain barrier, provides no known benefit. Over 2 g/day of glutamine can cause manic behavior. One individual taking high doses of glutamine experienced sleep loss, hyper-activity, and vivid uncontrollable thoughts. In a second reported case, a man taking four grams a day of L-glutamine for three weeks became psychotic, with hallucinations, grandiose delusions, insomnia, and a voracious sex drive. Those with sensitivity to the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) may experience an allergic reaction to glutamine.

Dosage: Some suggest starting with 250 to 500 mg/day and increasing to as much as 1 to 2 g/day. Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D., recommends 1 to 4 g/day in divided doses.

AKA: Glutaplex, GSH, GSH 250 Master Glutathione Formula. A stable tripeptide made by the body from the three amino acids L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid, and glycine. It does not break down into the toxic product cystine (which can crystalize and produce kidney stones), but is totally absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract.

Food Sources: Asparagus, avocados, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, potatoes, purslane, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon.

Effects: Glutathione is said to protect the brain cells against the cross-linking of proteins — a condition which reduces the efficiency of the brain cells — and increases the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain. It reportedly deactivates free radicals and counters the effect of lipid peroxides, which may be the key to its antiaging effect. The effectiveness of glutathione can be increased by lipoic acid, selenium, and vitamins B-2 and E.

Precautions: Persons with kidney disease, severe liver disease (especially that resulting from cirrhosis or Reye's syndrome), or those with seizure disorders should not take glutathione supplements without first consulting a physician. Those with diabetes or blood sugar problems should avoid doses above 3000 mg except under the care of a physician, as a combination of L-cysteine and large doses of vitamins Bl and C may inactivate insulin. Cysteine may also make some people more sensitive to the food additive MSG.

Dosage: Some suggest 250 to 500 mg/day, though Leon Chaitow recommends 1 to 3 g/day. The precursor N-acetyl-cysteine has been proven a more potent source of glutathione, but the exact dosage needed has not yet been determined. It may be more effective to consume the three amino acids and allow the body to manufacture glutathione on its own, rather than taking supplements. HlSTIDINE AKA: L-histidine.

Effects: Histadine is converted by the body into the neurotransmitter histamine, which plays a role in smooth muscle function and the dilation and contraction of blood vessels. It removes heavy metals from the body, helps protect nerves by maintaining the myelin sheath, and helps protect against radiation damage. Additionally, it promotes the manufacture of both red and white blood cells. It has been used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, poor sexual arousal, ulcers in the digestive tract, and nausea during pregnancy. A deficiency can lead to partial or total deafness and one form of schizophrenia (sufferers are referred to as histapenics).

Precautions: Histidine should not be used by manic-depressives with elevated levels of histamine or by women suffering from premenstrual depression. Whereas a deficiency can lead to one form of schizophrenia, an overdose can lead to another form (sufferers are referred to as histadelics; in some cases, methionine can decrease the level of histamine). Excessive histadine intake in males can lead to premature ejaculation, which can be countered with a supplementation of 500 mg of methionine, 500 mg of magnesium, and 50 mg of vitamin B-6. Dosages of over 4 g/day in women can trigger menstruation.

Dosage: Between 1 to 6 g/day with vitamin C.

A tripeptide formed by three amino acids linked together.

Effects: It has been found to enhance learning.

AKA: L-methionine. A sulfur-containing amino acid. Food sources: Found only in animal foods such as eggs, fish (all kinds), liver, meat (all kinds), milk, and poultry (all kinds).

Effects: Methionin is an antioxidant that is also said to protect against the accumulation of chemicals and heavy metals (e.g., cadmium, mercury) in the brain and body, play a key part in the production of the brain neurotransmitter choline (not to mention adrenaline, lecithin, and vitamin B12), prevent fat from getting into the arteries and liver, render selenium available to the body, and play an important role in the biosynthesis of two other amino acids — cysteine and taurine. Methionine is believed to relieve some cases of schizophrenia by lowering the level of histamine in the blood, and has been useful in the treatment of arthritis, cataracts, high cholesterol, chronic pain, asthma, allergies, and some cases of Parkinson's disease. It may help protect the liver against damage from carbon tetrachloride, and prevent certain tumors when used in combination with choline and folic acid. Deficiency symptoms include bad skin tone, loss of hair, a buildup of toxic wastes in the body and fat in the liver, anemia, impeded protein synthesis, and atherosclerosis. Selenomethionine is a variant in which selenium atoms replace the sulfur atoms.

Precautions: Methionine should always be taken with B-6 —to prevent an excess of homocysteine — and magnesium. Capsules are preferable to other forms because they avoid the rotten egg smell that usually accompanies it. One study suggests that methionine might be destroyed by excessive alcohol consumption.

Dosage: 100 to 250 mg/day. Leon Chaitow, N.D., D.O., recommends 200 to 1000 mg/ day with vitamin B-6 and magnesium; Sheldon Saul Hendler, M.D., Ph.D., advises against supplementation.

AKA: DL-phenylalanine (DLPA), D-phenylalanine, L-phenylalanine. Phenylalanine helps create the neurotransmitters, chiefly norepinephrine, epinephrine (or adrenalin), and dopamine, that produce mental arousal, alertness, and a better emotional state. It is often used by those attending raves. Food sources: Almonds, aspartame (NutraSweet), beef, black beans, chicken, cottage cheese, dairy products, eggs, fish, lima beans, milk, nuts, peanuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, soybeans, sunflower seeds, watercress. Plants contain mostly the "D" form, while animal proteins contain mostly the "L" form.

Effects: Phenylalanine may contribute to a more positive mental state, alertness, more motivation and ambition, more energy, an increase in learning ability, better memory, and an increased ability to focus and pay attention. (Leon Chaitow, N.D., D.O., claims only the "D" form produces these beneficial results, while Mark Mayell claims that the "L" form stimulates the nervous system and libido, enhances mood and cognition, and suppresses the appetite, whereas the "D" form elevates mood and enhances memory, and DLPA combines the effects of both.) It may help counter jet lag when taken first thing in the morning or right after a long flight, as it helps regulate the body's biological clock. It is believed that DLPA activates the morphine-like endorphins in the body, hormones which act as painkillers. One study has shown that a significant percentage of individuals suffering from depression exhibited rapid improvements in mood when given 500 mg/day of L-phenylalanine (which was gradually increased to 3 to 4 g/day), along with 100 to 200 mg a day of vitamin B-6 to facilitate the effects of the amino acid. Another study showed significant improvements in those with depression when 250 mg of L-phenylalanine was combined with 5 to 10 mg of Eldepryl. In combination with B-6, it produces the compound phenylethylamine (PEA), which may elevate mood based on its action as a neurotransmitter. There is some evidence that, in combination with other substances, phenylalanine can help suppress addictive behavior and cravings, but there is no evidence that it suppresses appetite or enhances the libido. A deficiency can result in mood swings, weight gain, and problems with blood circulation.

Precautions: It should not be taken by those with pigmented malignant melanoma cancer, phenylketonuria (or PKU, a genetic metabolic disorder), psychosis, or Wilson's disease (otherwise known as hepatolenticular degeneration, a rare hereditary disease chiefly characterized by a toxic buildup of copper in the organs and tissues of the body). Likewise, those taking MAO-inhibitor drugs should avoid phenylalanine, as should pregnant or lactating women. Early studies seem to indicate that phenylalanine and tyrosine encourage the growth of melanomas (or skin cancers, one of the deadliest forms of cancer), and doctors usually have patients restrict their intake of these amino acids. Those with high blood pressure should only take it under the guidance of a health professional. Some warn that the daily dosage should not exceed 2.4 grams a day. Too much phenylalanine can result in overstimulation, nervousness, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and irritability; if taken later in the day, it may cause insomnia. Mayell says these symptoms only occur with the "L" form, and can be avoided by reducing the dosage, switching to DLPA, or taking it only in the morning. Other symptoms include headaches and nausea.

Dosage: The RDA has not been established. It is recommended that both "D" and "L" forms be used, especially in the treatment of depression or for increased energy. A dose of 1000 to 1500 mg of DLPA may be taken in the morning without food; a second dose may be taken later in the day, this time with 100 mg of B-6, 500 mg of vitamin C, and some fruit or fruit juice to help convert the amino acid to norepinephrine. Hendler, M.D., Ph.D., recommends no more than 1.5 g/day, with 20 to 30 mg/ day of vitamin B-6 (not to exceed more than 50 mg/ day). Mayell advocates a more modest dose of 375 to 500 mg of the "L" form or 750 to 1000 mg of DLPA, first thing in the morning and at least 30 minutes before breakfast.

AKA: Adjuvant, Alpha-aminoglutaric acid lactam, Amino Mass, Arginine Pidolate, arginine pyroglutamate, Deep Thought, glutamic acid lactam, glutimic acid, glutiminic acid, Mental Edge, PCA, Piraglutargine, pyroGlu, pyroglutamic acid, pyrrolidon carboxylic acid, 2-oxo-pyrrolidon carboxylic acid. Pyroglutamate is able to cross the blood/brain barrier, and is found in significant amounts in the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid, and blood. It is used to make various nootropic drugs such as piracetam and oxiracetam. Similar in effect to piracetam, though not as strong. Food sources: Dairy products, fruits, meats, vegetables.

Effects: Pyroglutamate improves memory, alertness, concentration, and learning, and reduces anxiety and depression. Arginine pyroglutamate also increases muscle mass by stimulating the growth hormone. Works synergistically with choline, DMAE, and other acetylcholine-enhancing nutrients.

Precautions: None known.

Dosage: 500 to 1000 mg/day for arginine pyroglutamate; a bit less for plain pyroglutamate.

AKA: L-taurine. Food sources: Eggs, fish (all kinds), lamb, meat (all kinds), milk, pork, shellfish. Though it is not found in any plant foods, it can be manufactured in the human body from cysteine. High levels are found in human milk, but not cow's milk.

Effects: An electrical-charge stabilizer in the nerves of the brain and nervous system (it can decrease or even prevent epileptic seizures, and may even prove beneficial in other brain disorders such as Huntington's chorea), it is important for muscle function, and plays a role in the manufacture of the neurotransmitter glutamate. It is said to help the heart function better by conserving potassium and calcium, and help regulate insulin and blood sugar levels. Since taurine controls the synthesis of glutamate, it acts as a depressant. It may be necessary for proper growth of the human body. Women require taurine more than men because its synthesis is inhibited by the female hormone estradiol. Taurine has been used in the treatment of congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis, stress, eye problems, immune function disorders, gall bladder disease, and some types of epilepsy, and it may be of some benefit in treating cystic fibrosis. Individuals deprived of full-spectrum light may suffer a deficiency of taurine in the pineal and pituitary glands, leading to depression and mental impairment. Eye problems may result if a zinc deficiency is also present.

Precautions: There is good evidence that taurine is a central nervous system depressant and that it can impair short-term memory, so supplementation is not advised.

Dosage: 100 to 500 mg/day. Sheldon Saul Hendler, M.D., Ph.D., advises against supplementation.

AKA: L-tryptophan. Food sources: Bananas, unripened cheese, chicken, chicken liver, cottage cheese, evening primrose seeds, fish, lentils, meat, milk, peanuts, pineapple, pumpkin seeds, seaweed, soybeans and soybean products, spirulina, sunflower seeds, turkey, yogurt.

Effects: Tryptophan is necessary for the manufacture of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates mood and sleep patterns. It has proven helpful in the treatment of jet lag, depression, binge eating, obsessive-compulsive disorder, some forms of vascular migraines, panic attacks (when taken with vitamin B-6), and chronic pain, and may help in cases of rheumatoid arthritis and tardive dyskinesia. A deficiency may be characterized by insomnia, mental disturbances (particularly aggressive behavior), depression, bad skin color and tone, brittle fingernails, indigestion, and a craving for carbohydrates.

Precautions: It forms a harmful interaction when combined with MAO-inhibitor drugs or tricyclics, as it intensifies the side effects of these drugs. Because there are rare cases where tryptophan can cause excitability and insomnia, those who experience such symptoms should cease taking it immediately. It may be harmful to pregnant women, and may worsen the symptoms of bronchial asthma and lupus. Side effects may include nausea, headaches, gastric discomfort, and constipation. Specific tryptophan metabolites could cause bladder cancer. If the level of tryptophan is high in relation to the other amino acids, fatigue may result. It is not recommended that more than 2 grams a day be taken; nausea and vomiting are likely to occur in doses used to treat depression (6 to 9 grams and higher), though some studies have given subjects as much as 15 grams a day with no serious consequences. Scientists have still not unraveled the complicated process by which tryptophan is converted into serotonin, and some question whether oral doses are effective in this regard. In 1989, some 5,000 people suffered debilitating health problems from impurities in a batch of Ltryptophan distributed by Showa Denko, a Japanese firm that did not specialize in drugs or nutritional supplements; 36 of them died and many more were left permanently crippled. As a result, the sale of L-tryptophan supplements was banned in 1990. The FDA contends that the illness suffered by these victims, a blood disease called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), and related illnesses are attributable to L-tryptophan itself. Cases have also been reported for uncontaminated batches and for the similar compound L-5-hydroxytryptophan, but many experts dispute the validity of these reports.

Dosage: For the cure of insomnia, Dr. Stuart Berger recommends 2 grams of tryptophan, 100 mg of vitamin B-6, and 1 gram of vitamin C on an empty stomach before going to bed, though some research indicates that 1 gram of tryptophan may be sufficient for most people (this applies only to late at night; to sleep during the day, the need for tryptophan will be higher); some supplemental B-3 (in a ratio of two parts tryptophan to one part B-3) and magnesium may also be helpful. Hightryptophan foods should be combined with carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, pasta, or potatoes for best results. Proteins inhibit the brain's ability to absorb this amino acid. Eating sugary snacks can cause wild swings in insulin production and interfere with the body's ability to absorb tryptophan.

AKA: L-tyrosine. Food sources: Fish, particularly shellfish.

Effects: Boosts the brain neurotransmitters epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and dopamine, though the mental stimulation only occurs if the brain has used up these neurotransmitters. Elevates mood and energy (it has been effective in treating patients with depression), improves reaction time, alertness, attention, and motivation. It may help protect the liver from damage due to carbon tetrachloride, and has been used to treat stress, PMS, cocaine abuse, hay fever, grass allergies, Parkinson's disease, and cases of unipolar depression (i.e., unaccompanied by a manic phase) that do not respond to tryptophan.

Precautions: The fish or shellfish should be baked, broiled, grilled, steamed, or stewed, as fat and deepfrying destroys some of the beneficial effects. For best results, eat fish alone or with carbohydrate-rich foods (e.g., bread, potatoes). Because it might increase blood pressure in a small percentage of susceptible individuals, those with high blood pressure should take it only under the guidance of a physician. Those taking MAOinhibiting antidepressants should not take tyrosine supplements, as they can have adverse effects on blood pressure, as well as other serious consequences. Tyrosine should not be taken by anyone with melanoma. It could also trigger headaches in those already susceptible. Supplements should be taken with vitamins B-6 and C, as the brain needs these to turn the amino acid into norepinephrine. Supplements can create mild gastric problems if taken on an empty stomach. High doses can cause irritability, anxiety, and heart palpitations.

Dosage: The RDA has not been established. Three to four ounces of fish seems to be the optimal amount for most people; eating more will not result in any significant increase in effect. Leon Chaitow, N.D., D.O., recommends 100 mg per kilo of body weight per day; a dosage of 6 g/day in three divided doses for a two week period is recommended for the treatment of depression. Mark Mayell recommends that dosage not exceed 2 to 3 g/day (initial dosage should be 250 to 500 mg/day, working up to 750 mg twice a day until effects are noticed), that it be taken on an empty stomach, that it not be combined with other amino acids, and that it be taken with 25 mg/day of vitamin B-6 or B complex and 250 to 500 mg of vitamin C.

AKA: L-valine.

Effects: Normalizes the nitrogen balance in the body and it is necessary for proper mental and neural functioning, and for muscle coordination. One study funded by the National Institutes of Health has found that, in combination with leucine and isoleucine — two other branched-chain amino acids — Valine has shown promise as a treatment for amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. Subjects given these amino acids over the course of a year retained more of their muscle strength and ability to walk than those given a placebo, a result which may have been due in part to leucine and isoleucine's assistance in the breakdown of glutamate; valine was added because of a deficiency noted in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid of ALS patients. This combination also may prevent, and even reverse, liver damage resulting from alcoholism. Positive results have been recorded in the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy, chronic liver disease, and muscle atrophy in chronic heavy drinkers. Deficiency symptoms include nervousness, disrupted sleep patterns and mental functioning, and a nitrogen imbalance in the body.

Precautions: An overdose can lead to feelings of "crawling skin" and hallucinations. Any physical or mental benefits of supplementation by healthy individuals is unproven.

Dosage: 1 g/day. According to Leon Chaitow, N.D., D.O., it should be taken with the following amino acids in these proportions: one part tryptophan, two parts valine, two parts methionine, and three parts phenylalanine.

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