There is a long history of using amino acids in the treatment of depression. Amino acids were discovered in the early 1900s and used until the 1980s as the mainstay for treating of depression. Amino acids have continued to be a popular option for natural medicine modalities like naturopathy and herbalism in the treatment of depression.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are the breakdown products of proteins, some of which are not readily available in our normal diet and need to be supplemented. Amino acids are precursors to brain chemicals such as serotonin. Serotonin requires the amino acid tryptophan for its production. Without the proper amino acids in our diet, our brains can become depleted of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitter depletion or deficiency can therefore lead to depression.
Water accounts for about 60-75% of our body weight, followed by amino acids (proteins) with 20%. Thus, a person weighing 100 kg consists of about 20 kg of proteins, which make up important tissues of the body. The constituents of these proteins are amino acids.
Only twenty of the about 500 kinds of amino acids that have been discovered in nature serve as the constituents of our body proteins. Complicated combinations of these 20 kinds produce as many as 100 thousand kinds of various proteins.
When we eat food such as meat, fish, and free range eggs, the proteins contained in it are first degraded to the 20 kinds of amino acids, and then reassembled into proteins in the body.
The 20 amino acids that constitute the body.
The essential amino acids are
Valine, Leucine, Isoleucine, Threonine, Methionine, Histidine, Phenylalanine, Lysine, Tryptophan
and the others are
Alanine, Arginine, Glutamine, , Aspartic acid, Glutamate, Proline, Cysteine, , Tyrosine, , Asparagine, Glycine, Serine
Amino acids are always synthesized and decomposed time and again in the body. Of the 20 kinds of amino acids that serve as the building blocks, only 11 kinds can be synthesized in the human body when needed, whereas the remaining 9 kinds can not be synthesized so we have to get them from our food. These are called essential amino acids. "Essential" means that we must necessarily take them from food. Although the other amino acids are called nonessential amino acids, they are also vital to make up the body.
In 1806 an amino acid was first discovered from asparagus shoots in France, and was named asparagine. After this, cysteine, glycine, and leucine were found from urinary calculus, gelatin, and muscles. All the protein-constituting amino acids were discovered by 1935. In 1866 glutamate was isolated by Ritthausen from gluten.
Amino acids are said to be the source of life. A good combination of food, like rice and miso soup that are the staples of the Japanese diet represents a good balance of amino acids for them. Rice and wheat contain 7% and about 11% of proteins. However, their proteins are different in amino acid profile. Wheat contains 3 essential amino acids, lysine, methionine, and threonine in small amounts. It is necessary to compensate the deficient amino acids by eating FREE RANGE meat and RAW dairy products.
Beans contain a large amount of lysine which tends to be insufficient in rice. Rice contains a large amount of methionine which is lacking in beans.
The amino acid profile of various proteins varies greatly. Foods that contain
protein, whether they are vegetarian or animal in origin, contain different combinations of amino acids. Therapeutic neurotransmitter balance cannot always be achieved through diet alone. Protein intake increases the level of amino acids circulating the blood stream. Once proteins are broken down into amino acids by the digestive system, they are released into the blood stream. In order for the amino acids to be taken up into the brain, they have to be carried across the blood-brain barrier. This transport system will not help to correct amino acid imbalances within the brain. If you have become depleted in serotonin because of high stress, dietary deficiencies or other lifestyle factors, tryptophan uptake will not increase in any capacity across the blood-brain barrier.
The timing of supplementation is very important if you want to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain by utilizing tryptophan as a precursor. Because the levels of circulating amino acids in the bloodstream decreases between meals you have to use supplemental amino acids. By supplementing with an individual amino acid between meals, you are allowing that particular amino acid to become more available to be taken up by the transporter at the blood-brain barrier. Once the amino acid is taken up in the brain, it can then be used for neurotransmitter production.
Amino acid therapy is often used to help address many of the symptoms of depression. Each neurotransmitter has a specific amino acid, which is required for its synthesis and plays a particular role within the brain.
Each of us has a unique neurotransmitter profile. We call it Biochemical Individuality. That is why your recommended amino acid supplements in your treatment program should be specific to your individual imbalances. While single amino acids can help to balance the brain, using this method often requires several different products and should also include mineral co-factors, vitamins and a high quality omega-3 fatty acid.
Restoring neurotransmitter levels and achieving your correct balance can have a profoundly positive effect on depression. You just need a registered Life/Health Coach to determine what supplemental amino acid protocol is right for you.
The nutritional treatment of depression includes dietary modifications, supportive treatment with vitamins and minerals, and supplementation with specific amino acids. Dietary modification and vitamin and mineral supplementation in some cases reduce the severity of depression. Supplementation with the amino acids L-tryptophan,
L-tyrosine and D,L-phenylalanine can be used as an alternative treatment to antidepressant chemical drugs.
L-Tyrosine is the precursor to the biogenic amine norepinephrine and may therefore be valuable to patients who do not respond to all medications except amphetamines. Such people excrete much less than the usual amounts of 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol, the byproduct of norepinephrine breakdown, suggesting a deficiency of the brain chemical, norepinephrine.
One clinical study detailed two patients with long-standing depression who failed to respond to MAO inhibitor and tricyclic drugs as well as electroconvulsive therapy. One patient required 20 mg/day of dextroamphetamine to remain depression-free, and the other required 15 mg/day of D,L-amphetamine. Subsequently, after 14 days of taking L-tyrosine, 100 mg per kg once a day on an empty stomach, the one patient was able to eliminate all dextroamphetamine, and the other one was able to reduce the intake of D,L-amphetamine to 5 mg/day. In another case report, a 30-year-old female with a two-year history of depression showed marked improvement after only 14 days of treatment with L-tyrosine, 100 mg per kg once a day in three divided doses, without any side-effects.
L-Phenylalanine is converted in the body to L-tyrosine. D-phenylalanine is metabolized to phenylethylamine (PEA), an amphetamine-like substance that occurs normally in the brain and has mood-elevating effects. Decreased urinary levels of PEA, which suggests a deficiency, have been found in several depressed patients. Although PEA can be synthesized from L-phenylalanine, a large proportion of this amino acid is converted to L-tyrosine. D-phenylalanine is therefore the preferred substrate for increasing the synthesis of PEA, although L-phenylalanine would also have a mild antidepressant effect because of its conversion to L-tyrosine and its partial conversion to PEA. Because D-phenylalanine is not widely available, the mixture D,L-phenylalanine is often used when an antidepressant effect is desired.
Studies of D,L-phenylalanine’s efficacy show that it has a lot of promise as a natural antidepressant. Dosage is 500mg 2x per day on an empty stomach.
Depression can result if certain neurotransmitters are in short supply. Chemical, synthetic antidepressants like SSRI’s work by raising neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Amino acids are the precursors for neurotransmitters and other mood-regulating compounds. It is possible to reverse depression taking these specific amino acid precursors. Studies have shown that Serotonin nerve circuits promote feelings of well-being.
Major and mild depression are effectively treated with psychoactive drugs which block the reuptake of Serotonin (SSRI) into the presynaptic axon terminal, for example Fluoxetine. The resultant enhanced Serotonin activation brings about a cascade of events ultimately resulting in a reduced sensitivity of presynaptic autoreceptors for Serotonin and reduced Serotonin synthesis. This suggests that neurotransmitter dysregulation may be involved in depressive disorders which is the brain amine theory of depression.
L-Tryptophan and 5-Hydroxytryptophan is perhaps the most well known of the brain’s key mood regulators, is made from the amino acid L-tryptophan. Recent studies show that Serotonin levels can drop too low within seven hours of tryptophan depletion or deficiency. Low Serotonin can be the easiest deficiency of all to develop. Very few foods are high in this amino acid, which is the only nutrient that the body can use to make Serotonin.
L-tryptophan is considered essential because the body cannot manufacture its own. L-tryptophan plays many roles in human health, but most importantly, it is an essential precursor to a number of neurotransmittters in the brain. L-tryptophan is the only substance that can be converted into Serotonin. L-tryptophan clearly plays an instrumental role in treating depression. The conversion of L-tryptophan to Serotonin occurs in two-steps. L-tryptophan is converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5HTP),and 5-hydroxytryptophan is then converted into Serotonin. 5 HTP is well-absorbed with approximately 70% of an oral dose reaching the bloodstream. This is the basic process by which Serotonin is produced from food. 5HTP differs from Tryptophan in that it slightly increases the activity of an energizing neurotransmitter, Norepinephrine, as well as the calming one, Serotonin. In several scientific studies, 5 HTP outperformed Tryptophan in treating depression. It has also proved therapeutic for some patients who failed to respond to standard antidepressant drugs. The greater the agitation associated with depression, the more likely the response to 5-HTP.
5-HTP is extracted from the seeds of the African Griffonia Simplicifolia seeds. 5-HTP dietary supplements help raise Serotonin levels in the brain, which may have a positive effect on the following functions and processes: sleep, mood, anxiety, aggression, appetite, temperature, sexual behavior, and pain sensation. Recent research studies have confirmed the effectiveness of using just a few targeted amino acid precursors to increase the key neurotransmitters involved in our mental health. Some experts recommend taking 50 to 100 mg of 5-HTP once or twice per day for most conditions. Higher doses of 5-HTP are necessary to produce beneficial results in certain conditions. 5-HTP should be used with caution, if at all, in people with diabetes and high blood pressure or individuals taking SSRIs and MAOIs. People with asthma should avoid taking this supplement, because any Serotonin precursor could make their breathing worse, and high doses may lead to a noticeable sense of fatigue following exercise.
Several studies and clinical trials have compared 5-HTP to synthetic antidepressants commonly prescribed. A 6-week study of 63 people given either 5-HTP (100 mg 3 times daily) or an SSRI (Fluvoxamine,50 mg 3 times daily). Researchers found equal benefit between the supplement and the drug. However,5-HTP caused almost no side effects (Byerley,1987).
In their 1988 review of 5-HTP antidepressant studies, Zmilacher et al. report that "Out of the 17 reviewed studies 60.5% of all the patients (342 out of 565) showed a good or very good improvement of their depressive state. A tendency indicating that 5-HTP was especially effective in patients with an anxious agitated depressive syndrome. An important finding is the very rapid onset of action (within 3-5 days) in patients responding to treatment." (Zmilacher et al.,1988).
Recent research has proven the effectiveness of amino acid therapy in fighting depression. Both Phenylalanine and Tyrosine have been found to be as effective as the antidepressant drug Imipramine. Tryptophan, which the body converts into the precursor 5-HTP, has also been found to be as effective as the synthetic antidepressants commonly used in clinical practice, without the severe side effects (Cass,1998).
As a specific supplement, 5-HTP has been proposed for all the same uses as other chemical, synthetic antidepressants, including decreasing the discomfort of fibromyalgia, aiding weight loss, improving sleep quality, preventing migraine headaches, and reducing anxiety. A typical dosage of 5-HTP is 100 to 300 mg 3 times per day on an empty stomach. Once 5-HTP starts to work, it may be possible to reduce the dosage significantly and still maintain good results (Bratman et al.,2000). Conclusion Orthomolecular Psychiatry describes the practice of preventing and treating DEPRESSION by providing the mind with optimal amounts of key substances like amino acids which are natural to the body. In the orthomolecular view, it is possible that the strategic provision of certain vitamins, amino acids, minerals, trace elements or fatty acids in amounts sufficient to correct biochemical abnormalities, nutritional deficiencies or wrong eating habits will be therapeutic in preventing or treating depression. According to Linus Pauling (1968) Varying the concentrations of substances normally present in the human body may control and treat depression.
Amino acid therapy is of great value, and is in my opinion the best method of treatment for patients suffering from depression.
Renier du Toit
MA(Clin.Psych)Stell. PsyD, ND, DIHom.
Life Coach/Health Coach.
Doctor of Natural Medicine.
21 Piet Retief Street
Tel: 023 614 2672
Fax: 086 525 6725
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