Amino Acids in Mental Wellness
If you are like me, you will always be searching for new ways to give yourself an extra edge and make continued improvements to your health. I have tried a million and one hacks for more energy, to perform better in the gym, to maintain my waistline (an ever more challenging escapade at almost 44), increase my antioxidant intake, fatty acid intake, enhance the nutrient density of my diet. You name it.
So amino acids can become neurotransmitters. This scope is really quite wide but purely to focus on the challenge that I was facing at this time - deep depression and anxiety, I want to focus on two specifically. 5HTP and DLPA.
The amino acid Tryptophan is the chemical precursor (building block) to the neurotransmitter serotonin. This widely discussed neurotransmitter plays many roles in the body, depending where it is found. It is important to know that its role is dependant upon location. In the gut serotonin regulates peristalsis which is the rhythmical contractions of the gut wall that moves our gut contents along to its final destination. In the blood it regulates platelet activity and clotting. In the skeleton it helps regulate bone mineral density. But most importantly, in the brain serotonin regulates mood, and specifically helps us feel good, happy and uplifted. Serotonin is a common target for antidepressant drugs, with one particularly widely used group called SSRI’s or ‘Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors’. I will explain what that means. I mentioned earlier that neurotransmitters are there to relay the electrical signal between one nerve cell and another. Well, they are stored at the ends of our nerve cells in little bubbles called vesicles. These vesicles kick the neurotransmitter out into the space between the two cells as needed. The neurotransmitter then attaches to a receptor that recognises it on the neighbouring neutron, and carries the signal on. The vesicles that store the neurotransmitters will rapidly take up any excess back in to the cell it originated from to avoid any wastage. SSRI’s - re uptake inhibitors - greatly reduce this re uptake from happening so as logic should infer, the more serotonin is freely around to attach to serotonin receptors, then the greater serotonin led response is delivered. Which is exactly what happens and they do work, although the side effects to me are a little worrying. So what if there was another way to raise serotonin.
The next amino acid, and one that was new to me in terms of this context of use at least, was DLPA or D L Phenylalanine. This particular amino acid converts over into another called tyrosine which then converts into dopamine and noradrenaline. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is involved in motivation, learning, attention, behaviour and cognition, and pleasure. When levels get low, it can feel like the life has been drained from us. That feeling of no motivation to even get out of bed, no desire to go anywhere or do anything, and nothing in life seems particularly pleasurable or motivating at all. Life just become lacklustre and the magic and sparkle just goes!! Noradrenaline is something that when in the brain and nervous system acts as a neurotransmitter. It is involved in attention, focus and taking action, as well as playing a role in the fight or flight response. If either of these get depleted, the result is that feeling that everything is too difficult and that you just don’t want to go anywhere or do anything.
That combination of 5HTP and DLPA has proved a genuine game changer for me. Sure, I am taking a multitude of other steps to protect my mental wellbeing in these trying times, but the results I have had from really tapping into neurochemistry via nutrition has been staggering!!