Amino acids are not just for bodybuilders - did you know they can help ease your depression symptoms, too?
Very simply put, amino acids get converted into neurotransmitters which play a critical role in your brain. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals which help your brain cells 'talk' to each other. Low levels of certain neurotransmitters have been associated with depression.
There are two main types of amino acids. Your body can make nonessential amino acids. In contrast, essential amino acids cannot be manufactured by your body. Instead, you must get them via food or supplements.
The good news is that you can correct low levels of amino acids in your body! Amino acid therapy for depression involves taking specific amino acid supplements to bring them into balance. By correcting these imbalances, you can, in turn, optimize the levels of brain neurotransmitters and improve your mood.
The following seven amino acids may help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety:
5-HTP: 5-HTP is thought to increase the brain neurotransmitter serotonin. Studies have shown 5-HTP can be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. Additional good news: users typically experience few side effects.
GABA: GABA is actually an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter in your brain. It has a calming effect and may reduce anxiety and stress-related symptoms. Think of it as a natural tranquilizer.
Glutamine: Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid which acts by increasing GABA levels in your brain. Low levels of glutamine are thought to contribute to depression, fatigue, and even alcohol cravings.
Phenylalanine: Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid which can be found in a variety of protein foods. It helps build the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Although you can get phenylalanine from the foods you eat, high stress levels or a poor diet may contribute to low levels in your system.
Taurine: Taurine is a nonessential amino acid which helps to prevent neurotransmitter over activity. By doing so, it may help reduce anxiety and hyperactivity. You can get taurine in dairy products, oatmeal, and pork among other foods.
Tyrosine: Tyrosine is also found in a variety of protein foods. Tyrosine helps build dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Optimal tyrosine levels may help regulate metabolism, energy levels, and overall mood.
SAMe: SAMe is not actually an amino acid itself but it does help produce neurotransmitters. While SAM-e is readily available over the counter and clinical research has studied its efficacy, there is no real consensus on whether it truly works.
If you choose to take amino acids for depression, keep the following points in mind:
- Start slowly. An easy first step is to ensure you're getting enough protein-rich foods. Include lean protein with each meal.
- Gradually work up to recommended dosages if you choose to take supplements. This will allow you to better gauge how your body handles a given supplement.
- Add one supplement at a time. Again, you want to know what effect a given supplement is having and if you add several at once, you cannot accurately tell what is working (or not).
- Be patient. It can take several weeks to feel the full effects of dietary changes. Track your moods over several weeks and then gauge results.
Always discuss all medications and supplements with your physician. Certain supplements can interact with prescription drugs.