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Everywhere we look there are advertisements for anti-depressants, stimulants and other substances that are supposed to help us feel better and more energized, but time and again these drugs prove to be ineffective and even harmful in the long run. Amino acid supplements, on the other hand, are an excellent alternative therapy for treating lack of energy and low moods.
Julia Ross talks extensively about amino acid therapy in her books The Diet Cure and The Mood Cure (read my review of The Mood Cure here). Supplementing with the right amino acids can boost deficient brain chemicals and make transitioning to a healthy lifestyle more achievable. It's not uncommon to have trouble kicking habits like using tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and eating processed sugar foods. Many times cravings for these substances can be linked to neurotransmitter deficiency. Fixing your diet and lifestyle are the best ways to correct such a deficiency, but let's face it: sometimes it feels impossible to make changes when our brain chemicals are off balance!
Amino acid therapy is generally very temporary if you are making other important changes in conjunction with the therapy. A few weeks or months is usually all it takes before doses can be tapered and eventually eliminated. I personally used amino acid therapy on and off for a period of about 12-18 months. Once I found which amino acids were most effective for me and got the dosage right, I discovered that changes were immediately noticeable. Today I no longer take regular doses of specific amino acids, though I do keep them around "just in case," though I rarely feel the need to use them.
Here are four amino acids that particularly work to improve energy and mood:
(All the dosages below are based on Julia's recommendations in her books, which I highly suggest reading before embarking on an amino acid therapy program. Remember it is always best to start with a small dose and increase as needed.)
Glutamine: L-glutamine supplements are among the most popular amino acid supplements for many reasons. They are useful for treating fatigue and depression. Glutamic acid, which is derived from glutamine, is essential for ideal brain function. During times of stress, your body uses up mass amounts of glutamine that can easily be replaced with a supplement of L-glutamine to keep you functioning at your best. Glutamine is also highly effective at fighting sugar and starch cravings. In addition, glutamine is also used to aid muscle recovery when taken before or after exercise. Suggested dosage is between 500-1,500 mg up to three times daily.
Phenylalanine: This is an essential amino acid which cannot be manufactured by the body. Phenylalanine is used to produce tyrosine (see below), and directly affects mood and energy. Phenylalanine supplements are used to treat fatigue, depression, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), problems with food cravings and overeating, and chronic pain. In supplemental form, you can use D-phenylalanine, L-phenylalanine, or DL-phenylalanine (DLPA). The first is especially useful in relieving pain, the second is also effective but slightly more stimulating, and the third is a combination of the first two forms. Start with 500 mg, one to three times daily, and gradually increase up to 1,000 mg three times daily as needed. Do not exceed 5,000 mg daily.
DLPA has been very helpful to me in the past. I've used it to help end coffee cravings (so has Ann Marie from Cheeseslave, you can read her post about quitting coffee here). It's also helped me recover from periods of emotional imbalance and depression. In my experience, DLPA has been surprisingly effective. I've only had to use it for short periods and the benefits seem to be long-lasting.
Tryptophan: This essential amino acid is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is important for providing a feeling of calm and well-being. A deficiency of serotonin can result in depression, anxiety, insomnia, excessive anger and mood swings. Tryptophan supplements are quite effective, and act quickly to help produce optimal levels of serotonin. Take 500-1,000 mg up to three times per day. A bedtime dosage can be helpful for restful sleep.
Tyrosine: This amino acid is a precursor of adrenaline, dopamine and norepinephrine, which are important for maintaining a sense of well-being and energy, and also promote a healthy metabolism and nervous system. Tyrosine also works with iodine to promote thyroid health. Supplemental L-tyrosine is excellent for treating fatigue, low moods, depression, low sex drive and anxiety. Tyrosine and phenylalanine can be used in conjunction. Some people benefit more from one or the other; it’s important to work with both of them to find the right balance for your individual needs (I personally do much better on DLPA than tyrosine, though it took some experimenting to figure that out!). Dosage begins at 500 mg, one to three times daily. Increase dosage as needed, up to 2,000 mg three times daily.
Tips For Taking These Amino Acids
- Look for free-form amino acids in capsule or powder form to enhance absorption. Tablets are inferior because additives and binders make them more difficult to break down and utilize. Powder form is the most easily absorbed and will often have no additives at all.
- Take all amino acids between meals, at least twenty minutes before or ninety minutes after. This prevents these therapeutic aminos from competing for absorption with amino acids obtained from food.
- Stimulating aminos like tyrosine and phenylalanine compete with relaxing aminos like tryptophanTryptophan, on the other hand, can be used successfully for relaxation in the late afternoon, evening or bedtime.
Remember: Amino acid therapy should be used while working on improving dietary and lifestyle habits that could be draining your brain chemicals. Getting plenty of protein is an important part of stabilizing your energy and moods. Learn more about getting enough protein here.
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Pennywise Platter Thursday at The Nourishing Gourmet.