AMINO ACIDS: THE HEROES OF RECOVERY
mino acids are the building blocks of proteins, hormones, neurotransmitters and antioxidants and they are required for every physiological aspect of life. They are the fundamental components in the structure of every cell in the human body. The therapeutic action of these vital nutrients can be a profoundly effective part of a corrective protocol, yet at times they are overlooked. There are 20 amino acids (AA) that are directly encoded by the universal genetic code. Nine of these AA are referred to as “essential” as they can only be acquired through the diet. The remaining 11 AA are synthesized in the body through the utilization of essential AA, often in the presence of specific circulating vitamins and minerals, and thus they are classified as “non-essential”. Essential AA, obtained through the digestion of dietary proteins, leave the small intestine where they are processed in the liver and then utilized throughout the body; however, the trio of branched chain amino acids (BCAA), leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are the exceptions. BCAA bypass the liver and are processed directly in the muscle, stimulating the growth of muscle tissue. This explains their therapeutic role in a number of “muscle wasting” diseases such as ALS and anorexia and their ability to reduce muscle breakdown in many cancer patients. Supplementation with BCAA has been shown to support individuals suffering from brain deficiencies, advanced liver disease and anorexia, as they prevent faulty message transmission in brain cells. BCAA may reduce the progression to liver cancer in cirrhotic patients and offer effective nutritional support for the elderly, who are often plagued by poor appetite. Taurine and L-arginine are known to support healthy cardiovascular function. Taurine plays a key role in the regulation of the sodium/potassium pump (electrolyte utilization inside and outside of the cells). 3000mg of taurine daily was shown to be effective in controlling the condition of irregular heartbeat – often the result of dysfunctional mineral utilization. L-arginine acts as a natural vasodilator, as it is the key component in the production of nitric oxide. There are also a number of amino acid precursors and derivatives that play an important role in maintaining neurological health. Tryptophan, GABA and 5-HTP help to manage depression and anxiety disorders either by increasing inhibitory neurotransmitter activity (in the case of GABA) or increasing circulating levels of serotonin (in the case of 5-HTP). Amino acid precursors and neurotransmitters have been shown to be effective when included in a supplementation program for ADD and ADHD. With the help of a qualified naturopathic doctor or natural health practitioner, developing a protocol from among the following amino acids has proven to be effective. • L-Tyrosine - A precursor to L-DOPA, which in turn is converted to dopamine and norepinephrine. Minimal amounts per day may support the production of these vi-
tal neurotransmitters said to be deficient in many ADHD sufferers. • Glutamate - The latest research supports the finding that stimulating the excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate, in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, may be the key in controlling some cases of ADHD due to its interaction with dopamine. • GABA – An inhibitory neurotransmitter, it is formed from glutamate, glucose and glutamine. GABA receptors regulate anxiety, excitability, panic and stress. • 5-HTP – Synthesized from the amino acid L-tryptophan, 5-HTP raises serotonin levels. Serotonin is also found in the GI tract which is involved in a host of functions including mood, sleep (as a precursor to melatonin), food cravings and digestion. • SAMe – Made in the body from adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and methionine. It helps support emotional health by acting as a mood stabilizer. SAMe has also been shown to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis, and has been used extensively in Europe to treat cirrhosis of the liver, as it raises glutathione stores, reduces high enzyme counts and ultimately helps to slow down the destructive nature of this disease. • TMG (Trimethylglycine) – addresses the methylation needs of children for detoxification. Methylation is involved in the function of neurotransmitters, in controlling inflammation, in detoxifying the body and in the antioxidant system. Some studies have shown that methylation support is effective for some children with ADHD. Conversion of TMG to a methyl group requires adequate amounts of folate and B12. The last words on the healing properties of amino acids go to Nacetylcysteine (NAC). NAC is a derivative of cysteine and possesses potent antioxidant abilities that are responsible for its diverse regenerative qualities for many disease states. It is a powerful mucolytic agent (loosens phlegm in lungs and bronchial tubes) and is used in the management of conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis, TB and cystic fibrosis, to name a few. As it is the precursor to the liver’s own primary antioxidant and detoxification agent, glutathione, it is commonly used in hospital emergency rooms as an antidote for acetaminophen overdoses. Recently NAC has also been recognized as a successful treatment option in numerous psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disease due to its antioxidant properties and other very complex mechanisms. Look for the wide array of amino acid supplements available in your local health food store. It is often the best place to find quality products and sound advice from qualified staff members.
VISTA MAGAZINE ISSUE 97
Marva Ward CNP
VISTA Magazine is a bimonthly publication dedicated to nutrition, health and wellness.