Your mind is an incredibly delicate organ. In order for the complex balance of thinking, learning and managing emotions to work out, a number of neurotransmitters form a complex set of checks and balances. We have seen how essential amino acids can affect your mood, but the functions of thinking, learning and memory are all governed by these chemicals as well. How does phenylalanine affect these processes? And how can you make sure you are getting enough in your diet?
Mood and Learning
Phenylalanine is required to produce a class of hormone known as catecholamines. This group includes three of the most important neurotransmitters: dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Without the ability to produce ample amounts of these three neurotransmitters, life can be very difficult.
Dopamine is responsible for reward driven learning in the brain. If you have read this far in the article, chances are that it is because your brain has been reinforcing your learning with the dopamine reward pathway. Disturbance to the dopamine system is behind many common psychological ailments. Parkinson’s disease, for example, is caused by an inability to produce dopamine, and many of the negative effects of schizophrenia are related to the dopamine system.
Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is responsible for the body’s fight or flight response. This is absolutely key for any survival situation. The ability to be physically ready is predicated on being able to supply ample amounts of epinephrine. Aside from this, it is responsible for determining your level of alertness throughout the day. It should be no surprise that one of the symptoms of phenylalanine deficiency is a lack of energy. Norepinephrine acts in concert to balance out the effects of epinephrine to maintain homeostasis.
Other problems with deficiency
In addition to neurotransmitters, phenylalanine is responsible for the production of melanin and melatonin. Melanin is the pigment responsible for protecting your skin from UV rays, disorders with phenylalanine have been linked to vitiligo. Melatonin acts as the body’s internal clock, controlling your circadian rhythms. The feeling of tiredness you get when it’s time to go to bed is actually the effect of melatonin. It regulates itself on a cycle lasting roughly 24 hours, and deficiency in the amino acid has been linked to reduced sleep quality.
Sources of phenylalanine
One of the best sources for phenylalanine is in egg protein. An average egg will be able to provide over 5000mg of phenylalanine, far more than the recommended daily amount of 15mg per pound for most people. All the more reason to keep chickens, which also contain phenylalanine in their meat. For people who don’t have the ability to homestead, there are good amounts of phenylalanine in dairy such as cheese which can be stored for a long time, as well as nuts and seeds. It will be rare for me to
say this but soy is actually a very good source of phenylalanine as well.