Amino Acids are Important for Brain Function!

“Two Roads Diverge: Weight Loss Interventions and Circulating Amino Acids” by Robert E. Gerszten and Thomas J. Wang

This is the recent study (published April 26 in Science Translational Medicine) that was done to try and explain the fascinating phenomena why gastric bypass patients with type II diabetes see such quick improvement, if not cure of their diabetes. The investigators found that the bypass patients had much lower levels of amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids, and the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine.

The medical community appears to be quite excited by this find, as it appears to provide some valuable insight into the cause or perhaps cure for type II diabetes. However, as a gastric bypass patient myself, I have other concerns. What does this reduction in amino acids do to brain function?

Amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) are very important in the correct functioning of the brain. A generalized deficiency in them can lead to symptoms such as apathy, concentration difficulties, loss of interest, insomnia, mood swings, anxiety, depression, self mutilation and aggression.

Amino Acids function as neurotransmitters – the chemicals that carry information from one nerve cell to another. Certain amino acids are necessary for the brain to receive and send messages. Amino acids also enable vitamins and minerals to perform their jobs properly. Even if vitamins and minerals are absorbed and assimilated by the body, they cannot be effective unless the necessary amino acids are present. For example, low levels of the amino acid tyrosine may lead to iron deficiency.

According to Dr. Sunil Bhoyrul, a bariatric surgeon at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif, gastric bypass surgery is not without risks. It can cause malabsorption of nutrients. Indeed, the reason for the decrease in blood amino acid levels in the patients after surgery may be malabsorption of protein.

“It really shows the double-edge sword of malabsorption,” Bhoyrul said. “It might be a good explanation for why you get a better resolution of diabetes. But it also may be the cause of protein malabsorption,” Bhoyrul said.

Amino Acids can either excite or calm your brain. Tryptophan or Taurine can provide a calming effect where Tyrosine can provide an exciting or energizing effect. Here are just a couple of important qualities of just four amino acids (there are 20):

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is necessary for the production of vitamin B3 (niacin). It is used by the brain to produce serotonin, a necessary neurotransmitter that transfers nerve impulses from one cell to another and is responsible for normal sleep. Consequently, tryptophan helps to combat depression and insomnia and to stabilize moods. It helps to control hyperactivity in children, alleviates stress, is good for the heart, aids in weight control by reducing appetite, and enhances the release of growth hormone. It is good for migraine headaches, and may reduce some of the effects of nicotine. A sufficient amount of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is necessary for the formation of tryptophan, which, in turn, is required for the formation of serotonin.

Tyrosine is a precursor of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, which regulate mood, among other things. Tyrosine acts as a mood elevator; a lack of adequate amounts of tyrosine leads to a deficiency of norepinephrine in the brain, which in turn can result in depression. It suppresses the appetite and helps to reduce body fat. It aids in the functions of the adrenal, thyroid, and pituitary glands. It is also involved in the metabolism of the amino acid phenylalanine.

is a building block of all the other amino acids as well as a key component of bile, which is needed for the digestion of fats, the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and the control of serum cholesterol levels. Taurine can be useful for people with atherosclerosis, edema, heart disorders, hypertension, or hypoglycaemia.

Amino Acids: How They Affect the Brain and Nervous SystemOct 18th, 2009 by CarolineCollard


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