There is an old saying that nothing, in and of itself, is either good or bad. This is true also of the amino acid phenylalanine. What the pros or cons are of taking this amino acid depends on your situation. I will go over some of the dangers as well as the health benefits of this essential amino acid (amino acids are building blocks for protein). “Essential” means that you have to get this amino acid through your diet since your body cannot make it on its own.
The dangers of phenylalanine can include things like drinking sodas that contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) that contain phenylalanine, but only if you have PKU. PKU is the genetic disorder phenylketonuria, which can cause brain damage or mental retardation or even seizures or death. Phenylalanine is found in protein foods such as meat (beef, chicken, pork, turkey, etc.), fish, eggs, and dairy, and can also be purchased as supplements.
Phenylalanine is not a health concern for healthy people who do not have PKU. However, aspartame, according to the Mayo Clinic, can cause “a rapid increase in the brain levels of phenylalanine” in large doses. They advise to use aspartame-containing products cautiously if you take medications like neuroleptics, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or medicines that contain levodopa; avoid phenylalanine also if you have tardive dyskinesia, have a sleep disorder, or other mental health condition, including anxiety disorder.
All of that said, what are the benefits of phenylalanine?
The different forms include D- phenylalanine, L- phenylalanine, and DL- phenylalanine (50/50) in the forms of phenylalanine supplementation. In fact, all 22 common amino acids are provided by protein foods.
The University of Maryland Medical Center says that the “body changes phenylalanine into tyrosine, another amino acid that’s needed to make proteins, brain chemicals, including L-dopa, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, and thyroid hormones.”
Norepinephrine also affects mood, so phenylalanine is used to help treat depression. People who are deficient in this amino can experience a lack of energy, confusion, memory issues, lack of appetite, decreased alertness, and depression.
The University of Michigan Health System says that the form L-phenylalanine (LPA) can be converted to L-tyrosine, but also into “ L-dopa, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. LPA can also be converted (through a separate pathway) to phenylethylamine, a substance that occurs naturally in the brain and appears to elevate mood.”
Other uses for phenylalanine include treating:
Lower back pain
Please check with your doctor before diagnosing or taking any phenylalanine supplements or making any serious changes to your lifestyle, including diet and protein foods that contain this amino acid.