Tag Archives: phenylalanine

Phenylalanine amino acid: Importance of PKU Screening in Newborn Babies

In the United States a heel stick test (using a needle prick on the baby’s heel for a small blood sample) is done at the ripe old age of 3 days old to test for Phenylketonuria (PKU) and other disorders. PKU is a metabolic disorder that shows up when the gene is inherited from both parents of the newborn, which is an enzyme deficiency that is needed for proper metabolism of the amino acid phenylalanine.

People with PKU must avoid foods that contain phenylalanine altogether from birth, however, in order to survive since side effects can include pigmentation loss in the skin/eyes/hair, a “mousy” odor, muscles pains and aches, seizures, and mental retardation.

Newborn screening and phenylalanine-restricted diets for PKU patients

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that is in foods, including proteins like meats, dairy products, beans, eggs, tofu, nuts, and many others, including aspartame (the sugar substitute in diet soda). An “essential” amino acid means that the body cannot produce this amino acid on its own so it must be gotten from food. Aminos phenylalanine and tyrosine are both associated with PKU and are tested for in all newborn babies at clinics and hospitals.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, it is Dr. Richard Koch from the University of Southern California School of Medicine in Los Angeles, California, who promotes that repeat testing should occur in any child that tests positive for PKU. The amino acid phenylalanine in foods should be avoided and a special diet should begin from birth so as to prevent mental retardation.

Koch says, “Occasionally, cases of PKU are missed by newborn screening. Thus, a repeat PKU test should be performed in an infant who exhibits slow development.”

Phenlyketonuria (PKU) is a recessive defect in the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase

Koch discusses the enzyme deficiency: “Phenylketonuria (PKU) is caused by an autosomal recessive defect in the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase, which is required for converting phenylalanine to tyrosine. (Five percent of natural protein is composed of phenylalanine.)”

PKU is caused by a mutation that is located on chromosome 12, although the specific type of mutation may vary, which results in severity that is variable among those with the PKU disorder. Phenylalanine containing foods should be avoided in all of these cases. Of course, normal people who do not have PKU need phenylalanine and should have a diet consisting of enough proteins to provide this essential amino acid.




Phenylalanine for Pain Relief and Other Health Benefits

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, in which “essential” means you must get it through your diet or supplementation since your body cannot produce it on its own. Phenylalanine also is known as nature’s pain reliever. 

Interestingly, Phenylalanine is used in psychotropic drugs such as morphine, codeine, papaverine, and even mescaline because it is such an effective pain reliever.

Phenylalanine: How is it used in the body as a pain reliever?

Phenylalanine is one of the three aromatic amino acids, which include the other two, Tyrosine and Tryptophan. Phenylalanine is also the precursor for Tyrosine, and like Tyrosine, Phenylalanine is the precursor in the human body of catecholamines, which include dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and tryamine.

Dr. Winston Greene at DC Nutrition explains what catecholamines are and why we need phenylalanine, and how much: “Phenylalanine is a precursor of the neurotransmitters called catecholamines, which are adrenalin-like substances. … is highly concentrated in the human brain and plasma. … and requires biopterin, iron, niacin, vitamin B6, copper and vitamin C. An average adult ingests 5 g of phenylalanine per day and may optimally need up to 8 g daily.”

Phenylalanine essential amino acid comes from food and levels affect pain relief

You can get Phenylalanine from protein foods such as beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, and wheat germ. Dr. Greene shows that not only is this amino acid good as a pain reliever, but also that it is low in people who ingest caffeine. Interestingly, depressed people often seek out stimulants like caffeine drinks as a “pick me up” but may be doing themselves further harm since Dr. Greene says they’d found that “about 10 percent of depressed patients have low plasma Phenylalanine, and phenylalanine is an effective treatment in these cases.”

When someone gets an infection, however, Phenylalanine levels increase in the body to help aid any pain that might be associated with it, again acting as nature’s pain reliever. This amino is used in “premenstrual syndrome and Parkinson’s may enhance the effects of acupuncture and electric transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS). Phenylalanine and tyrosine, like L-dopa, produce a catecholamine effect. Phenylalanine is better absorbed than tyrosine and may cause fewer headaches.”

The bottom line is that Phenylalanine can be a great natural source for pain relief for numerous problems from infection to PMS to diseases such as Parkinsons. The health benefits are numerous, but always be sure to check with your doctor prior to any supplementation or changes to your diet when working to include this amazing amino acid for pain relief.




Prevent Prostate Cancer with Three Amino Acids?

Three specific amino acids may aid in the prevention of prostate cancer according to a study. The three aminos include methionine, phenylalanine, and tyrosine. During protein synthesis by the body, the amino acids tyrosine, methionine, and phenylalanine are utilized. Restriction of these amino acids depends on glucose metabolism, which when altered aids in cell death of cancer cells within human prostate cancer, and may aid in preventing prostate cancer.

Study linking amino acids and prostate cancer prevention

YM Fu, H Lin, et al., did a study at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Washington State University said that it is selective amino acid restriction of tyrosine and phenylalanine, plus methionine or glutamine that target mitochondria in cells that are linked to prostate cancer cell death.

Glucose metabolism modulation is tied to the process and “crucial switches connecting metabolism and these signaling molecules to cell survival during amino acid restriction” become target factors preventing prostate cancer, say the researchers.

Second study on prostate cancer and amino acids

Another study by YS Kim from Washington State University showed an identification of molecular targets regarding specific amino acid dependency and how it modulates specific kinds of prostate cancer cells. To find out how the amino acids can prevent prostate cancer, they investigated if restriction of tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine could inhibit the growth and metastasis of prostate cancer.

Kim progressed outward in this field of research because of the “underlying the anticancer activity of tyrosine/phenylalanine and methionine restriction. This is especially important research since there still is no satisfactory drug for treatment of androgen-independent, metastatic human prostate cancer.”

Even though further research is needed regarding the amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and methionine for prostate cancer prevention, it has expanded avenues for antimetastatic, anti-invasive, apoptosis-based therapies for the preventing prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer, being one of the major cancers that kill men in the North American continent, is the reason why males should be regularly screened for this deadly disease.




Part 1: Aspartic Acid and Phenylalanine in Aspartame

What are aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and what are their roles as ingredients in the manmade product called aspartame? Is aspartame dangerous or linked to cancer? Many claims exist, but here are some facts and information on the subject, which you might want to consider.

First of all, aspartame is an artificial sweetener; it is known as NutraSweet® and Equal® as well as Spoonful, and Equal-Measure, and is claimed to be up to 200 times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame was, in 1981, approved for use in dry goods, and later in 1983 approved for carbonated beverages. Aspartame basically has three main ingredients: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol.

I will go briefly over these three ingredients below and then discuss their use in aspartame…

Aspartic acid

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and aspartic acid, also known as asparaginic acid, is a non-essential amino acid. “Non-essential” means that it is not necessary to get this amino acid from food or supplements since the human body makes it on its own. Our bodies need and use aspartic acid within cells to help the body work, especially regarding nervous system functioning, and hormone production/release.


Phenylalanine is also an amino acid, but an essential amino acid, which means it can only be gotten from food (our body does not make it on its own). Phenylalanine is the precursor for the amino acid tyrosine, which acts as a neurotransmitter in our brain for signaling dopamine, norepinephrine (noradrenaline), epinephrine (adrenaline), and melanin (skin pigment).

Phenylalanine is also found in breast milk and is a necessary nutrient for newborn babies, which is why it is added to baby formulas. Phenylalanine is a nutritional supplement in food and drink products and is known for its antidepressant and analgesic effects.

All 22 common amino acids, including aspartic acid and phenylalanine, can be gotten from protein foods such as meats, fish, and eggs, and smaller amounts from dairy, legumes, nuts, and vegetables.


Where aspartic acid and phenylalanine are natural substances, and needed for proper bodily functioning, methanol is toxic to the human body. Methanol is known as wood alcohol, methyl alcohol, wood naphtha, or wood spirits and is a chemical produced mostly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood. Modern methanol is produced industrially from hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Methanol is simple as alcohols go, flammable, volatile, colorless, and sweeter than ethanol (drinking alcohol). Methanol is used for producing biodiesel, as a fuel, denaturant for ethanol, and is a greenhouse gas.

Ingesting large quantities of methanol causes it to be metabolized to formate salts and formic acid. These may cause coma, blindness, or even death, because they are poison to the central nervous system. Special emphasis on “large quantities.” Why? Keep reading…

CONTINUE TO Part 2: Aspartic Acid and Phenylalanine in Aspartame






Amino Acids as Anti-Inflammatory Pain Relief

Did you know that amino acids can be used for pain relief? People often will take over the counter painkillers like acetomenaphen (e.g., Tylenol), or anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (e.g., Advil), but a natural source of analgesics with some anti-inflammatory effects include amino acids. Amino acids are known as the building blocks of proteins, but they serve many functions in the body, especially to the organs and brain, or even the muscles and nerves. Taking amino acid supplements can sometimes aid the body to ward off pain and inflammation, just like a natural painkiller.

There are a couple of studies that tested amino acids like L-isoleucine, which can act as an agent for pain relief, and so prostaglandin was studied to see the effectiveness of L-isoleucine for the analgesic (painkilling) and anti-inflammatory properties. In order to understand how this works we must understand how prostaglandin works…

Prostaglandins are lipid compounds that work on-site like Aspirin; however, they are enzymatically derived (from fatty acids). Although prostaglandins work in a variety of ways, one of them is by acting as an analgesic, or natural pain reliever. Analgesics help your body achieve analgesia—relief from pain.

When there is an injury or you are will, the prostaglandins (whether due to amino acids or medicine) do not get secreted from the gland, but instead are chemically made on-site so they can be used exactly where they are needed, such as to control or reduce inflammation.

Amino acids studied as analgesics (pain relievers)

One study by E Ricciotti and GA FitzGerald regarding prostaglandins showed that they can act as a natural painkiller and help reduce the anti-inflammatory response. The researchers said, “prostaglandins may function in both the promotion and resolution of inflammation.” But amino acids may also cause a bodily anti-inflammatory response.

In a different study, four amino acids were investigated. The scientists RN Saxena, VK Pendse, and NK Khanna “Orally administered L-isoleucine, DL-isoleucine and L-leucine [which] exhibited anti-inflammatory activity in many test models of inflammation except formaldehyde-induced inflammation. L-beta-phenylalanine inhibited carrageenan-induced oedema only.”

Interestingly, it was the L-isoleucine that showed an extended analgesic (painkiller) result. Meanwhile, DL-isoleucine did have a short-lasting effect.

Unlike some supplements, the amino acids did not cause gastric ulceration nor did it promote acute toxicity in the doses that suppressed inflammation effectively. The researchers’ assessment on the painkilling amino acids included that the “anti-inflammatory activity seems to be related with interference with the action and/or synthesis of prostaglandins and deserves further intensive study.”

Of course, it depends on the problem and which amino acids you can use to act as a natural painkiller against it, so more research will continue in this area as time progresses.




Is Taurine in Energy Drinks Safe? Maybe…

There is a lot of energy in the media and within consumers about the health benefits as well as dangers of energy beverages, including some warnings about the amino acid taurine in energy drinks, but is taurine safe? How much is okay versus too much? Are there any health implications or hidden issues with the taurine in energy drinks?

According to Dr. Oz, says the Herald Tribune, the number of visits to the emergency room have doubled in the last four years, and hit more than 20,000 in the year 2011. But are these super-charger energy drinks really to blame for some of the cardiac issues that some people have or are claiming? Is the taurine in energy drinks, or the caffeine, or sugar, or other supplements added to these beverages the cause of these heart issues?

How taurine in energy drinks affects your heart

In one study mentioned by the article mentioned above, which measured how 18 peoples’ (15 men, 3 women, around age 27) hearts reacted about an hour after consuming taurine in energy drinks (16 oz), the MRI showed a “significantly increased peak systolic strain” in the left ventricle of the heart.

Although black coffee or even caffeinated water was suggested (one might also consider green tea or white tea due to the enormous health benefits, since it also contains caffeine); however, real energy can come from 5-9 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, eaten raw, steamed, or even made into smoothies. Plus raw foods are packed with enzymes, anti-oxidants, and other vitamins and minerals.

Do we really need taurine in energy drinks?

If the amino acid taurine in energy drinks may keep your left heart ventricle contracting too severely, sometimes causing palpitations, anxiety attacks, or other cardiac related issues, then is it really wise to consume them? Energy drinks may only say they have “amino acids” but they also may have creatine, lecithin, phenylalanine, tyrosine, choline, citicoline, plus taurine, of course.

Additionally, some of the main ingredients in energy or power drinks include: caffeine, glucuronolactone, guarana, B vitamins, ginseng, l-carnitine, ginkgo biloba, sugars, antioxidants, as well as trace minerals. According to one study even coaches have to advise their athletes about taking energy drinks because of the effects and risks associated with consuming them, even after exercise.

Overall the ingredients may be natural, or commonly found in food (amino acids, for instance, are in protein foods such as meat (beef, chicken, pork, etc.), eggs, and fish. However, a combined effect of all of these ingredients may have some serious health consequences if consumed regularly, or especially in excess.

Adverse effects of taurine in energy drinks or their other ingredients can include: restlessness, heart palpitations, irritability, anxiety, nervousness, dehydration, and increase blood pressure. Long term effects have not been established. Those with heart disease or cardiac issues, or children, should probably avoid taurine in energy drinks, or power beverages in general.

Positive information on taurine

Taurine, in and of itself, is an amino acid that the body needs for neurological development, and for regulating water levels and mineral salts within the blood. Taurine also has antioxidants, is found in breast milk, and can be purchased as a dietary supplement.

People with congestive heart failure who took taurine supplements 3x/day (for two weeks) did show an improvement in their capacity to exercise. Up to 3,000 mg of taurine per day is considered safe. Of course, these people were taking supplements, not drinking energy beverages.

Most people can consume up to 16 oz. (500 milliliters) in energy drinks per day and still feel good, although the sugars are high and so these things need to be weighed out in terms of what is actually healthy for the human body.



Amino Acids for Pregnancy Health

Being a mom does not just happen when you birth a new baby into the world, it starts with pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy means you need proper nutrition, such as vitamins, minerals, as well as things like folic acid, and even amino acids. There are common 22 amino acids that are important for health, and that bring with them their own respective health benefits, but some of these include alanine, tryptophan, tyrosine, cysteine, and even phenylalanine.

It is important for a pregnant mother-to-be to know that amino acids are the building blocks of protein, so this is important for the baby’s development. Proteins like muscles, organs, tissues, plus even the fetal brain, are all dependent upon the proper amount of amino acids in the mother’s body.

There are essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. “Essential” means that they must be gotten through diet, while non-essential means that the body makes these aminos on its own. Protein foods like meats (chicken, beef, turkey, pork, etc.), plus fish and eggs, provide all 22 amino acids.

If a mother lacks enough amino acids then the developing fetus could suffer. Preeclampsia as well as spina bifida are associated with a lack of amino acids in a pregnant mom.

Lack of amino acids associated with preeclampsia and spina bifida

A study discovered that the amino acid L-arginine (also known simply as arginine) may protect against preeclampsia in pregnant women. About 5-8% of all pregnant women in the United States get preeclampsia, which shows protein levels in urine and can cause dangerously high blood pressure. If not treated it can cause low birth weight, preterm labor, or even death. Around the world 76,000-500,000 infants die because of preeclampsia in pregnancy and hypertension disorders. L-arginine amino acid helps alleviate the conditions associated with preeclampsia. Ask your doctor about how much to take.

In another study the amniotic fluid was tested to check concentrations of amino acids in pregnant women whose babies were already known to have spina bifida. Researchers said that their levels of “alanine, cystathionine, cysteine, phenylalanine, tryptophane, and tyrosine amino acids” were lower than the healthy fetuses from the control group. This suggested that the “loss of amino acids from the fetus through the spinal cord may contribute to the etiology of spina bifida.” Spina bifida, a congenital disorder affecting the spine of the fetus, can come from a lack of the mother having enough folic acid in very early pregnancy. Taking folic acid before conception is essential, as well as afterwards in order to decrease chances for the disorder up to 70%.

Be sure to get enough amino acids in your diet during pregnancy, which means not too much and not too little. This is especially important if you are vegan or vegetarian since most complete amino acids come from animals or animal products. You may want to discuss this with your physician.




Help COPD with Amino Acids for Lung Disease

According to some researchers and there are a few amino acids for lung disease that exist and may help such issues. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is one of these lung conditions may be aided by amino acid supplements; in particular, those with even severe COPD. This lung disease affects the ability to breath and also reduces energy levels in those who have it. COPD may have different causes, but it can be a result of smoking cigarettes long term, as well as conditions such as emphysema. 

According to one study by RW Dal Negro, A Testa, et al., in Italy it was amino acids for lung disease that helped the patients with COPD. By supplementing COPD patients with certain essential amino acids they were able to determine if pulmonary rehabilitation might have improved health status and produce higher rates of physical performance.

Essential amino acids are several of the 22 commonly known amino acids. “Essential” means that they have to be gotten through diet since the body cannot produce them on its own. The list of essential amino acids may include: Valine, Threonine, Methionine, Leucine, Isoleucine, Phenylalanine, Tryptophan, Lysine, and Histidine.

Amino acids for lung disease – chronic COPD

A total of 88 COPD out-patients who had a 23 BMI (body mass index) or less were selected randomly to receive essential amino acids for lung disease (COPD) for a period of three months. After 12 weeks of the test period the patients receiving amino acids for lung disease had showed significant improvements in physical performance.

Also, the COPD patients scored higher on the SGRQ score (which measures breathing). Additionally, other areas were affected positively, as compared to the placebo group, who had taken the essential amino acids for lung disease (COPD), including improvements in: fat-free mass, serum albumin, increased muscle strength, oxygen saturation, and cognitive dysfunction.

The results produced greater confidence levels in the patients and the researchers for improvements in these symptoms that COPD usually negatively affects its patients. Essential amino acids may, then, help reduce symptoms of COPD, so it is clear that amino acids for lung disease can aid the patient in breathing easier as well as help their physical performance in a number of areas.



Nutrition and Depression: Amino Acids Can Improve Mood

We all know the importance of eating well. The link between an unhealthy diet and obesity, heart disease, and diabetes has led to bookshelves groaning with diet and nutrition books. But nutrition also affects our mental wellbeing. Are we getting enough amino acids to maintain our mental health?

A good diet is our best weapon in the war on disease. A healthy, well-balanced diet will also help our immune systems if we do become ill. This healthy diet will help combat some mental illnesses, too.

T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao, M. R. Asha, et al, explained the link between nutrition and depression in an article in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. They found that the diets of many people suffering from mental disorders are deficient in essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Supplements containing amino acids have been found to reduce symptoms of depression. Some amino acids control our moods—they cross the blood-brain barrier, carrying the chemical signals in our brains. But if we are not getting the right amount, our moods are affected.

Amino acid supplements treat mood disorders

The major symptoms of depression include increased sadness and anxiety, loss of appetite, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Deficiencies in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and the amino acid GABA are often present patients with depression.

The amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine are often helpful in treating mood disorders. Indeed, tryptophan is converted to serotonin–the chemical which controls happiness.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means we must get it from our food. But people with poor diets do not get enough tryptophan.

Antidepressants and other drugs are very successful at treating depression. The researchers hope that nutritional supplements containing amino acids will work with these drugs, possibly leading to lower doses, and fewer side effects. They suggest daily supplements of amino acids to help achieve an antidepressant effect.

Nutritional neuroscience gives us our best shot of preventing and treating some mental illnesses.

Sources: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/

Part 2: Aspartic Acid and Phenylalanine in Aspartame

In Part 1: Aspartic Acid and Phenylalanine in Aspartame, I covered what the amino acids “aspartic acid” and “phenylalanine” are, and the wood alcohol “methanol” is. Next will be whether any of these have a scientifically known link to cancer or not.

Dangers of aspartame and cancer?

According to some sources claiming aspartame causes cancer, as well as a host of other diseases and health problems, it is important to note that aspartame is made up of approximately 40% aspartic acid, 50% phenylalanine, and 10% methanol. Where some of these sources claim that aspartic acid and phenylalanine could be to blame for health issues, others think that methanol may actually be the culprit.

According to the experts at the American Cancer Society, there is no scientifically discovered proof that aspartame has been linked with cancer. A large study, says the ACS, discussed cancer rates in over 500,000 older adults and found that “compared to people who did not drink aspartame-containing beverages, those who did drink them did not have an increased risk of lymphomas, leukemias, or brain tumors.”

Putting aspartame’s ingredients into perspective

Bernadene Magnuson, PhD, from Cantox Health Sciences International, wrote Relationship Between Aspartame, Methanol and Formaldehyde Explained and put the reality of aspartame into perspective as thus:

“Aspartame is a dipeptide molecule produced by joining phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Aspartame itself does not occur naturally but is a manufactured substance. When aspartame is consumed, it is completely broken down by the enzymes in the digestive system (esterases and peptidases) into the two amino acids and a type of alcohol called methanol. The amounts of these are much less than found in foods. …

“It is important to understand that the human body is well-equipped to use small amounts of methanol produced from foods and beverages, as well as from aspartame. …

“First, the methanol from the intestinal tract goes to the liver via portal blood, where the liver enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase converts methanol into formaldehyde. The body very rapidly uses formaldehyde and so formaldehyde never builds up in the body. If the body doesn’t need it, formaldehyde is converted to formic acid within seconds. The formic acid will be either excreted in the urine or broken down to carbon dioxide and water. …

“The breakdown of formic acid is slower than the breakdown of formaldehyde, so if there is a very large dose of methanol (or formaldehyde) coming into the body, formic acid can build up and that causes the adverse effects seen in methanol poisoning.

“To put this into perspective, studies in healthy adults and infants consuming up to 200mg per kg of body weight (50 times the amounts Americans consume on average), showed no change in the levels of formic acid in the blood.”

Bottom line about aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol

Although the jury is still out for some people on whether aspartame is dangerous, it is clear that aspartic acid and phenylalanine are typically safe for human consumption and needed by the human body.

However, whether small amounts of methanol are “safe” is a factor that some prefer to avoid in their diet, just in case, while others simply consume the poison in these minute amounts. Methanol is typically only poisonous in large quantities. It is really up to the consumer to do the research and decide, as well as seek out professional opinions on the matter.

Please ask your doctor as well, if you have further questions on whether aspartame (or its ingredients aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol) might be safe enough to consume for you in your particular diet and circumstance.