by Luka Young
Have you ever heard of phenylalanine supplements but you never knew what they can do for you and why you should take them? This guide will explain it all. In this post, you will read an overview of all the essential things you need to know about phenylalanine supplements before taking them. We are going to look at what phenylalanine actually is, how it affects your body when the optimal levels go out of whack, what its benefits are, and finally some sources of this important substance. So let’s go right ahead!
So what is phenylalanine anyway?
These supplements that we call phenylalanine products are centred on one essential amino acid called L-phenylalanine. An essential amino acid means that the human body is not able to produce it on its own, so instead, we have to get the necessary amounts from the food we eat.
Phenylalanine is important because it is a precursor for tyrosine. Now, tyrosine is also an amino acid, but it is regarded as non-essential. It has several different purposes in your body. For example, it is an essential component in producing melanin, the substance that provides pigmentation to the skin.
L-phenylalanine also has a crucial role to play in producing three critically important neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine (aka noradrenaline) and epinephrine (aka adrenaline). You can learn more about neurotransmitters in this informative article.
As we mentioned above, L-phenylalanine is one type of essential amino acid. It is called phenylalanine in general and has three different variants: the L-phenylalanine, the D-phenylalanine, and the DL-phenylalanine.
The L-phenylalanine is the only one among the three which is essential, and it is present in protein molecules. D-phenylalanine has been identified, but is still not understood: we know that it exists, but not what it does. Finally, as its name implies, DL-phenylalanine is a combination of the other two, synthetically produced in a laboratory.
What happens when your phenylalanine levels go off?
Just like any other nutrient your body needs, for phenylalanine it is also true that you can have too much of it, or too little of it, in your system. This, in turn, affects the condition of your body and your overall health and well-being.
If you are experiencing phenylalanine deficiency, there are a number of unpleasant symptoms that can clue you in on it. These include lethargy, confusion, cognitive impairment, poor appetite, and episodes of depression (although these symptoms could be also a sign of another issue in your body).
On the other hand, too much of phenylalanine running through your system is a more specific problem, as it tends to affect a very specific segment of the populace: infants of up to three weeks, and people suffering from phenylketonuria.
Most notably, an overabundance of phenylalanine has a severe effect on people suffering from phenylketonuria (often referred to as PKU for short). If you want to get a look at this condition from a medical professional’s point of view, you can read about it at this link: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/phenylketonuria
PKU is a metabolic disorder, classified as being rare, and when combined with an overabundance of phenylalanine in the body it results in irreversible damage to the system because people who suffer from PKU simply lack the enzyme which is used to process the phenylalanine.
If there is an excess of phenylalanine in an infant, and it is not identified and treated in the first three weeks of life, for whatever reason, it results in intellectual disability as the child is growing up. In older children, if it is not treated, it results in hyperactivity and disorders on the autism spectrum.
But then what is phenylalanine actually good for?
Okay, so after all of that doom and gloom, you might be wondering – just what is the point of taking phenylalanine supplements? What do they do to you when you get the levels right? Well, they actually have quite a few uses, but nowadays the most well-known ones are treating vitiligo and combating depression.
Phenylalanine helps to treat vitiligo
Regarding vitiligo, this patchy discolouration of the skin might look a little bit odd but is actually fairly common. If you have ever seen those strange bright blotches on elderly people’s hands, vitiligo is what you were looking at.
These patches form as a result of the skin in the area not having enough pigmentation. In other words, there is a deficiency in melanin. This, in turn, happens to melanocytes deterioration. Melanocytes are cells that participate in forming the pigment of the skin, and the infamous white patches flourish when the melanocytes in that area have been destroyed.
As of now, scientists have still not pinned down any one specific cause of this condition. That said, due to its connection to the production of melanin, phenylalanine has been tested as a way of mitigating vitiligo. And it works! It can be applied orally or topically and works to treat vitiligo when paired with exposure to the UVA light rays.
Phenylalanine and depression
As far as the treatment of depression is concerned, the key here is the link between phenylalanine and tyrosine, which we already mentioned earlier in this guide. As it stands now, one of the most prominent (presumed) causes of depression is having your normal neurotransmitter signalling messed up for whatever reason.
Therefore, the current treatment efforts are greatly focused on finding methods to increase the concentration of phenylalanine in the systems of the depressed population, as a way of bumping up the production of specific neurotransmitters. There have been some studies on this topic, but their results were inconclusive.
Phenylalanine and weight loss
Phenylalanine is also potentially useful in losing weight and reducing the amount of body fat. Certain studies have shown that it helps dietary changes have a better effect, as well as increasing the effectiveness of exercise regimes.
Three hundred obese adults who used L-phenylalanine supplements in combination with dieting and exercise showed reduced fat in the stomach area. Moreover, volunteers who took a dose of 3 g of L-phenylalanine experienced better fat burning rates, and women who took a higher dose of this supplement (10 g) had their food intake lowered by between 11% and 15%, though it seems that their overall response to this amino acid might be better in the follicular phase of their menstrual cycle.
Where can I get some?
Phenylalanine is available in the form of supplements, but make sure you check with your doctor before taking it. If you would prefer a more natural approach, then tweak your diet. Aim for fish, pork, yogurt, milk, cheese, beef, poultry, nuts, eggs, seeds, and soy. These are all good sources of this essential amino acid.
So now you have all the knowledge you need to understand Phenylalanine and whether you should take it or not. Phenylalanine can be a great help but you have to be careful as it comes with side effects when taken in high doses.
Luka Young is a part-time professor with interest in health, nutrition and fitness. When he is not teaching he spends his time working on his first novel. He lives in Oregon together with his wife and 2 kids.