Article by Dr. Zoltan P. Rona MD MSc
Life is not possible without a healthy amount of amino acids in the human body. Amino acids can best be defined as the building blocks of proteins needed to create cells, enzymes and hormones, repair damaged tissues and organs, make antibodies against invading bacteria and viruses and build nucleoproteins (RNA & DNA).
Amino acids are also involved in carrying oxygen throughout the body and are crucial for optimal muscle activity. Eight amino acids are termed "essential" because they cannot be manufactured by the body and must come from the diet. The rest are non-essential (i.e. can be manufactured by the body from other nutrients) provided that overall nutrition is adequate. High doses of certain non-essential amino acids are useful in the treatment of a long list of both acute and chronic ailments.
Why use Single Amino Acids in Therapy?
Some holistic practitioners argue that using single amino acid therapies is unnatural and does nothing to really heal the individual as a whole. Others point to toxicity problems as well as the potential creation of new deficiencies by unbalancing other amino acids. Such healers prefer to make use of whole food concentrates like enzymes, herbs and glandular extracts.
In theory, there is a lot of merit to such considerations. In practice, however, single amino acid therapies can be used with a much greater degree of safety than any prescription or over the counter drug and, if used as part of acomprehensive nutritional therapy program, balance with other nutrients in the body can be maintained. True toxicity with uncontaminated single amino acid therapies has rarely, if ever, been adequately documented. Deaths from the use of genetically engineered, contaminated tryptophan (i.e. eosinophilic myalgia syndrome) were not the result of the amino acid but the shoddy manufacturing process.
Single amino acid therapies fulfill two important principles of complementary medicine:
1) In the practice of healing it is usually wise to imitate the body’s natural healing mechanisms. For example, if one cannot digest high protein foods, giving a person dietary substances (e.g. stomach bitters, betaine and pepsin or apple cider vinegar) that help it dissolve peptide bonds will allow the body to absorb and utilize the nutrients from protein.
2) If a drug can bring about the act of medical healing, a nutrient of far lesser toxicity can be substituted to perform the same act. Examples of this are the uses of feverfew, ginger root, niacin, guarana, devil’s claw, D,L-phenylalanine, tryptophan and/or GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) in the treatment of migraine headaches. Another important example is the use of magnesium in heart disease for a non- toxic calcium channel blocking effect.
The Availability Issue
Single amino acids, for political and financial reasons best known to the multinational pharmaceutical industry, the Codex Commission at the WHO (World Health Organization) and the Canadian Health Protection Branch (HPB), are unavailable in Canada due to absurd regulations
that consider amino acids to be drugs and not foods. Their low cost, low toxicity and high efficacy make amino acids troublesome competition for copycat, yet patentable drugs like Prozac®.
Despite the fact that each and every one of the amino acids discussed in this article can be found in varying degrees in every cell of the human body, they are prohibited to be sold to the Canadian public (with the exception of tryptophan which is available at inflated prices through a doctor’s prescription). Any Canadian, however, can legally order amino acids from the US for personal use in Canada. For those of you who would prefer to give your business to health food stores in the USA, just travel across the border for your amino acid shopping.
Canadian physicians, naturopaths, chiropractors, dentists and other health professionals wishing to sell amino acids in their practices to their patients are prohibited from so doing, also for the same political reasons. To help with changing this regressive legislation, contact the individuals and groups listed at the end of this article.
Important Essential Amino Acid Therapies
N.B. Unless otherwise indicated, all amino acids referred to here are the L-form (e.g. L-tryptophan). The D-form, except in special circumstances, has no beneficial effects. In the case of some amino acids (e.g. D-carnitine), the D-form could actually be toxic.
Lysine helps make collagen, an important component of bone, cartilage and connective tissue. It is also involved in
the production of antibodies, hormones and enzymes. Studies show that lysine is effective against herpes and heart disease (when used in combination with vitamin C, taurine, proline, arginine and coenzyme Q10). Lysine also aids in the absorption of calcium. Lysine deficiency results in fatigue, inability to concentrate, irritability, bloodshot eyes, retarded growth, hair loss, anemia, weak muscles and fertility problems.
Methionine is a major source of sulfur and prevents disorders of the hair, skin and nails. It helps lower cholesterol levels by increasing the liver's production of lecithin, reduces fat accumulation in the liver and protects the kidneys. Its commonest therapeutic use is as a natural chelating agent for excesses of lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and copper.
Phenylalanine is used by the brain to make norepinephrine, a chemical important in arousal which keeps one awake and alert. It is an important part of the pathway that produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in normalizing mood. It’s commonest use in therapy is to reduce hunger pains, as an antidepressant and to help improve memory. In its D,L form, phenylalanine has an analgesic effect because of its ability to stimulate the production of endorphins, the body’s natural opiates.
Threonine is an important constituent of collagen, elastin, and tooth enamel protein. Threonine helps prevents fat build- up in the liver, is important for normal growth and helps the digestive and intestinal tracts function optimally. Threonine is also important in producing antibodies and is commonly deficient in vegetarian diets.
Tryptophan is used by the brain to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, a natural relaxant which helps alleviate insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression. It has therapeutic applications in these areas as well as in migraine headaches, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and eating disorders. Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine are usually called the branched chain amino acids because of their common chemical structure. They are important for mental vigor, alertness, blood sugar control, muscle coordination, muscle damage repair and calm emotions. Isoleucine is especially essential to the formation of hemoglobin and should always be in well balanced proportion with leucine and valine.
Important Non-Essential Amino Acid Therapies:
Alanine is an important source of energy for muscle tissue, the brain and central nervous system It strengthens the immune system by producing antibodies. Alanine helps in the metabolism of sugars and organic acids.
Studies have shown that arginine improves the body’s immune responses to bacteria, viruses, parasites and tumor cells. Arginine promotes wound healing and regeneration of the liver, causes the release of growth hormone, increases sperm production and is considered crucial for optimal muscle growth and tissue repair. Body builders use high dosages of arginine because it increases muscle mass while decreasing the amount of body fat. Arginine converts directly into nitric oxide and, as such, plays a crucial role in regulating the function of virtually every organ. It operates in the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, uterus, and eyes. It helps regulate blood pressure, digestion, and even penile erection. It may play a role in protecting the body against infection. Arginine supplementation (about 6000 mgs. daily) has been shown to be effective in wound healing after surgery, reversing low sperm counts and correcting male infertility.
Contraindications for its use include liver disease, kidney disease and herpes simplex, all of which might be made worse by high arginine, low lysine balance. Arginine is converted to the amino acid ornithine and promotes the detoxification of ammonia which is poisonous to living cells.
Aspartic acid helps rid harmful ammonia from the body and may may increase endurance and resistance to fatigue. Aspartic acid is involved in the formation of RNA and DNA, the chemical bases of heredity and carriers of genetic information. Aspartic acid is commonly used in trace mineral supplements as a chelating agent.Increases resistance to fatigue.
Carnitine is therapeutically effective in the treatment of coronary heart disease because normal cardiac function is dependent on adequate concentrations of carnitine in heart muscle. Carnitine helps increase muscle strength and stamina. In the body, carnitine is manufactured from the amino acid, lysine and vitamin C.
Citrulline helps recovery from fatigue, stimulates the immune system and metabolizes to arginine. It detoxifies ammonia which is poisonous to living cells. Cystine
Cystine functions as an antioxidant, protecting against radiation and pollution. It is necessary for the formation of the skin, the recovery from burns and surgical operations. Hair and skin are made up 10-14% cystine. Cystine is used in the treatment of chronic bronchitis. It stimulates white blood cell activity thereby improving the resistance to disease.
Cysteine is used therapeutically in enhancing hair growth, relieving hangovers and brain and liver damage from alcohol. Cysteine prevents damage from cigarette smoke, detoxifies many harmful chemicals and promotes healing and the immune system.
Glutamic acid is also known as “nature’s brain food”. Supplementing glutamic acid improves mental capacities, helps speed the healing of ulcers, alleviates fatigue and the craving for sugar. It converts to glutamine in the body and detoxifies ammonia in the brain. Glutamic acid supplementation is also very effective in the treatment of hypoglycemia.
Glutamine helps sustain mental ability, regulates brain metabolism and, along with glutamic acid is used as a brain fuel. Glutamine is used in the treatment of alcoholism and can protect against alcohol poisoning. It has been documented to benefit both schizophrenia and senility.Glycine Glycine triggers the release of oxygen to the energy requiring cell-making process and is important in the manufacturing of hormones responsible for a strong immune system. Glycine is a source of creatine which is essential for muscle function, breaking down glycogen and freeing energy. Glycine is effective as a treatment for stomach hyperacidity.
Histidine is found abundantly in hemoglobin, has been used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, allergic diseases, ulcers and anemia. A deficiency can cause poor hearing.
Ornithine stimulates the release of growth hormone which increases muscle mass while decreasing the amount of body fat. Ornithine boosts the immune system, promotes liver function and regeneration. It detoxifies ammonia.
Proline is important for the proper functioning of joints and tendons and helps strengthen heart muscles. Together with lysine, carnitine, taurine, vitamin C, Coenzyme Q10 and other nutrients, it is important in the natural treatment of heart disease.
Serine is a storage source of glucose that helps strengthen the immune system (source of antibodies) and the synthesis of the fatty acid sheath around nerve fibers.
Taurine stabilizes the excitability of membranes which is why it may be helpful in the control of epileptic seizures, heart disease, the aging process and the scavenging of free radicals. Taurine is found in high concentrations in the tissues of the heart, skeletal muscle and the central nervous system.
Tyrosine is effective against high blood pressure, some forms of depression, poor memory and concentration difficulties. It also promotes the healthy functioning of the thyroid (thyroid hormone is made in the body from tyrosine), adrenal and pituitary glands. Tyrosine produces norepinephrine, an appetite inhibitory neurotransmitter that suppresses appetite. It also stimulates the release of growth hormone which causes muscle growth while reducing body fat.