The primary building blocks of protein are referred to as amino acids. There are precisely 21 amino acids needed by the body in vital processes such as maintenance, repair, and growth of body tissues. While some amino acids are produced by the body, a handful must come from the food one eats. Lately, research suggests that amino acids are essential in treating one of the common mental health disorders, anxiety. So, how do amino acids for anxiety work?
It is vital to go through all elements to understand how amino acids work in anxiety treatment. First, what are amino acids? As mentioned, these make up proteins and are needed in numerous bodily functions. There are 21 amino acids and are differentiated into two: essential and non-essential.
The essential amino acids include valine, tryptophan, threonine, phenylalanine, methionine, lysine, leucine, and isoleucine. On the other hand, the non-essential amino acids include tyrosine, serine, proline, glycine, glutamic acid, glutamine, cysteine, aspartic acid, asparagine, alanine, and arginine.
Next, is understanding anxiety, which is a mental health disorder that affects approximately 40 million individuals in the United States alone. Anxiety disorders result in excessive worry, apprehension, fear, and nervousness. These extreme feelings of fear and worry alter an individual’s behavior and emotions. It may also result in physical symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, and increased blood pressure.
Amino Acids and Neurotransmitters
According to studies, one of the factors linked with anxiety and depression is a marked decrease or increase in neurotransmitters in the brain, namely dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. An imbalance, whether it is high or low, of neurotransmitters, has a significant effect on one’s mood and brain functions.
Imbalances of neurotransmitters result in insomnia, eating disorders, hormone dysfunction, irritable bowel, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, early death, migraine headaches, chronic pain, adrenal dysfunction, compulsions, obsessions, and Fibromyalgia.
These neurotransmitters are composed of amino acids as well as non-protein compounds called vitamin coenzymes. Amino acids serve as a substrate for enzymes which transform amino acids into the neurotransmitters needed in the brain.
Vital Amino Acids
With regards to amino acids that can help prevent and treat anxiety, these include the following.
This amino acid serves as an antecedent in the synthesis of catecholamines, namely dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. When there are high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, it results in an anti-depressant effect.
Additional studies also show that L-tyrosine protects an individual from the effects of environmental stress. In a study where 100 mg per kg of tyrosine was given to test subjects, the amino acid caused a marked decrease in symptoms such as performance and mood impairment. However, further research is still needed to verify such claims.
The recommended intake of this amino acid in a day is 25 mg per kg of an individual’s body weight. So, an individual who weighs 70 kg must consume at least 875 mg of this amino acid daily. Food that is high in tyrosine includes the following.
- Whole Grains
Another amino acid that has been studied for its nootropic and mood-enhancing properties is theanine. This amino acid is also known to support the inhibitory system and GABA by calming down the overstimulated or overactive nerve cells. Moreover, theanine is known to prevent overstimulation of neurotransmitters which, in turn, keeps homeostasis in the excitatory system.
It also offers a protective shield from the dangerous and toxic effects of glutamate overstimulation and oxidation. Supplementation with this amino acid is known to improve one’s mood, reduce anxiety, reduced cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, improved learning ability, as well as neuroprotection.
Studies also show that theanine taken in combination with other medications has an anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant effect. Theanine also helps treat PMS, hasten weight loss, and improve one’s immunity.
The only source of this amino acid is tea, and the content of theanine in tea leaves varies. However, green tea is likely to contain a higher concentration of this amino acid compared to other versions of tea.
One other amino acid known to balance the neurotransmitters in the brain linked to depression and anxiety is L-tryptophan. It serves as a precursor to serotonin, and the amino acid alleviates insomnia by promoting normal sleep patterns.
Furthermore, the amino acid is a natural relaxant that reduces depression and anxiety, helps in migraine headache treatment, helps boost the immune system, and reduces the risk of getting heart and artery spasms. The best sources of tryptophan include salmon, poultry, eggs, spinach, seeds, milk, nuts, and soy products.
Alternative Methods for Treating Anxiety
While consuming food rich in the amino acids mentioned above may help, some other methods of treating anxiety include the following.
Studies claim that meditation, specifically that which is mindfulness-based, helps ease anxiety. Such meditative practices include yoga.
Research fully supports the claims that exercise helps burn off unwarranted and needless anxious energy. Moreover, studies were done in 2016 state that exercise helps benefit individuals with anxiety that are linked to quitting the habit of smoking.
Journaling or other methods of writing claim to help and manage anxiety. This method is said to be best for teens and children with anxiety disorders.
4. Relaxation Exercises
These include progressive relaxation exercises where an individual lies down comfortably. Then, the muscles starting from the toes going upwards are slowly relaxed and constricted.
Studies on the effects of aromatherapy have shown beneficial in treating and alleviating anxiety. The specific scent that helps ease anxiety and stress is that of lavender. Moreover, it helps with sleep issues and reduces an individual’s heart rate.
6. Herbal Tea
Herbal teas, specifical chamomile, alters cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for feelings of stress. Apart from changing cortisol levels in the body, herbal teas also help ease sleep and relieve anxiety.
7. Pet Companionship
Research that was done in 2018 claims that the companionship of pets helps relieve numerous mental health disorders, which also include anxiety. The company of furry pets offers support and love. Moreover, it improves an individual’s psychological health.