The α-amino acid Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, with its natural form in proteins being L-phenylalanine. Present in high protein foods, it is also available as a nutritional supplement.
Use of L-Phenylalanine for proper brain function
The body processes Phenylalanine, to generate tyrosine, which in turn is required to create brain chemicals as well as proteins. It is needed for the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine and as such is touted by some to have antidepressant effects.
For individuals with the rare condition called phenylketonuria or PKU, their systems are unable to utilize the phenylalanine, due to the absence of an enzyme. This metabolic disorder must be treated within 3 weeks of birth, failing which the child may display autistic behaviours like rhythmic rocking or aimless hand movements and becomes hyperactive.
The importance of L-Phenylalanine
For those with vitiligo, L-phenylalanine used in topical or oral form , helps improve the effects of UVA radiation. The amino acid helps counter the irregular depigmentation and can stimulate the darkening of the white patches of skin. While early studies show that it is useful for patches on the face, research is yet to concretely confirm its effectiveness.
Some studies conducted in the 1970s and 80s showed that phenylalanine could help in treating depression . Because it stimulates brain chemical production, it could be a mood enhancer.
A daily recommended intake of 125 mg (per kg of body weight) of phenylalanine for infants, 22-69 mg/kg for children and 14-39 mg/kg for adults is the general level required by the body.
Sources of L-Phenylalanine
Phenylalanine is present in protein rich foods like meats, fish and eggs , as well as in dairy like milk and cheese. While it is found in breast milk of mammalian species, it is also used in certain food and drinks in the market and also available as a dietary supplement.
L-Phenylalanine rich diet
For those with a high protein diet, getting their required quantities of phenylalanine is usually not too difficult. Here’s a look at some typical foods that you could include in your daily meal plan to get the recommended amount of phenylalanine.
A breakfast of eggs and yogurt or cheese will give you a kickstart for the day, with phenylalanine present in all three foods.
Soy products offer vegans a chance to take in phenylalanine through Asian stir-fries with tofu, grilled tofu and more.
Make flatbreads using soybean flour added to the dough to accompany any Middle Eastern, Moroccan or Indian curry meals.
Have a light grilled or steamed fish with a delicate sauce, or even a fish pie with some cheesy goodness, to get in your phenylalanine and feel healthy too. Cod, tuna, salmon and sardines are good sources, and seafood like crab, oysters, mussels and lobster are great too.
Turkey, with as much as 9.263 gm per serving of 1171 gm of breast meat, can let you enjoy a lean and high protein main meal - in a lovely salad in summer or a warming stew or roast in winter.
Red meat eaters can enjoy a good pork chop, or beautifully cooked succulent beef steak for main meals.
Vegetarians can have a beautiful spinach based pasta sauce with some fresh cheese grated over the top, for a meal that’s quick and easy and gives you the phenylalanine you need too.
Sweeten your hot beverage with aspartame instead of sugar for a low calorie way to get in some phenylalanine.
Excess phenylalanine in the body could result in eczema . For those with untreated PKU, learning disabilities, epilepsy and behavioural difficulties may manifest.