Tyrosine is a controversial anti-depressant. It has an energising effect on the body and increases sex drive, so it puts a spring in the step. Pharmaceutical anti-depressants concentrate on raising serotonin levels, to the point that people think all depression can be cured by raising serotonin. I wrote 5 blogs about serotonin, covering aspects of what it is, dietary and other natural sources and how to raise levels without recourse to any supplementation. Now, serotonin is the neurotransmitter that causes nice, calm sleepiness. Its opposite number could be dopamine, the perky neurotransmitter of the will to get up and go. Low dopamine levels lead to lethargy and a lack of zest for life. If our dopamine levels are low, we will feel depressed. The body makes dopamine out of tyrosine. In fact, the body has other vital uses for its tyrosine, as this blog explores.
Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid. An amino-acid is a building block of protein. Non-essential means the body can – and does – make tyrosine from another amino-acid: phenylalanine. Get the tongue around that one! Apart from making dopamine, the body uses its tyrosine to make the thyroid hormones, it is a building block for the adrenalins and helps produce melanin, the hormone responsible for skin pigmentation. Tyrosine also gets used in the pituitary gland to prevent release of prolactin, the hormone that stimulates breast milk in women. In both sexes, prolactin is produced after sex, producing feelings of satisfaction and relaxation. Too much prolactin results in impotence in men.
So drawing from all that, low levels of tyrosine can result in depression, feeling cold, low blood pressure, an underactive tyroid, albinism, or impotence. Low levels can also lead to drug taking or excessive thrill seeking – these things raise dopamine.
Why the controversy about tyrosine? Well, partly this is due to its prevalence in the diet, being found in red meats, game, dairy, fish, white meats, bananas and avocados. If something is so prevalent, how can we be short of it? Maybe the answer partly lies in our ability to break down our proteins, which depends upon good levels of HCl in the stomach. And few have that. Also research into tyrosine improving mood is mixed. And, to be cynical, tryosine is readily available as a supplement, so pharma will make no money there.
Is it worth trying tyrosine supplementation? Yes, provided we have normal or low blood pressure; with its effect on the adrenals, tyrosine can raise blood pressure. And so anyone on medication that should avoid raising blood pressure, eg the MAOIs, cannot take tyrosine. If on thyroid medication, tyrosine may raise levels of thyroid hormone too high, so care should be taken.1 Those taking Levodopa for Parkinsons should exercise caution with taking tyrosine and not take it at the same time.
These things apart, if suffering symptoms from what could be low tyrosine levels, then giving it a whirl will not cause any damage. However, it must be taken during the morning. Tyrosine has a pick-me-up effect in all its various effects on our body, so a dose of it will put a rocket up us. And this is why it is used to improve performance, concentration, sex drive and aid weightloss. No wonder pharma doesn’t like it.
- People with PKU, an inherited condition should be taking tyrosine because they can’t tolerate phenylalanine in the diet, so will be low in tyrosine and feel dreadful without it. [↩]