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Amino Acids: Old Remedy, New Promise

The supplements that can help stop food addiction.

“Quite simply, the widespread introduction of amino acids in the form of powers, pills, or capsules is the most exciting advance in health and nutrition in 25 years.” These are the words of Robert Erdmann, author of The Amino Revolution, published in 1987, 25 years ago.

If the scientific community has been aware of the power of amino acid supplements for so long, why have so few people even heard of them?

The basic answer is money. Amino acids are naturally occurring substances. Popularizing the word about their benefits will not enrich the fortunes of a pharmaceutical giant.

But I believe Robert Erdmann was right, then and now: supplemental amino acids are the single most helpful intervention for treating disturbances of appetite.

Let me tell you more.

Appetite is strongly influenced by three specific molecular structures in the body: peptides, hormones, and neurotransmitters. When these regulator molecules are in balance, hunger cues are natural and appropriate, eating patterns are synchronized, and appetite is generally under control. However, to sustain this balance, the body requires adequate amounts of raw material in the form of small organic compounds called amino acids. Amino acids combine to create these larger molecules at a steady rate. When there aren’t enough amino acids present to meet demands, the production of peptides, hormones, and neurotransmitters falters. Appetite can quickly spiral out of control.

All the proteins, neuropeptides, and neurotransmitters in our bodies—more than 50,000 of them-- are comprised of different combinations of just twenty amino acids. The amino acids are classified as “essential” and “nonessential.” The liver manufactures eleven of these twenty, while the remaining nine must be obtained through diet. The category names are somewhat misleading. All the amino acids are essential to health: it’s just that nine of them must be obtained from outside the body, either from food or supplements. If these nine are supplied in adequate quantities, the body can manufacture the other eleven. Each amino acid influences appetite and metabolism in a specific way—primarily through the modulation of neurotransmitter and hormone function.

Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are influenced and regulated by neurotransmitters and neuropeptides. These chemical messengers relay information from one nerve cell to another throughout the brain. When amino acid levels are low, they result in abnormally low neurotransmitter and neuropeptide levels. Especially when the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are low, appetite disturbances and eating problems develop.

The following are the twenty amino acids our bodies need.

Nonessential Amino Acids (made in the body):

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartate
  • Carnitine
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Histidine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Taurine
  • Tyrosine

Essential (must be obtained from foods and supplements):

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

In my next post I’ll explain why levels of amino acids in the body may be too low. Then in future postings I’ll tell you more about the most important amino acids for appetite control. The last posting in this series will tell you specifically what to take to restore amino acid levels to the proper balance. I’ll also tell you where to find it.

Supplementing your diet with amino acids is key to restoring appetite control. I’ve seen hundreds of people experience a dramatic decline in cravings and in the desire to binge soon after they begin taking amino acid supplements. In fact, in my twenty years of clinical practice I’ve found amino acids especially helpful in cases of binge eating, chronic cravings, depression and anxiety.

For many of my patients, amino acids alone bring appetite under control. You can give up the slavish counting of calories and the despair over broken resolutions to diet. The welcome end of all these doomed efforts to control appetite is why I call my integrative approach to treating disordered eating the New Hope.

Spotlight Book: Robert Erdmann, The Amino Revolution. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1987.