Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning our body is unable to produce it on its own so we need to get it from our diet.
This crucial compound is absolutely vital for several aspects of our health as it plays a central role in maintaining normal growth and development. Much like other amino acids, it is considered an important building block that is used to form the proteins that our body needs to function and thrive. It is also important for the synthesis of certain hormones and neurotransmitters that are for example involved in regulating mood. In fact, phenylalanine participates in the production of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning.
Phenylalanine deficiency, otherwise called phenylketonuria, is an inborn error of metabolism characterized by an absence or deficiency of phenylalanine. This is a syndrome found to occur more often in infants of less than one year of age, presumably because of the greater need for phenylalanine during this period of rapid growth.
For healthy individuals, phenylalanine naturally found in foods doesn’t present any risk and eating a varied and balanced diet including protein-rich foods should cover our bodily needs. Phenylalanine supplements should always be taken with caution as overuse can cause nerve anxiety, headaches, hypertension and nerve damage.
There are numerous ways to get phenylalanine naturally from food. High concentrations of this essential amino acid can be found in most protein-containing foods such as soy products (e.g. tempeh, tofu, natto), seafood (e.g. whelk, cuttlefish, octopus), meat, poultry, eggs, milk and cheese, fish roe and fish, legumes (e.g. beans, soybeans), pumpkin seeds and almonds.
Athletes have higher needs in protein than sedentary people and both quality and quantity of protein is important. Athletes’ intake of essential amino acids, including phenylalanine, need to be adequate along with sufficient energy intake and exercise, to support muscle growth, maintenance and repair.
In conclusion, our phenylalanine levels impact many aspects of our mental and physical health. In order to make sure that your phenylalanine levels are balanced and steady, make sure to test your levels and to evaluate how you can make the right changes to rebalance your body and mind.