Today I want to talk about about an amino acid. Acid what? Yeah, I know, what’s even more fun is the name of the amino acid I want to tell you about: tyrosine. Woah, I just read that after typing and unless you still remember your high school biology classes or have an interest in human sciences, you are probably wondering if yours truly hasn’t had much sleep today. Well, the latter is actually half-true (sleep deprived) and this is why precisely I want to talk about the amino acid tyrosine.
Tyrosine is is an amino acid and an amino acid is a building block of protein. Protein sounds more like something you have come across, right? The body is made up of proteins (amongst other bio-compounds) and you ingest protein through food everyday. This same protein is composed, in varying degrees, of building blocks known as amino acids. Your body breaks down ingested protein into amino acids and then uses these to support different body functions hence the ingestion of protein (therefore amino acids) is essential to life. There is a wide range of amino acids that can compose a protein and tyrosine is one of them.
In the body, tyrosine has many uses and, among these uses, it is a precursor to two of the brain’s neurotransmitters: dopamine and norepinephrine. This means that the body uses tyrosine in the process of making these two neurotransmitters and both dopamine and norepinephrine regulate many brain and body functions, including mood, concentration and adaptability to stress, to name a few. Having a healthy diet with plenty of protein intake is imperative so as to ingest optimal amounts of tyrosine and give the body the building block it needs to support the different internal functions. Food sources high in tyrosine include, but are not limited to: meat, dairy, fish, soy and nuts.
Remember that to be healthy you need to have an optimal diet
Having given you an introduction to tyrosine, I now want to tell you about this little helper that tyrosine is. The other day I was very busy and had to wake up very early the next day. I got very bad sleep, about 2 hours, and I know when I get bad sleep my cognitive funtions are shot, I literally feel about 50% less sharp than normal, feel tired, have difficulties concentrating and the whole lot that you guys are probably aware of from having one night of bad sleep. I woke up like a train had run me over and the first thing I did was reach for the drawer and look for a caffeine bottle as caffeine is proven to help a bit when sleep deprived. Since I put my arm inside the drawer, digging through with my eyes still closed as I was in a half-awake haze, I went through all the stuff inside trying to grab the caffeine bottle but instead grabbed another bottle which I had bought some time ago and didn’t even remember it was there. The bottle said: Tyrosine – 1000mgs. I shook my head in disbelief as my brain suddenly switched on for I knew the positive effects tyrosine has on sleep deprivation. I took a few capsules and 30 minutes later I was almost as sharp and energetic as usual.
What had just happened isn’t a miracle or placebo, tyrosine really works. Actually, let me rephrase that, tyrosine really works in a sleep deprived state. Tyrosine has been shown to almost fully reverse the negative impact of sleep deprivation on cognition, energy levels and mental drive. What is more, tyrosine is a harmless substance, relatively cheap and is available over the counter as a food supplement. Seriously, the stuff is priceless for the chronically stressed person.
But, how much to take? Research shows that high doses in the range of 8-10 grams work best. In one 2003 study, an amount of 150mgs/kg of bodyweight (aprox. 10 grams for an adult male) improved cognition parameters of sleep deprived subjects, almost as much as the result achieved by a therapeutic high dose of amphetamine (a powerful psychostimulant). The same positive results had been previously published eight years before, with the same dose and same sleep deprivation theme. Another study from 2003 demonstrated that tyrosine (again, 150mgs/kg) does not affect sleep as opposed to psychostimulants (we all know how caffeine can leaves us peppy and unable to fall asleep), making the amino acid a great stimulating substance that does not have anti-sleeping properties. In addition, lower frequent doses of tyrosine (2 grams, 10 grams total) have been pointed to reduce the effects of stress and fatigue on several cognitive testing parameters. Pretty cool stuff, huh?
To get the most out of tyrosine it is imperative to take it on an empty stomach, that means either in a fasted state (best result) or at least 3 hours after a meal. Most supplements come in 500 or 1000 mgs which means you will have to take a bunch of pills so make sure you count them before swallowing them. Moreover, I have found that adding a 50mgs caffeine tablet (or about 2 cans of diet coke) with the tyrosine synergises well and does not provide freaky stimulation. These aforementioned doses have been found to be safe in healthy subjects and with occasional use, so to make the most out of tyrosine, use only when sleep deprived or at times of high stress as tyrosine has been shown to be no more than placebo (no effect) under normal circumstances. As will all food supplements (including caffeine), please consult a doctor before deciding to take them.
So, there: tyrosine, a useful amino acid which works to help one get out of bed on those days where getting out of bed is not a voluntary decision.
All the best,