Amino Acids: Alleviating Stress and Enhancing Calm In Kids
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids come from protein. When we eat protein, the body breaks it down into single amino acids and then uses those amino acids to build other things.
In relation to a child's mood, behavior, and learning, amino acids play a pivotal role because they are the building blocks for neurotransmitters, the brain's chemical messengers that help us respond to the stress of everyday life.
Understanding the Brain's Chemical Messengers
Four key neurotransmitters to understand are: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA. All of them are made in the body from amino acids and other nutrients.
1. Serotonin: The Mood Stabilizer
- Serotonin, often called the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, plays a crucial role in mood and emotional stability. Low levels can lead to depression, anxiety, obsessive thinking, and poor sleep.
- Tryptophan is the amino acid found in foods like turkey, chicken, nuts, and seeds, used to make serotonin. We can also use supplemental 5-Hydoxy-Tryptophan (5HTP) as a supplement. Nutrients like vitamin B6 and magnesium are essential for converting tryptophan into serotonin. Having the right gut microbes is also important.
2. Dopamine: The Motivation Molecule
- Dopamine is linked to focus, attention, and motivation. Low levels may result in mood swings, low motivation, and addiction tendencies.
- Tyrosine is the primary nutritional building block of dopamine. It's found in eggs, fish, red meat, and nuts. Iron, B6, magnesium, and a proper zinc-copper balance are crucial in converting tyrosine into dopamine.
3. Norepinephrine and Epinephrine: The Stress Responders
- These neurotransmitters are derived from dopamine and regulate the body's stress response. Imbalances can lead to impulsiveness, hyperactivity, anxiety, or poor energy and focus. High levels can cause anxiety and panic, as well as poor attention.
4. GABA: The Calming Agent
- GABA is our most abundant calming neurotransmitter that helps counteract the effects of epinephrine. It is produced from glutamate, with B6 as a critical co-factor. Imbalances in GABA can lead to anxiety, tense muscles, anger, and feeling overwhelmed. Magnesium and B6 are important for maintaining GABA levels.
- GABA is the only neurotransmitter we can take directly as a nutritional supplement. We can also support its production with nutrients like B6 and certain probiotics and some herbs.
There are other supportive amino acids we can use as well to support the brain. Others I use are: Methionine, N-Acetyl-Cysteine, Glutamine, Glycine, and Taurine. But Tryptophane, 5HTP, GABA, and Tyrosine are primary.
Combatting High Stress with Amino Acids
Stress significantly affects neurotransmitter levels. Under stress, the body's demand for neurotransmitters increases. If this demand surpasses the body's supply of nutritional building blocks, we end up in a depleted, stressed state, and it becomes difficult to meet daily challenges. We can use amino acids to help kids manage stress-related neurotransmitter depletion.
Here are five reasons why there can be a higher need for amino acids in kids.
1. Stress load is too high
When stress is high we have an increased need for all neurotransmitters. So kids need significantly more nutrition to cope with stress. This is a challenge since stress sometimes dulls appetite (or all we want to eat is sugar... which isn't all that helpful). Amino acids can be a helpful stop gap to calm the nervous system quickly so we can get that great food into our kids.
2. Not enough raw material
Amino acids come from dietary protein. Micronutrients like zinc, B6, magnesium and others help transform amino acids into neurotransmitters. If all this nutrition is not coming in through the diet, the body can’t make neurotransmitters
3. Poor protein digestion
Proteins are long, complex chains of amino acids. The process of digestion, starting in the stomach, breaks those chains apart into single amino acids. Some kids do this inefficiently leaving them deficient in the amino acid building blocks needed to make neurotransmitters. This keeps them stuck in a vicious cycle - stress reduces digestive capacity, and the reduced digestive capacity causes more stress due to poor neurotransmission. Giving kdis supplemental amino acids can support their mood while you work on optimizing digestion.
4. Poor transport or binding
Genetic factors, along with exposure to certain chemicals and toxins can affect the transportation and binding of neurotransmitters, influencing mood and behavior in children.
Inflammation from various sources can interfere with proper neurotransmission. This inflammation might be coming from the gut, from foods, from toxins, or from infections.
The Bottom Line
Some kids need extra neurotransmitter support and we can do that with supplemental amino acids and nutrients.
By supplementing with amino acids, we can help stabilize neurotransmitter levels, offering a sense of calm and balance. This allows us to relieve some of the immediate pressures and challenges our children face, creating a more conducive environment for their growth and learning.
However, this is just the first step. While amino acids can provide quick relief, it's essential to view them as part of a broader strategy. Delving deeper into other influencing factors like diet, physical activity, sleep patterns, gut health, toxins, and emotional support is crucial for long-term success.
By adopting a holistic approach that includes amino acid supplementation, we can more effectively address the underlying causes of mood and behavioral challenges in children, paving the way for happier, healthier development.