Amino Acids: Alleviating Stress and Enhancing Calm In Kids

mood learning & behaviour nutrients & supplements
Amino acids and 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.

Amino acids play a pivotal role in your child's mood, behavior, and learning because they are the building blocks for neurotransmitters - the brain's chemical messengers that help us respond to the stress of everyday life. They also play a crucial role beyond the brain... influencing gut health and motility, immune function, wound repair, and just about everything else. 

Amino Acids are really the foundation of life.

There is more to your child's emotional wellness than amino acids and neurotransmitters, let's be clear about that. But amino acids can be a great help in diffusing stress quickly so a child can feel differently about stressful experiences and move through them with more stability and confidence.

 

Understanding the Brain's Chemical Messengers

 

There are four key neurotransmitters - chemicals that respond to stress - that I want parents to know about:  Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA‚Äč‚Äč.

Our understanding of mental health extends far beyond the idea that it hinges on sufficient neurochemicals. BUT this is still useful information because neurochemicals DO play a part. And, since amino acids and other nutrients create all these neurochemicals, understanding them helps you learn why targeted supplementation helps ease stress and tension quickly while you dig for other contributors. 

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. Serotonin also plays a crucial role in our gut health, influencing motility and mucus production. 
  • Tryptophan is the amino acid found in foods like turkey, chicken, nuts, and seeds, used to make serotonin. We can use supplemental 5-Hydoxy-Tryptophan (5HTP) or supplemental Tryptophan to support serotonin. 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 and D-phenylalanine are the primary nutritional building blocks of dopamine. You'll find this in eggs, fish, red meat, and nuts. Iron, B6, magnesium, C, and a proper zinc-copper balance (alongside these aminos) are crucial for making dopamine.

3. Norepinephrine and Epinephrine: The Stress Responders

  • We don't find these in food - the body makes them from dopamine to 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 another amino acid - glutamate - with B6 as a critical co-factor. Imbalances in GABA can lead to anxiety, tense muscles, anger, and feeling overwhelmed. GABA also seems to influence the smooth muscles so in some cases it may also regulate bowel movements. 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. 

Other supportive amino acids we can use to support mood 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.

 

5. Inflammation

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.

To learn exactly how to use amino acids with your kids check out our Amino Acids (with kids!) Quickstart program here. 

 

Related Articles:

https://www.jesssherman.com/blog/neurotransmitter-testing-for-kids

https://www.jesssherman.com/blog/is-your-child-wired-for-anxiety-inattention-irritability

https://www.jesssherman.com/blog/can-gaba-help-kids-with-separation-anxiety

https://www.jesssherman.com/blog/tyrosine-caused-headaches-but-5htp-was-a-game-changer-when-coming-off-adderall

 

 

Select References:

The Impact of Nutrients on Mental Health and Well-Being: Insights From the Literature

Impact of Supplementation and Nutritional Interventions on Pathogenic Processes of Mood Disorders: A Review of the Evidence

Nutritional therapies for mental disorders

Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat

 

 

About Jess Sherman, FDN-P, M.Ed, R.H.N

Jess is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition¬ģ Practitioner, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and a trauma-sensitive Family Health Educator specializing in brain health & resilience for kids.¬†She is also a teacher, with a Master's degree in education. Her¬†Calm & Clear Kids¬†introductory course,¬†her Amino Acids (with kids!) Quickstart program, and her signature¬†Roadmap to Resilient Kids,¬†¬†along with her book¬†Raising Resilience,¬†have¬†helped families¬†in at least 44 countries¬†improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, and mood disorders and reduce¬†their reliance on medication.¬†She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work¬†with families, and she¬†continues to¬†bring an understanding of the Nourishment Needs and Biological Stress to the mainstream conversation about children‚Äôs mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses, workshops and as a contributor to print and online magazines.¬†

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The content on this website and in the guides and courses offered here is meant to provide information so that parents can make informed decisions and discuss these issue with their health care teams. It is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or individualized care.