Proper Neurotransmitter Balance

Neurotransmitter Metabolism – Simple in Concept, Complex in Application

Everything seems pretty easy and straight-forward up until this point – it would seem that if you give the body amino acid precursors, it should make the respective neurotransmitters in a relatively straightforward fashion:

Illustration taken from Marty Hinz, MD.

However, achieving proper neurotransmitter balance can be very difficult to do. This is because there are several steps during the conversion of amino acids into their respective neurotransmitters and in the degradation (or breakdown) of neurotransmitters where there is a competition of sorts for precious resources.

Figure 1 shows how tyrosine is converted into dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine and how tryptophan is converted to serotonin. The important thing to see is that the enzyme needed for these conversions is the same (i.e., aromatic amino acid decarboxylase). This means that tyrosine competes with tryptophan (or 5-HTP) to be converted into dopamine or serotonin, respectively. This may not seem like that big of a deal in theory, but in practice it often makes the difference between not seeing any results or the complete resolution of symptoms.

Figure 1: The synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and epinephrine (adrenaline) from amino acid precursors.

Here’s why: because tyrosine and 5-HTP compete with each other for this enzyme taking the improper balance of either amino acid can cause a substantial imbalance in their respective neurotransmitters. Said differently, if you take only 5-HTP or L-tyrosine they will compete with and inhibit the synthesis of the opposite precursor because they compete for this enzyme. This means that if you take only 5-HTP (to increase serotonin) or only L-dopa or L-tyrosine (to increase dopamine levels) you will decrease the synthesis of the other neurotransmitter (dopamine or serotonin respectively).(1) Over time, this will lead to or increase the neurotransmitter imbalances present.

In addition, there are many interactions noted in the literature between amino-acids and neurotransmitters:

Illustration taken from Marty Hinz, MD.

One look at this figure and you can easily see that even though 5-HTP and L-tyrosine are made into serotonin and dopamine, respectively, they also have a number of other effects. Because of this, the odds of a person guessing the correct blend of amino acids necessary to address their specific issues are virtually zero.

This is why it is so important to work with a health care professional that is trained in the proper use of amino acid therapy: you have to take properly balanced amino acids when you are attempting to improve neurotransmitter function. If you take only one amino acid precursor, the administered amino acid will dominate the enzyme and compromise proper production of the other system’s neurotransmitters, creating further imbalance, which can lead to more and greater symptoms. The same is true if you take an improperly balanced amino acid formula. This is where conducting proper urinary testing can become very important.

12 Comments

  1. Carry Foster

    Can I confirm that if one keeps serotonin in balance (competative i hibition state) with dopamine, increases in L Dopa will therefore not be necessary??

    Reply
    • aatadmin

      Hi Carry,

      That is correct – if serotonin and dopamine can be optimized using only 5-HTP, L-tyrosine and the necessary cofactors, additional L-dopa will not be necessary.

      Hope that helps!

      Dr. Chad

      Reply
  2. Wanda M Bias

    What is the average cost of the products regarding amino acid treatments?

    Reply
    • aatadmin

      Hi Wanda,

      Thanks for your question. If a person begins with the NeuroReplete and CysReplete products, they typically run about $180/month. After that, each person’s dosing is completely customized to their needs (via test results).

      I hope that helps!!

      Dr. Chad

      Reply
  3. Jay Hoorn

    I’m currently spending approximately 200.00 a week on the protocol? About 8 months in ,and getting close to a final dosage.There’s got to be a more reasonable way to provide”common ” amino acids? It’s vague , expensive and inconvenient , but seems to work. I’d like to hear from some long term users as to their success.

    Reply
    • aatadmin

      Hi Jay – thanks for posting. The main insight and value with the CHK products is that they provide all the precursors and cofactors needed in the correct ratios to correct imbalances between the serotonin and catecholamine system. If you’d like to learn more, please visit: http://www.neurosupport.com. I will post your request here, but I would encourage you to follow up with your current health care provider to get you in contact with some of there long-term clients that are successfully using amino acid therapy –

      Sincerely,

      Dr. Chad

      Reply
  4. Melissa Hester

    I am currently seeing two doctors-one is a MD and he tells me to take my 5HTP at night and my L-tyrosine in the morning. My naturopathic doctor says that I must take these two at the same time. I tried looking it up on-line, but I get mixed messages. Your explanation is the best I have seen so far, but I still don’t know if I have to take them at the same time and if so, in the morning or at night? Thanks so much for your help and clarification.

    Reply
    • aatadmin

      Hi Melissa – there is no hard and fast rule about whether you take them together or not, so I would suggest speaking with each of your providers to determine their reasoning. We usually recommend that 5-HTP be taken with a dopamine precursor (like tyrosine or L-dopa) to initiate competitive inhibition at the OCT-2.

      Hope that helps!

      Dr Chad

      Reply
  5. Pamela Lorenz

    Hi Dr Chad, My serotonin is 219 dopamine 140 norepinephrine 15.5 epinephrine 2.6 So confused on this when I take 5-htp, tryptophan, melatonin,Sam-e,magnesium and other supplements I absolutely don’t sleep and feel wired. Caffeine makes me tired and brain fog. I know I have to balance all transmitters for optimal relief. Please advise. Thanks

    Reply
    • aatadmin

      Hi Pamela – thanks for the comment/question. It is not possible for me to make recommendations with this information. However, I’d love to help. Please contact us and set up an initial consultation when possible so I can gather some more information: http://naturalpathhealthcenter.com/contact-us/.

      I look forward to speaking –

      Sincerely,

      Dr. Chad

      Reply
  6. Sue

    If one takes only 5-htp, one is in danger of depleting dopamine due to the fact that both serotonin and tyrosine use the same enzyme. Does this rule also apply if one takes tryptophan instead off 5-htp?

    Reply
    • aatadmin

      Hi Sue – great question!

      The same would hold true of tryptophan; however, research has shown that very little ingested tryptophan actual goes into serotonin production. Most is used (~90%) for protein repair (i.e., muscle, tissue, hormones, enzymes, etc.),some is used to make niacin (~9%) and only ~1% actually goes to make serotonin. That is why it is preferable to use 5-HTP as a serotonin precursor, as almost all of it goes to making serotonin.

      Hope this helps!

      Dr Chad

      Reply

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