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Tyrosine

What Should I Know About It?

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Updated November 14, 2012

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Tyrosine is an amino acid that your body produces from phenylalanine (another type of amino acid). Also found in a number of foods (including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, eggs, nuts, legumes, and oats), tyrosine is available in dietary supplement form as well.

Tyrosine is essential to your body's production of melanin (a type of pigment) and several key brain chemicals (including dopamine and norepinephrine). Tyrosine also plays an important role in the function of the adrenal, thyroid, and pituitary glands, which are involved in producing and regulating your hormones.

Uses for Tyrosine

One of the most common uses of tyrosine supplements is the treatment of a genetic disorder known as phenylketonuria. In people with phenylketonuria, the body is unable to process phenylalanine properly and, as a result, cannot produce the tyrosine it needs to function.

In addition, tyrosine supplements are often touted as a natural remedy for a range of health problems, including:

Some proponents claim that tyrosine supplements can also help suppress appetite, promote weight loss, increase mental alertness, improve memory, and enhance athletic performance.

Benefits of Tyrosine

Although relatively few studies have tested the effects of taking tyrosine supplements, there's some evidence that tyrosine may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at several key findings from the available research:

1) Phenylketonuria

For a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2010, investigators analyzed the available clinical trials on the use of tyrosine supplements in people with phenylketonuria. Looking at data from six clinical trials with a total of 56 phenylketonuria patients, the report's authors found that blood levels of tyrosine were significantly higher in participants receiving tyrosine supplements (compared to those given a placebo). However, the authors note that more studies are needed before tyrosine supplements can be recommended in treatment of phenylketonuria.

2) Brain Function

Some studies show that use of tyrosine supplements may boost brain function under certain conditions. For instance, a 2010 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that tyrosine supplementation led to significantly greater improvements in focus and alertness after exhaustive exercise. The study included 19 healthy college students, each of whom was given either a tyrosine supplement or a placebo for a four-week period.

In addition, a 2007 study of 19 people (published in Physiology & Behavior) found that use of tyrosine supplements helped protect against the detrimental effects of severe cold exposure on cognitive performance and memory.

3) Exercise Performance

So far, studies examining tyrosine's effects on exercise performance have yielded mixed results. In a 2011 study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology, for example, tests on eight healthy male volunteers found that consumption of a tyrosine-enriched drink helped increase endurance while exercising in the heat. However, a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (also involving eight male volunteers) found that tyrosine supplementation failed to protect against exhaustion while exercising in a warm environment.

More research is needed before tyrosine supplements can be recommended for enhanced exercise performance.

Safety

Since there's some concern that tyrosine may trigger migraine headaches, people prone to migraines should avoid the use of tyrosine supplements. In addition, tyrosine supplements may cause side effects like fatigue, heartburn, and nausea.

Where To Find Tyrosine

Widely available for purchase online, tyrosine supplements can be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Sources

Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Gonzalez A, Beller NA, Hoffman MW, Olson M, Purpura M, Jäger R. "The effects of acute and prolonged CRAM supplementation on reaction time and subjective measures of focus and alertness in healthy college students." J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Dec 15;7:39.

Mahoney CR, Castellani J, Kramer FM, Young A, Lieberman HR. "Tyrosine supplementation mitigates working memory decrements during cold exposure." Physiol Behav. 2007 Nov 23;92(4):575-82.

Tumilty L, Davison G, Beckmann M, Thatcher R. "Oral tyrosine supplementation improves exercise capacity in the heat." Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Dec;111(12):2941-50.

Watson P, Enever S, Page A, Stockwell J, Maughan RJ. "Tyrosine supplementation does not influence the capacity to perform prolonged exercise in a warm environment." Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012 Oct;22(5):363-73.

Webster D, Wildgoose J. "Tyrosine supplementation for phenylketonuria." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Aug 4;(8):CD001507.

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