While a lot goes into how we feel, there is one powerful amino acid called L-tyrosine that could help increase happiness, improve memory, and manage stress. While some people turn to supplements, you can get the beneficial effects of this magical molecule through your diet as long as you know which foods to look for.
- Abby Grimm, RD, Abby Grimm, RD is a registered dietitian with FWDFuel.
What is L-Tyrosine?
“L-Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid, which are otherwise known as the building blocks of protein,” explains registered dietitian Abby Grimm, RD for FWDfuel. Nonessential doesn’t mean that we don’t need it, but rather that our body is able to produce it on its own.
In the case of L-tyrosine (also known just as tyrosine), we can make it in small amounts, but it's also often consumed through the food we eat. In general, amino acids help your body function properly. “They help with your immune system, building muscle, digestion, and more,” says Grimm.
The Connection Between L-Tyrosine and Stress
The basic function of L-tyrosine is to assist in the production of a few very important neurotransmitters (also known as brain chemicals), including dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. During times of stress, our bodies release these chemicals, which results in our brains being depleted—hence feeling low and unable to respond to continued stress in a balanced way.
L-tyrosine has mainly been studied in the military, where it has been shown to help reduce cognitive decline in situations where people are under intense physical stress, like lack of sleep or extreme cold. “Essentially, L-tyrosine can assist with mental alertness and one's ability to problem solve during these stressful situations,” says Grimm. "Some initial studies do show promise that L-tyrosine could also help with memory and performance when under mental or emotional stress." According to Grimm, L-tyrosine can also help you stay alert when running on low sleep.
Food vs. Supplements as Sources of L-Tyrosine
The studies involved levels of tyrosine much greater than what you can get through foods, but that doesn’t mean that you have to turn to supplements. Since our bodies can make tyrosine and it’s also found in many foods we eat, it’s unlikely that you would be deficient in tyrosine to the point that it would cause you adverse health effects. But if you’re looking for ways to cope just a little better from everyday stressors, you can boost your intake of L-tyrosine through your meals and snacks (more on that below).
Keep in mind, however: If your levels of stress are high enough that you are considering supplementing with L-tyrosine, you should consult with your doctor to make sure that’s the right choice for you and what your other options might be. Chronic stress is tough to tackle, so you want to make an intentional and informed plan of action. Grimm also warns that supplemental tyrosine may interact with certain medications for Parkinson’s disease.
How To Get More L-Tyrosine In Your Diet
While supplementing with L-tyrosine is something you’ll need to discuss with your doctor, starting by including more foods that contain the amino acid is a safe approach for pretty much everyone.
Looking to level up your stress management with L-tyrosine but don’t know where to start? According to Grimm, dairy products (especially cheese), meats, fish, and eggs are good sources of L-tyrosine. For plant-based eaters, nuts, beans, oats, wheat, and soy proteins like tofu and tempeh are also great sources of tyrosine. The good news is that the foods that naturally contain L-tyrosine are also part of a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet that could make you feel happier and healthier for multiple reasons—taste included.
Exhibit A? These delicious vegan tacos, which are rich in L-tyrosine (and flavor):
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