Amino Acids for Brain Health

by Eric Braverman, M.D.

Amino acids have arrived big time into the world of healthy living. They help people sleep and feel better, and to overcome anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. The two-dozen amino acids present in the human body are among the most potent healing substances ever discovered. They are the building blocks of protein, which, after water, is the most abundant component of the human body. Protein from food is broken down into amino acids, which is then re-constituted into 50,000 new proteins the body uses for different kinds of functions. Proteins make up our genes, brain chemical neurotransmitters, antibodies, hormones and enzymes, muscles, bones, and organs. Ensuring adequate levels of amino acids ensures adequate protein building blocks for total health. And consideration of those levels provides the vital information necessary for restoring health using natural means. Dramatic therapeutic amino acid discoveries include: Arginine for sexual dysfunction, Tryptophan for insomnia, Phenylalanine and tyrosine for energy, N-acetyl cysteine for detoxification and Glutamine for cancer treatment. While amino acids impact the entire body, it is their critical role in healthy brain functioning that represents the frontier of medical science.


Glutamine (GAM), glutamic acid (GA), and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are three closely related amino acids that are intricately involved in sustaining proper brain function, mental activity and a smooth connection between the brain and the central nervous system. Individually, each has its specific purpose; each plays a specific part in medical conditions and each can be part of specific treatments to restore health. Taken together, they provide the raw material, the stimulus and the control: the gasoline, accelerator, and the brakes, if you will, for brain functions. All for one, and one for all.

Glutamine is a major fuel source for brain and immune system cells. It’s the most abundant amino acid in the blood---three to four times as much concentration as any other amino. In the brain, it is ten to fifteen times more concentrated. Glutamine also builds muscle, so it’s vital for preventing muscle deterioration from cancer and other illnesses. It also plays a role in wound repair. As a fuel, it plays a role in DNA synthesis, contributes to the formation of niacin (vitamin B3) and helps in the metabolism of arginine, the critical amino acid responsible for the transport and elimination of waste products in the body resulting from the breakdown of proteins. The general symptom for GAM deficiency is fluctuating energy levels.

As the “accelerator,” glutamic acid is responsible for brain functions such as memory and for the brain-body connection. As such, it plays a role in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, epilepsy and seizures of all types. It also helps in the metabolism of sugars and fats. An excess of GA can be likened to a car engine that is racing. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a toxic salt form of GA, which is why it can lead to nausea, vomiting and chills. GA assessment can be used to treat hypertension, chorea, dyskinesia, and alcoholism. The general symptom for GA deficiency is low energy.

Gamma-aminobutyric Acid (GABA) balances the excitatory function of GA. It's the brakes that keep the brain in check. It blocks stress and anxiety-related messages from reaching the motor centers of the brain. Of the three musketeers, GABA has the most therapeutic applications. It can be used for treatment of Parkinson's, epilepsy and other seizure disorders and it’s effective for chronic pain conditions and its calming effect plays a role in inducing sleep. The general symptom for GABA deficiency is anxiety.

The human body possesses an amazing capacity to maintain itself. Proper diet and adequate sleep usually provide everything it needs to restore itself and stay healthy. With that in mind, two principles should always go hand-in-hand with proper medical care: Imitato Corporis (Imitation of the Body): effective treatments are the ones that duplicate the body's own healing mechanisms; Pfeiffer's Law: if a drug can be found to heal, a nutrient can be found to do the same job.

When serious medical conditions are present, serious medications and other interventions are required. But the majority of medical complaints that result in primary care office visits, from weight gain to fatigue, from headaches to chronic pain, from high blood pressure to insomnia, have their root causes in imbalances in the body's natural biochemistry. While none of us should treat ourselves without proper medical guidance, all of us should pay heed to the role of nutrients in restoring and maintaining health. Amino acids are a big part of that equation.

Eric R. Braverman, M.D., is the author of the new book The Healing Nutrients Within (Basic Health Publications; 2003; $17.95). He is also graduate of Brandeis University and NYU Medical School and the Director of the Place for Achieving Total Health (PATH Medical) in New York City. For further information, call 1-888-231-7284, or visit