Today we’re going to answer the question: what is phenylalanine? Quite simply, it’s an essential amino acid. We mention those a lot but that means they’re used by the body as building blocks for protein synthesis and that your body can’t produce them on its own so they must be consumed.
There are two types of phenylalanine: L and D. The L-form is the one found in foods and used for protein synthesis. The D-form is synthetic and used in medical applications.
Aside from its role with proteins, phenylalanine is now being used to treat skin disorders such as vitiligo, depression due to its support of dopamine production, and even pain relief.
There is a rare genetic disorder that affects 1 in 10,000-15,000 newborns called Phenylketonuria or PKU in which the person is unable to process phenylalanine. This inability to process the acid leads to a buildup of it and complications such as seizures and brain damage. You may have even seen a warning on a diet drink about it containing phenylalanine. That’s because aspartame contains it and people with the disorder need to avoid it.
So the good news is, it’s pretty easy to get enough phenylalanine as long as you’re eating a variety of proteins. Sources of this essential amino acid include:
- Soy products
- Seeds and nuts
- Cottage cheese
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