Tyrosine is one of the 20 amino acids that people need to make proteins. It is a non-essential amino acid — which means your body can make it, so it doesn't have to be included in the diet. In fact, tyrosine is a building block that appears in almost every protein in the human body.
Your body makes tyrosine from an essential amino acid called phenylalanine. A small percentage of people can't process phenylalanine because of a condition called phenylketonuria, or PKU. They might need to take tyrosine supplements, although doctors usually take a different approach to treating PKU.
Studies have suggested that tyrosine supplements could help people with memory and performance when under stress, or that tyrosine might help sleep-deprived people be more alert, but further research is needed to support this. Most people do not need to take tyrosine supplements. Many foods contain tyrosine, so it is unlikely that you have a deficiency.
Also, the body has a way of regulating its tyrosine intake. If you get too little tyrosine in your diet, your body will manufacture more. If you take in too much, the body will break it down. Supplements aren't usually needed and probably wouldn't be used by the body.
Why You Need Tyrosine
Tyrosine plays many important roles in the body, including these:
- Builds proteins, which are vital for life.
- Helps the body produce important enzymes.
- Boosts communication between nerve cells.
- Aids in the production of melanin, the skin pigment that helps to protect the body from sunburn.
- Plays a part in the production of thyroid hormones.
There is some evidence that tyrosine also has these health benefits:
Some studies show that tyrosine helps people function under stress and might improve memory during stressful situations. Tyrosine also might help you stay sharp if you have lost a lot of sleep.
Results are mixed, but some research suggests that tyrosine is somewhat effective for depression. In one study, subjects showed an immediate improvement of mood.
Foods With Tyrosine
Adults should consume tyrosine and phenylalanine combined in an amount equal to 14 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. The two substances are combined because they work together in your body. If you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you don't need to do the math. You are unlikely to be deficient in tyrosine.
Since tyrosine is an amino acid, it's no surprise that it is found in foods high in protein, including these:
1. Sesame Seeds
Sesame seeds are a rich source of tyrosine. They also contain zinc, vitamin B6, and magnesium. All these nutrients support alertness and memory.
If you've ever seen white crystals on the surface of aged cheese, you may have seen tyrosine. Cheese is so rich in tyrosine that it sometimes appears on cut surfaces. It's still safe to eat, and it's a good way to get your tyrosine.
Soybeans are a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. That means they contain tyrosine's partner, phenylalanine. It makes sense that soybeans would have lots of tyrosine as well.
4. Meat and Poultry
When protein is mentioned, you may automatically think of meat. Beef, pork, lamb, and poultry are all good sources of protein and tyrosine. These foods can also be high in fat and cholesterol, so keep serving sizes small and learn ways to make meat and poultry healthier.
Fish is a healthy source of protein and tyrosine. Certain individuals, especially pregnant women, should be aware that fish may contain mercury. It can be safely consumed in small amounts by most people.
Those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet can still get plenty of protein and tyrosine from their food. Nuts are high in nutrients, including protein and healthy omega-3 fats.