Mood swings, intense sugar cravings, comfort/binge eating, sadness, anxiety, crying, cramps and increased pain, irritability, anger, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, overwhelm, feelings of unease and dissatisfaction, aggression, heartache, and/or insomnia are common for many women during the second half of the menstrual cycle i.e. in the luteal phase. You may relate to all or some of these symptoms. And you may have been diagnosed with or may identify with PMS (premenstrual syndrome) or PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder – similar to PMS but more serious).
Research shows improvements of these symptoms with the amino acids tryptophan (which provides serotonin support) and GABA (which supports GABA levels). Although there is no research that the pyroluria protocol improves symptoms it’s something I see clinically all the time. (I’ve written about this extensively and share more on this below)
A really interesting study published in 1989 identified low endorphins and low catecholamines as a probable cause for some women – Prevention of Late Luteal Phase Dysphoric Disorder Symptoms with DL-Phenylalanine in Women with Abrupt β-Endorphin Decline: A Pilot Study
I recently came across the above paper and prior to this, had not considered this as a primary root cause. Here is the excerpt from the abstract:
Twenty-two women with late luteal phase dysphoric disorder were treated with DL-phenylalanine during the 15 days prior to menses in a double-blind crossover study.
DL-Phenylalanine was shown to be more effective than placebo in attenuating many symptoms characteristic of luteal phase dysphoric disorder. This amino acid was chosen because of its hypothesized actions in attenuating the symptoms associated with the sharp decline in central β-endorphin levels during the late luteal phase in women with luteal phase dysphoric disorder.
Let’s review a few terms… Late luteal phase dysphoric disorder is a synonym for PMDD. The luteal phase is one stage of the menstrual cycle and occurs after ovulation and before your period. When you feel dysphoric you feel very unhappy, uneasy, or dissatisfied. With the downward endorphin shift at this time, period pain and other pain can be worse, and weepiness and emotional symptoms increase. The need for comfort or reward eating also increases. The study authors suggest these PMDD symptoms may “closely resemble those seen during morphine or heroin withdrawal.”
Based on my experience I do feel comfortable extrapolating these findings to PMS and even peri and post-menopausal women who experience some or all of these symptoms (other than actual periods and period issues in post-menopausal women).
Study participants, dosing and timing of DLPA and improvements
The participants in the study were white, middle-class, and between 24 and 29. Each woman took one 750 mg of DLPA at breakfast and lunch for the 15 days prior to the expected onset of their periods.
In the study groups, it was found that “initial improvement started at the end of the first month of DLPA therapy. Continued therapy brought increased relief from symptoms by the end of the second month. Interestingly, the greatest period of improvement occurred during the washout period” at the end of the third month possibly due to a delayed action of DL-phenylalanine.
The authors make the following conclusion:
DL-phenylalanine was found to be safe, well-accepted, and without significant side effects. The significant improvement it produced with many of the symptoms characteristic of Late Luteal Phase Dysphoric Disorder [PMDD] suggests that it may prove a useful addition to the therapeutic armamentarium for this syndrome.
Keep in mind that a typical starting dose of DLPA is 500mg used 2-3 x per day and it’s typically used between meals for best effects. Ideal is also to customize dosing to your unique needs. In this study, everyone received the same dose at the same time. For these reasons it’s even more impressive to see results like they did.
It makes sense but I have just not used DPLA alone and only in the second half of the cycle
It’s a very small pilot study but given my experience with the amino acids DLPA, DPA and tyrosine, and the vast number of women I have worked with who had symptoms like the above, it makes sense. Using the above three amino acids in combination with dietary changes, tryptophan, GABA and the pyroluria protocol, this approach has offered relief for many of my clients. I have just not used DPLA alone and only in the second half of the cycle.
In case you’re wondering why I mention the three amino acids DLPA, DPA and tyrosine above, it’s because:
- DLPA (the amino acid used in this study) supports both endorphins and catecholamines (dopamine is one of them)
- Or DPA (supports endorphins only) can be used with tyrosine (supports catecholamines only) instead of DLPA which does both
I blog about the differences between DLPA and DPA here, together with all the symptoms we look at when considering doing a trial.
In this study, they used DLPA which boosts endorphins and catecholamines. As I share in my DPA vs DLPA blog, I prefer DPA (d-phenylalanine) for endorphin support when symptoms are severe. But DPA is not always available so DLPA is a good alternative, assuming the person can handle the catecholamine support. Some people can’t and there are some contraindications too.
I’d love to see follow-on research covering the following:
- A larger group of women using DLPA
- Individualizing the dosing of DLPA to each person’s unique needs
- Correlating results with the low endorphin and low catecholamine symptoms questionnaire
- Comparing DLPA alone with a combination of DPA + tyrosine (with each individualized based on unique needs)
Serotonin and GABA support for PMS/PMDD, and the pyroluria protocol
In this paper, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder the authors share that PMDD
comprises emotional and physical symptoms and functional impairment that lie on the severe end of the continuum of premenstrual symptoms. Women with PMDD have a differential response to normal hormonal fluctuations.
It’s recognized that serotonin and GABA play a role:
This susceptibility may involve the serotonin system, altered sensitivity of the GABAA receptor to the neurosteroid allopregnanalone [a naturally occurring neurosteroid which is made from the hormone progesterone], and altered brain circuitry involving emotional and cognitive functions.
They share SSRIs that are considered as the first-line treatment. Second-line treatments include oral contraceptives, calcium, chasteberry, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
However, as I share in this blog, research supports the use of tryptophan – Tryptophan for PMS: premenstrual dysphoria, mood swings, tension, and irritability
A study published in 1999, A placebo-controlled clinical trial of L-tryptophan in premenstrual dysphoria, tryptophan was found to reduce symptoms of PMS when used in the luteal phase or second half of the cycle (i.e. after ovulation).
I mention GABA in this blog and the fact that many anxious women I work with also have pyroluria or signs of low zinc and low vitamin B6 and adding these nutrients, together with evening primrose oil, provide additional hormonal and neurotransmitter support, and help with the social anxiety.
Resources if you are new to using DLPA (or other amino acids) as supplements
If you are new to using DLPA or the other amino acids as supplements, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see the low endorphin and low catecholamine symptoms.)
If you suspect low levels of endorphins and/or low levels of catecholamine and do not yet have my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings, I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in and using amino acids on your own so you are knowledgeable. And be sure to share it with the team you or your loved one is working with. Blog posts like this are intended to add value to the chapter on amino acids, which contains detailed information on doses and time of the day for dosing.
The book doesn’t include product names (per the publisher’s request) so this blog, The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements, lists the amino acid products that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
If you are a practitioner, join us in The Balancing Neurotransmitters: the Fundamentals program. It’s an opportunity to interact with me and other practitioners who are also using the amino acids.
Have you considered that there may be different types of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) or PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) i.e. a different combination of root causes and therefore different solutions?
And have you had success with DLPA alone (providing both endorphin and dopamine support) or by using a combination of DPA (endorphin support only) and tyrosine (catecholamine support only).
If you’re peri or post menopausal have you also seen success with any of these amino acids?
Have the other amino acids, tryptophan and GABA or the pyroluria protocol helped too?
If you’re a practitioner please share what you’ve seen with clients/patients.
Feel free to ask your questions here too.