Wednesday, 7 August 2013

AMINES Part 6 - Biogenic Amines in Food (Epinephrine)

Our human bodies have two types of neurotransmitters which are epinephrine and norepinephrine. These two are involved in neural communication.

Epinephrine is also called by another name, which is adrenaline.

Epinephrine is a hormone which is secreted by the medulla of the adrenal glands. Fear and anger (which are strong feelings) will cause epinephrine to be released into the bloodstream. This will cause an increase in the heart rate, muscle strength, blood pressure and sugar metabolism. This reaction is called the 'Flight or Fight Response'.  I'm sure all of us have gone through episodes of fear/anger where the aftermath is us panting for breath and racing hearts.

Norepinephrine belongs to a neurotransmitter group called the catechlolamines. Click on LINK.


The production of both of these neurotransmitters start with tyrosine (which is another neurotransmitter).

Below is process of how tyrosine is turned into epinephrine.

  • The enzyme tyrosine hydroxyls turns tyrosine to L-Dopa
  • The enzyme dopa decarboxylase turns L-Dopa into dopamine.
  • The enzyme dopamine ß-hydroxylase turns dopamine into norepinephrine.
  • The enzyme PNMT turns norepinephrine into epinephrine.
Ephedra Equisetina (Ma Huang)

Our bodies produce epinephrine. It is in fact an extremely regulated hormone in the body. 

Did you know that there is a desert shrub called the Ephedra Equisetina that produces the ephedrine protein which acts very similar to epinephrine and affects the same reactors too? It is also known as the 5000-years-old Ma Huang which can literally translated as the yellow cannabis

Traditionally, the indigenous people used this desert shrub to treat asthma, hay fever and even the common cold! This shrub contains active constituents of alkaloids ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine. 
  • The ephedrine helps to relieve asthma and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.
  • The pseudo-ephedrine acts as a nasal decongestant. 
Chemically, the alkaloids are related to the amphetamines.

Dietary Supplement

1. Diet Pill

As the epinephrine receptors recognizes the ephedrine molecules, ephedrine also plays a rolls in breaking down glycogen in the liver. (Glycogen functions as the secondary long-term energy storage). Because ephedrine is able to do this, the Ma Huang shrub is a popular dietary herbal supplement. It suppresses the appetite and stimulates the thyroid gland by increasing the thermogenic metabolism (the heat production of our body). Epinephrine will be released into the blood stream by the adrenal glands, causing an increase in body temperature which in return, burns more calories.

2. Athletic Performance Pill

Theoretically, taking the ephedrine pill could boost the athletes' performance during short  routines. As the ephedrine metabolizes quickly, it is not suitable for sports that last hours. Ephedrine opens the lungs, enhances muscle contractility and increases blood glucose levels. It is akin to the body's 'adrenaline rush'. It is in theory that this could help athletes perform better. Bear in mind though that drugs are banned from the sporting world!

3. Side Effects

Ephedrine increases the blood pressure and heart rate. Those with a weak heart could suffer from heart failure or a heart attack. It can also cause dizziness, insomnia and headaches. The FDA proposed that supplements with epinephrine should not be taken for more than 7 days.

Foods With Tyrosine & Epinephrine

As epinephrine is a product from tyrosine, let's take a look at foods which have tyrosine or epinephrine.

Since the body produces most of the tyrosine that we need, the other food option would be foods that are rich in phenylalanine (which the body also converts into tyrosine). To read more about phenylalanine, click on LINK

Thus, foods that are rich in both tyrosine and phenylalanine are red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, and soybeans.

Some of the foods that are high in tyrosine are:
  1. Raw, dried spirulina seaweed
  2. Soy products
  3. Avocados
  4. Eggs
  5. Cheese
  6. Almonds
  7. Bananas
  8. Pork
Click on LINK for detailed list of foods with high levels of tyrosine. 

Medically Speaking

The epinephrine injection is used to treat severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). I can personally say that this injection has indeed saved my life twice. 

A norepinephrine injection is used to treat severely low blood pressure.

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