L-serine

L-serine molecular structure

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L-serine is a non-essential amino acid. It is formed from another amino acid called glycine.  Serine is important for both mental and physical health. It has a critical role in ensuring that the central nervous system and the brain are functioning correctly.

Serine is involved in the formation of phospholipids required for cell production. This amino acid also plays an important role in the function of DNA and RNA, muscle formation, and metabolism of fat and fatty acids.

Antibodies and immunoglobulins needed to support a healthy immune system also require serine for production.

L-serine and cognitive function and mental health

The body’s nerves are protected in a special layer called myelin sheaths. These sheaths require serine for formation and maintenance. Without adequate supply of this amino acid these sheaths can become damaged and ‘fray’.

This reduces nerve efficiency and disrupts the signaling of messages between the nerve ending in the body and the brain. This ‘short-circuits’ mental function and can lead to lack of cognitive ability.

Serotonin is a very important neurotransmitter that regulates mood. This brain chemical is produced from an amino acid called l-tryptophan. Without serine, the body is unable to form tryptophan and this causes decline in the ability to synthesis serotonin. Low levels of tryptophan and serotonin have been linked to insomnia, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and confusion.

Research has suggested the serine may be beneficial in the treatment of certain mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Parkinson’s disease 6, and depression 7. These areas continue to be explored in clinical trials, as well as other health issues such as anxiety and dementia.

L-serine and fibromyalgia

L-serine

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The syndrome fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that affects many people. It is characterised by diffuse tenderness, widespread pain, cognitive disturbance and fatigue. The exact causes of fibromyalgia are unknown, however people suffering from this condition have lower levels of serine in their blood compared with healthy people 8. More research is necessary to establish the role this amino acid may have in this condition and to determine if serine along with other amino acids could help to manage the fibromyalgia symptoms.

L-serine and chronic fatigue syndrome

Myalgic encephalomyelitis, commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome affects the nervous system, causing muscle pain and inflammation within the spinal cord and brain. Other common symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include neurocognitive problems, nausea, weight and blood pressure change, and insomnia. Similar to fibromyalgia, the exact cause of this syndrome is unknown. Low levels of l-serine have been recording in people with chronic fatigue syndrome and this is cause for further investigation9.

L-serine and muscle growth

Creatine is an important natural substance used regularly by body builders and other athletes that participate in resistance training. Creatine helps to build muscle mass and support healthy muscle function, making it also important for cardiovascular function. Serine helps to improve the body’s ability to absorb creatine.

Symptoms of L-serine deficiency

Symptoms of a deficiency in serine can include delayed or reduced cognitive and physical skills, seizures, and congenital microcephaly 10. These deficiencies stem from neurometabolic diseases and defects in the biosynthesis of this important amino acid. In most cases these problems are identified at birth or in young children.

Most people have healthy levels of l-serine and are able to manufacture sufficient quantities of this amino acid. During times of illness or other periods of physical stress the production of serine may decline and supplementation becomes necessary. As l-serine is not an essential amino acid there are no guidelines for recommended daily intake.

Dietary sources of L-serine

To produce l-serine the body requires sufficient amount of folic acid and the vitamins B6 and B3. To help boost the body’s availability of this important amino acid it’s recommended to consume soy-based products, meat, peanuts, and wheat gluten. Unfortunately some people develop allergic reactions to several of these natural sources.

Serine supplements are available and can be taken in tablet, capsule and powder form. Although available as a stand-alone supplement, more frequently this amino acid is found in combination supplements and sports drinks.

Summary

L-serine is a non-essential amino acid manufactured in the body from important vitamins in the B complex. This amino acid is required to perform a wide range of functions in the body and is particularly vital for healthy cognitive and immune system function.

Deficiencies in serine are not common, although low levels of this amino acid could lead to health problems.

Maintaining a balanced diet and general good health should help to support adequate serine levels. Dietary supplements containing serine are also widely available.

Always consult a doctor before initiating any supplement program to rule out any underlying health concerns.

References

  1. “Heresco-Levy, U. et al. (2005). D-serine efficacy as add-on pharmacotherapy to risperidone and olanzapine for treatment-refractory schizophrenia. Biological Psychiatry, Volume 57, Issue 6, (pp. 577–585).”.
  2. “Kantrowitz, J. et al. (2012). High dose D-serine in the treatment of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Research, Volume 121, Issue1–3, (pp. 125–130).”
  3. “Tsai, P. et al. (1998). D-serine added to antipsychotics for the treatment of schizophrenia. Biological Psychiatry. Volume 44, Issue 11, (pp. 1081–1089).”
  4. “Y. Lane, H. et al. (2005). Sarcosine or D-serine add-on treatment for acute exacerbation of schizophrenia: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Archives of General Psychiatry. Volume 62, Issue 11, (pp. 1196–1204).”
  5. “Weiser, M. et al. (2012). A multicenter, add-on randomized controlled trial of low-dose D-serine for negative and cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Volume 73, Issue 6, (pp. e728–e734).”
  6. “Heresco-Levy, U. et al. (2013). Glycine site agonists of the N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor and Parkinson’s disease: a hypothesis. Movement Disorders. Volume 28, Issue 4, (pp. 419–424)”.
  7. “Huang, C et al. (2013). Inhibition of glycine transporter-I as a novel mechanism for the treatment of depression. Biological Psychiatry. Volume 74, Issue 10, (pp. 734–741).”
  8. “Yunus, M. et al. (1992). Plasma tryptophan and other amino acids in primary fibromyalgia: a controlled study. Journal of  Rheumatology. Volume 19, (pp.90-94.).”
  9. “McGregor, N., et al. (1996). Preliminary determination of a molecular basis to chronic fatigue syndrome. Biochemical and Molecular Medicine. Volume 57, (pp. 73-80).”
  10. “Koning T and Klomp L. (2004). Serine deficiency syndromes. Current Opinons in Neurology.  Volume 17, Issue 2, (pp. 197-204).”