Threonine is a little-known amino acid with a prominent role in the immune system. The thymus, a tiny gland that “educates” T cells to recognize infectious microorganisms and cancer cells, incorporates threonine into all of its important proteins. The central nervous system uses threonine to make the sedative amino acid glycine, which helps mitigate the brain chemistry that contributes to “hyperactive” and “difficult” personalities.
Threonine is an essential amino acid. Our bodies cannot synthesize it from other amino acids, so we must get threonine from food. The body can convert threonine into the amino acids glycine, which calms the central nervous system, and serine, which can excite it.
Threonine in Food
Threonine is especially abundant in seal and whale meat, but most of us prefer to get our threonine from other food sources. Aside from spirulina, seeds, beans, and legumes, the foods that provide threonine are all of animal origin.
|Food||Threonine in a 200-calorie serving (mg)|
|Chicharrones (Fried Pork Skin)||1765|
Like most essential amino acids, threonine is required in greater amounts for growing bodies. During the first years of life, the thymus is extremely active, programming T-cells to fight infection. Threonine in the diet during this time is essential for normal immune function. Infants up to 4 months of age may need as much as 150 mg for every kilogram of body weight. An infant weighing 7 pounds (3 kilos) might need 450 mg of threonine a day.
(A well-known book on amino acids suggests that an infant might need 68 grams of threonine every day, but since that is about 150% of the total calorie needs of an infant aged 0 to 4 months, please regard the advice as a misprint.)
An adult weighing 220 pounds (100 kilos), or about 33 times as much as the infant, might need about 1500 mg of threonine, the amount of threonine in a single serving of meat or about 1-1/2 servings of beans. This adult only needs 3 times as much threonine as an infant despite weighing 33 times as much as the baby. Children and teens usually need more threonine than adults.
Threonine deficiencies are rare, but they can occur when vegan diets do not include enough beans, peas, and seeds. The first sign of a threonine deficiency is usually severe and sudden mood swings with frequent irritability. Threonine deficiency can also cause “leaky gut syndrome,” due to the importance of threonine in making the mucin that lines the intestines and prevents the absorption of incompletely digested allergy-provoking proteins.
Only the L-form of threonine occurs in nature, and only the L-form of threonine should be used in nutritional supplements. L-threonine is available in 500 mg capsules. Up to 3 capsules a day may be taken when threonine supplementation is needed. The body also needs magnesium, vitamin B6, and niacin to make the enzymes that are needed to use threonine to make proteins and to create non-essential amino acids such as glycine and serine.
Threonine for Sleep
Threonine is not everyone’s sleep aid. It’s most helpful when general agitation and sleep deprivation are tied to food allergies and food reactions, or celiac disease. By helping the lining of the intestines make their mucin coating, threonine prevents the absorption of toxins from food. The effects of taking 500 to 1,000 mg of threonine a day for sleep would take about a week to kick in.
Threonine for Depression
Threonine supplements may be helpful when depression is associated with leaky gut symptoms, such as celiac disease (gluten sensitivity) or food allergies. The same effect would be achieved by eliminating the offending food from the diet, but it can be easier and faster simply to enhance mucin production with a threonine supplement to boost body energy.
A good sign that threonine would help depression, anxiety, or psychotic syndromes is irritable bowel syndrome or spastic colon along with the psychological condition. Do not stop taking any prescribed medications when you take threonine supplements.
Threonine for Celiac Disease
Dr. Eric Braverman reports that supplementing with 2,000 to 4,000 mg of threonine daily allows some of his celiac patients to add small amounts of wheat back into their diets without suffering celiac symptoms. While this might allow a celiac sufferer to plan to eat a slice of birthday cake or to take a communion wafer, it is probably better to use threonine supplementation to prevent symptoms caused by accidental consumption of wheat products, rather than to assume one is cured by taking threonine. Consumption of inositol supplements counteracts the benefits of threonine in the colon.
I would combine threonine supplementation with regular consumption of a celiac-friendly source of threonine, like buckwheat.
Buckwheat flour does not contain gluten. It is a good source of threonine, and it is also a good source of cysteine, methionine, and lysine, which are usually deficient in other grains. Buckwheat contains all of the essential amino acids, as well as magnesium, manganese, quercetin, and rutin, and also affords four times as much fiber as wheat.
Using buckwheat soba noodles and kasha is a good way to get threonine in a celiac-friendly diet, along with threonine supplements. The buckwheat groats used to make kasha in the United States are cut so small that boiling them to make porridge often results in a mush. You can avoid that outcome by toasting the groats before you boil them.
Just don’t indulge in that familiar buckwheat treat, blini. These tiny pancakes, traditionally served with caviar, are made with wheat flour as well as buckwheat to make them rise.
Threonine for Spastic Muscle Movements
Glycine inhibits the transmission of random nerve impulses from the brain. Threonine is converted into glycine. Two studies have found that 1,000 mg of threonine a day helps reduce, but does not eliminate, spastic muscle movements caused by multiple sclerosis and familial spastic paraplegia.
If you have uncontrollable muscle movements from either of these conditions, speak with your physician about taking a threonine supplement. By sharing your experiment with your physician, you may provide a useful experience for many other people with the same medical condition.
Threonine for Dogs, Cats, Horses, and Birds
There is a vast literature of hundreds of research articles on the role of threonine in animal metabolism, although almost all of these studies concerned the use of threonine supplements in animal feed to fatten them up. If your dog or cat licks, scratches, and bites at its fur, and you have treated for fleas, and you can’t afford hypo-allergenic pet food, then you might try completely crushing a 500 mg tablet of threonine and adding half of it to your pet’s food daily. This may help the gut develop additional defenses against the allergenic component in pet food. It may take several weeks to observe a difference.
Cats naturally eat foods that are high in methionine but tend to avoid foods that are high in threonine. (You probably haven’t ever heard your kitty purring for spirulina.) They are also fussy about the textures of their food. Even if a food choice is less nutritious, they will eat the food that has the more agreeable texture. Dogs, on the other hand, tend to eat anything nutritious, and most other foods, too.
Threonine for horses and birds has already been added to the feed. If you have a specific question or experience in using threonine supplements for your pets, please share it in the Comments Box.
Are There People Who Should Avoid Threonine?
Threonine levels tend to be abnormally high in alcoholism, possibly because continuous use of alcohol reduces the need for glycine in the brain.
Frequently Asked Questions About Threonine
Q. I’ve heard that threonine supplements can help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. Is this true?
A. In the 1970s, there were experiments in Japan that found that a combination of supplemental threonine and supplemental methionine reduced the toxic effects of tyrosine in lab rats. Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that is found in avocados, cheese, chicken, turkey, fish, and peanuts.
Excesses of tyrosine cause reduced production of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. If migraines are triggered after an intensely pleasurable event, such as sexual intercourse (which is a common trigger for “I’ve got a headache,” although the physiological reaction occurs after intercourse, not before), then theoretically, threonine and methionine supplements should help. The benefits are only theoretical. I’ve never seen actual evidence of their helping, but I don’t see any reason they should be hurt.
Q. Is it safe to take threonine supplements if you have kidney disease?
A. I don’t recommend taking any amino acid supplements if you have kidney disease. The combination of arginine supplements with threonine supplements would probably be especially damaging to the kidneys.
Q. Isn’t rice a good source of threonine?
A. Back in the 1950s, during an era when famine and food shortages were a greater concern than obesity, scientists developed a way of supplementing rice with lysine and threonine. Part of the mixture was ammonium nitrate, which nowadays is used as a fertilizer and for explosives. Rice itself contains about 5% of the amount of threonine found in meat, dairy, and certain other seeds. Both brown and white rice contain approximately the same amount of threonine.