Q:

What is phenylalanine?

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Quick Answer

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, states the University of Maryland Medical Center. An amino acid is a building block for proteins. An essential amino acid is one that the body needs but is unable to make, so the body must obtain it from food.

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Full Answer

The body converts phenylalanine into the amino acid tyrosine, states the University of Maryland Medical Center. Tyrosine is used to make brain chemicals such as L-dopa, epinephrine and norepinephrine as well as thyroid hormones.

People with the rare metabolic disorder called phenylketonuria are missing an enzyme that the body needs to use phenylalanine. These people must avoid phenylalanine in their diets and take tyrosine supplements, states the University of Maryland Medical Center.

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