If you’ve heard of the condition known as acne, you might also be familiar with l-lysine. The basic knowledge is that lysine is a type of protein, an amino acid. Lysine is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body is incapable of manufacturing its own supply.
You have to obtain lysine through your diet or you are finished. A semi-essential amino acid is able to be manufactured but limited under certain circumstances, while a non-essential amino acid is manufactured easily.
All humans eat some lysine but supplemental forms are popular. L-lysine is a bioactive supplemental form; lysine is the natural form in food which is metabolised into l-lysine. Both work perfectly well, it’s just a technical difference.
So with the introduction done and dealt with, is lysine a good supplement for acne, a revolutionary one, or a completely ineffective one?
The greatness of specific amino acids
For acne, one thing you should never get fooled into believing is that protein is nothing but a muscle nutrient. You should also never believe that protein is just a muscle nutrient and a metabolism boosting, weight loss nutrient.
Protein is one of the most popular nutrients nowadays thanks to fats and carbohydrates both being demonised. You even see grocery store bread (one of the worst foods for acne, by the way) boasting of its added protein content, which will help you to gain a ripped and lean physique or shed the pounds rapidly.
It’s true that even the average KFC resident needs more protein, but this trend is distracting everyone from protein’s more obscure roles, including for acne. Such roles include building skin tissues and bloodstream transporters for all-important nutrients like zinc.
Even better, each amino acid has its own unique properties. It’s smart to consider these differences even if you are on the quest to become a muscle monster. The different amino acids are almost as interesting as vitamins and minerals. For example, you have…
Isoleucine – an essential amino acid. Heavily favoured by bodybuilders and endurance athletes due its ability to improve stamina and generate energy in muscle cells.
Serine – a non-essential amino acid. Used to manufacture the myelin sheath of brain nerve cells, and therefore vital for cognitive function, intelligence, and quick thinking.
Cysteine – a non-essential amino acid which is particularly effective at slowing hair loss compared to others, and excellent at increasing male fertility.
Tryptophan – an essential amino acid which is the building block for serotonin and melatonin. Without tryptophan you are incapable of sleeping and happiness, a truly grim fate.
For acne, the most important amino acid to calculate and optimise your intake of is glycine. So many human beings are deficient in it today, and its roles are particularly pertinent for clear skin, like manufacturing glutathione and collagen.
But l-lysine is probably the most popular in the jungled realms of natural acne remedies, and some of the hype is justified.
Lysine deficiency – a cause of weak skin
Lysine is the third amino acid which is all-important for collagen formation, alongside proline and glycine.
The process happens like this: you eat lysine from meat or fish. When absorbed, an enzyme called lysyl hydroxylase converts lysine into hydroxylysine. This conversion takes place with aid from vitamin C, which is why the now uncommon disease of scurvy results in weak and flimsy skin.
The next step is the conversion of the baseline hydroxylysine into structural compounds called allysines; this reaction takes place with help from the lysyl oxidase enzyme. Finally, these allysines are used to create collagen itself, and additionally, the crosslink protein structures that strengthen collagen. Allysine is also used to manufacture the protein elastin, which as you might guess, promotes the skin’s elasticity.
This glorious process occurs with dietary lysine, and by extension l-lysine supplements, but collagen molecules in the skin are constantly breaking down. They need to be recycled and replaced with stronger ones, and the lysine-derived compounds are also recycled and reconstructed.
Interestingly, only 3 to 4% of the amino acids in human collagen cells are lysine. Proline makes up 17%, while glycine makes up 32%. Lysine is so low because much of it is used to create a separate compound, the aforementioned allysine, also referred to as aldehyde (allysine is part of the aldehyde group). Meanwhile, proline and glycine are present at the very beginning of collagen formation. They’re the principles ingredients of procollagen, which is like a collagen template that all other strengthening proteins and structures attach themselves to.
Despite not being present instantly though, lysine is absolutely vital. Lysine is essentially one of the main raw materials for collagen, but it doesn’t end there. Lysine can also inhibit collagen digesting enzymes like collagenase and cathepsin B, by blocking their receptor sites in skin tissue. The body’s destruction of existing collagen slows down significantly, even if the skin is furiously pumping out these enzymes. That’s particularly useful given that chronically stressed people experience far too much degradation of existing collagen (thanks to cortisol).
If your dietary intake of lysine is meagre, then these glorious processes will not take place. Your skin will become weak, more vulnerable to damage, and your acne will heal far more slowly.
Alternatively, an l-lysine supplement might make your skin stronger, and that might be why some acne patients rave about it.
Lysine, bringer of eternal peace
However, there’s also a more obscure connection to acne, one that only exists in the realm of the mind – that is, massive stress reduction.
Lysine deficiency has a very strong link to stress and anxiety and in turn, supplements have a strong link to peace and relaxation. It all starts with increased GABA activity. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter, a natural nootropic secreted by the brain. It is widely considered to be the single most important neurotransmitter for preventing stress.
GABA’s general role is to decrease neuron activity in sections of the brain, a good example being its benefits for sleeping soundly. GABA also decreases both alpha and beta brainwaves when necessary, again relaxing your brain. It even encourages proper communication between brain nerve cells and calms stress and anxiety impulses though that pathway.
It’s often said that dietary GABA is incapable of achieving anything, that it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier. That appears to be false because chocolate infused with GABA was once shown to relax students suffering from exam stress extra effectively.
However, making GABA inside your brain is still the ultimate path, and lysine is a key ingredient, mostly because lysine manufactures glutamate and glutamate manufactures lysine. The more lysine is available in your body, the more GABA is manufactured, and the more you relaxed you become.
This is then reinforced even further, because lysine can also stimulate benzodiazepine receptors. Benzodiazepines or benzos are pharmaceutical antianxiety drugs. Millions of people take them, but far less known is the mechanism of how they work.
Benzos bind to one specific binding site within the wider GABA receptor complex. There, they stimulate and increase the sensitivity of the whole complex, so that GABA’s sedative and calming activity is enhanced. Lysine can also stimulate the benzodiazepine binding site, and thus once again increase GABA’s activity.
Some anxiety sufferers have even claimed that lysine supplements allow them to slash their benzo dosage by 90%. Nature didn’t create the benzodiazepine binding site in anticipation of a random drug being invented, so if you think about it, it makes sense that another substance is naturally designed to stimulate it.
A further connection to the mind and all things stress-related comes from serotonin. Lysine is a receptor antagonist of a specific serotonin receptor called 5-HT4; it prevents serotonin (or 5-HT) molecules from binding to and stimulating the receptor. Importantly for us, this particular serotonin receptor can elevate the stress and anxiety response in humans.
Lysine has no effect on the serotonin receptors responsible for happiness and pleasure, but it does inhibit this one. Lysine can thus downregulate your entire anxiety response at one of the baseline sources. Lysine deficiency is also known to reduce levels of serotonin in the bloodstream, and is thus speculated to be involved with making it (although tryptophan is far more important overall).
Several other amino acids have powers to regulate neurotransmitters, but lysine has a unique set, and you cannot afford to miss them.
Thanks to all these benefits, lysine has been shown to reduce mental anxiety in humans, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a big villain behind acne. Note that cortisol also accentuates the activity of collagen degrading enzymes, so for collagen, you have a double dose of clear skin goodness.
Are l-lysine supplements worth it?
If your lysine intake is perfect, will taking even more increase your already optimal collagen supplies further? Will lysine supplements make you happier and calm your mind even further? So far the question is unanswered.
The human brain needs its GABA activity to be elevated at certain times, such as midnight, and lower at others, such as early in the morning when you’re primed to work hard. Piling on more and more lysine probably won’t push your GABA activity ever lower and you wouldn’t want that anyway. Lysine allows GABA to reach its full relaxing potential when it’s supposed to be active. Then again, there’s so many environmental chemicals and ingredients messing with our neurotransmitters today that anything could happen.
The collagen is more promising. You only synthesise the required amounts of collagen itself, but lysine also strengthens the collagen structures with cross links. Maybe taking your lysine intake above and beyond the norm will give your skin extra strength and density.
There’s also potential in the blocking of collagen-degrading enzymes – could this be limitless, or relatively limitless? Again, with stress so rampant today, perhaps more lysine is needed. Collagen also declines strongly after age 25, causing ageing; maybe an extra lysine dose will be a bonus as you age.
All this is speculation for the time being. What isn’t speculation is that lysine will be excellent when you’re deficient in it, but not many people are deficient, not compared to glycine. The best sources are chicken breast, turkey, and tuna, but most carnivorous foods contain plenty. Lysine is one of the more common amino acids overall.
In all likelihood, vegans stand to benefit the most from a lysine supplement, alongside normal people who eat a little meat but shun it due to being scared of cancer or obesity. Some good plant sources of lysine include pistachios (367mg per serving), the fermented soy product tempeh (754mg), and pumpkin seeds (360mg). Chicken breast and tuna both top 4000mg, meaning that the best vegan sources of lysine are quite weak.
However, if you’re already on my recommended acne-friendly diet, you should be eating plenty of top quality animal foods already, and your lysine supplies will be well stocked.
Less innocent than believed
Another flaw is that alongside the ecstatic testimonials, there’s plenty of nightmarish ones too. Consider that tuna contains over 4000mg of lysine: some people have experienced increased acne outbreaks from mere 500mg supplements.
Ordinarily you could dismiss the outbreaks as isolated, freak reactions but with l-lysine there are too many tales of woe to ignore it completely. Unlike the feared iodine or vitamin B12, there’s no known explanation, but there is one hint. Many begin their lysine adventures not with the goal of clearing acne, but boosting their immune system. Lysine is a beloved treatment for treating cold sores caused by the herpes virus.
It’s possible then, that lysine alters the immune system in a way that somehow increases the inflammatory response to acne. Still, we don’t know the real mechanism, so in addition to hoping and praying for more benefits, it’d be foolish not to anticipate extra dangers as well.
Again, a balanced lysine intake might be the best for acne; the users who went wrong could have been heavy carnivores already.
The verdict – and best supplement
Lysine has two very clear roles in acne, increasing collagen and decreasing stress. There’s no debate or doubt about them. If you’ve fallen into the all too prevalent trap of chronic stress and anxiety, then lysine might be particularly brilliant.
The only remaining questions concern its practical usage, but other supplements have had surprising results before. Therefore lysine supplementation is worth a shot. Any disaster can be solved by discontinuing the supplement immediately; this tends to resolve any outbreaks quickly.
If you eat next to no animal foods, then you need to inspect and correct your intake without a doubt. The top l-lysine supplement available today is this Superior Labs 100% Natural L-Lysine. The only ingredients are: pure l-lysine, the vegetable capsule, and rice flour. Rice flour is one of the most harmless capsule fillers you can get, and elsewhere, there’s none of the magnesium stearate or silicone found in cheaper supplements.
Glycine remains the most important amino acid for an acne-clearing enthusiast, but lysine is not far behind.
Thanks for reading!