Amino Acids are More Important Than You May Think for Anxiety and DepressionJan 26, 2021
Amino acids are the chemical building blocks of life. Both plants and animals make protein from these 20 precious substances. Amino acids that cannot be made inside the body are known as essential amino acids. These include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. The amino acids that are particularly interesting in regard to the reduction of anxiety are arginine, lysine, theanine, tryptophan, and tyrosine. If you’re deficient in these or a neurochemical that is built from any of these amino acids, then supplementation may be helpful.
Note: Sometimes you’ll see an L in front of the name of the amino acid on supplement labels, which just means it is being provided in a form that is absorbable by the gut.
-Arginine: Arginine is found in red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes, and seaweed. It plays an important role in the treatment of heart disease due to its ability to block arterial plaque buildup, blood clots, and platelet clumping, and to increase blood flow through the coronary artery, which can help to ease anxiety as that affects blood flow. A study confirmed that supplementing the diet with a combination of lysine and arginine (both are amino acids) can be a useful dietary intervention in otherwise healthy humans with high subjective levels of mental stress and anxiety.1
Arginine also can help relieve migraine headaches. It seems to be effective when taken along with the painkiller ibuprofen—starting to work within 30 minutes.2
In addition, it can promote weight loss because it reduces fat mass and increases muscle mass by increasing the activity of insulin, which helps metabolize fats. Furthermore, arginine increases strength for exercise, thus making it doubly effective in a weight-loss program.3
-Lysine: Supplements of lysine are known to help balance levels of the hormone cortisol that rise when triggered by stress in both healthy individuals and those with high anxiety. Lysine is an amino acid used to make medicine for the prevention and treatment of cold sores caused by the herpes simplex labialis virus. Studies have identified that a diet fortified with lysine and arginine reduces plasma cortisol.4 It has long been claimed by neuroscientists that the dysregulation of neurotransmitters, such as GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, is a cause of anxiety.5 According to Medical News Today, serotonin helps regulate “mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function.”6
Plant-based ingredients that are sources of lysine are avocados, beets, leeks, tomatoes, pears, green and red bell peppers, potatoes, soybeans, kidney beans, navy beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, edamame, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, cashews, macadamia nuts, quinoa, and buckwheat. Animal-based ingredients that include lysine are beef, pork, lamb, poultry, cheese, eggs, and certain fish, including cod and sardines.
You can get L-lysine supplements. Other supplements that provide lysine are spirulina, chlorella, fish oil, and fenugreek seed.
-Theanine: Theanine is an amino acid that modulates aspects of brain function in humans. Evidence from human electroencephalograph (EEG) studies proves it has a direct effect.7 Notably, theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency bandwidth of brainwaves, which indicates that it relaxes the mind—without inducing drowsiness. Data also indicated that theanine, when consumed at realistic dietary levels, has a significant effect on the general state of our mental alertness or arousal. (Alpha wave activity is associated with the kind of attention and awareness we experience during meditation—a positive mental state.)8
Results from a study of people with anxiety disorders or under psychological stress suggest that theanine administered at daily doses ranging from 200 to 400 milligrams per day for up to eight weeks is safe and produces stress-reducing effects for people with acute and chronic symptoms.9
Fun fact: Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world after water. Green and black tea leaves are an excellent source of theanine, which is why it is so good to drink tea in the hour before bed when you’re winding down. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, choose decaffeinated teas.
L-theanine supplements are available at many drugstores and health food shops.
-Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an important amino acid that creates niacin, which creates the neurotransmitter serotonin. The brain needs tryptophan to create serotonin. Tryptophan is found in most protein-based foods, including red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, sesame seeds, milk, and even oats, chickpeas, and cacao.
-Tyrosine: Tyrosine helps to increase your levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which regulates movement, motivation, arousal, reinforcement, and reward—in fact, it’s hard to find life satisfactory without enough dopamine in the brain. It is a great energy booster and stress reliever, as well as an appetite suppressor.
Tyrosine is found in many foods, especially in cheese, where it was first discovered. (In fact, tyros means “cheese” in Greek.)10 Tyrosine can also be found in beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish (including salmon and tuna), eggs, beans (including white beans), nuts (including peanuts and almonds), seeds (including pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soy beans, and lima beans), green peas, spinach, corn, kiwifruit, cacao, okra, white and sweet potatoes, avocados, bananas, oats, wild rice, and wheat. Think of high-protein foods and you’re probably on the money.
Supplementing with tyrosine increases levels of adrenaline and norepinephrine as well. By helping increase the levels of these neurotransmitters, tyrosine may help improve our memory and our ability to perform under pressure.11 It is also a precursor of hormones produced by the thyroid gland that are responsible for regulating metabolism.12 In addition, it is a precursor of important brain chemicals that help nerve cells communicate, which regulates mood.13
The United Nations University recommends a daily intake of 11 milligrams of tyrosine per pound of body weight (25 milligrams per kilogram).14 But tyrosine’s greatest anti-stress effects have been observed when it’s taken in doses of 45 to 68 milligrams per pound (100 to 150 milligrams per kilogram) of body weight about 60 minutes before a stressful event occurs—so this is a good supplement if you have to do a work presentation or give a speech and the prospect is making you nervous.15
1. M. Sriga, et al., “Oral Treatment with L-Lysine and L-Arginine Reduces Anxiety and Basal Cortisol Levels in Healthy Humans,” Biomedical Research, vol. 28, no. 2 (April 2007), doi: 10.2220/biomedres.28.85.
2. G. Sandrini, et al., “Effectiveness of Ibuprofen-Arginine in the Treatment of Acute Migraine Attacks,” International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology Research, vol. 18, no. 3 (1998), pp. 145–50, PMID: 9825271.
3. J.R. McKnight, et al., “Beneficial Effects of L-Arginine on Reducing Obesity: Potential Mechanisms and Important Implications for Human Health,” Amino Acids, vol. 39, no. 2 (2010), pp. 349–57, doi: 10.1007/s00726-010-0598-z.
4. S. Srinongkote, et al., “A Diet Fortified with L-Lysine and L-Arginine Reduces Plasma Cortisol and Blocks Anxiogenic Response to Transportation in Pigs,” Nutritional Neuroscience, vol. 6, no. 5 (October 2003), pp. 283–9, doi: 10.1080/10284150310001614661.
5. D. Christmas, S. Hood, and D. Nutt. “Potential Novel Anxiolytic Drugs,” Current Pharmaceutical Design, vol. 14, no. 33 (2008), pp. 3534–46, doi: 10.2174/138161208786848775.
6. “What Is Serotonin and What Does It Do?” Medical News Today (accessed April 29, 2020), https://www.medicalnewstoday.
7. L.R. Juneja, et al. “L-Theanine: A Unique Amino Acid of Green Tea and Its Relaxation Effect in Humans,” Trends in Food Science & Technology, vol. 10, nos. 6–7 (1999), pp. 199–204, doi: 10.1016/S0924-2244(99)00044-8.
8. A.C. Nobre, A. Rao, and G.N. Owen. “L-Theanine, a Natural Constituent in Tea, and Its Effect on Mental State,” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 17, supp. 1 (2008), pp. 167–8, PMID: 18296328.
9. F.L. Sakamoto, et al. “Psychotropic Effects of L-theanine and Its Clinical Properties: From the Management of Anxiety and Stress to a Potential Use in Schizophrenia,” Pharmacological Research, vol. 147 (September 2019), doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2019.104395.
10. T.S. Sathyanarayana Rao and V.K. Yeragani, “Hypertensive Crisis and Cheese,” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 51, no. 1 (January–March 2009), pp. 65–66, doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.44910.
11. “Compound Summary: Tyrosine,” U.S. National Library of Medicine (accessed April 10, 2020), https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.
12. R. Mullur, Y.Y. Liu, and G.A. Brent, “Thyroid Hormone Regulation of Metabolism,” Physiological Reviews, vol. 94, no. 2 (April 2014), pp. 355–82, doi: 10.1152/physrev.00030.2013.
13. S. N. Young, “L-Tyrosine to Alleviate the Effects of Stress?” Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, vol. 32, no. 3 (May 2007), PMID: 17476368.
14. Report of a Joint WHO/FAO/UNU Expert Consultation, “Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Beings,” World Health Organization (2002), https://apps.who.int/iris/
15. Gavin Van De Walle, “Tyrosine: Benefits, Side Effects and Dosage,” Healthline, February 1, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/
You can find more information about this in Anxiety-Free with Food, available in book stores around the world.