Dietary Amino Acids and Mood

  • Reeta Rintamäki
  • Timo Partonen


Several dietary amino acids can influence a range of functions of the brain. The aromatic amino acids (ArAAs; tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine) are precursors for the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. A single meal, depending on its protein and carbohydrate content, can rapidly influence the uptake of amino acids into the brain and modify directly their conversion to neurotransmitters. Dysfunction in the neurotransmitter synthesis is related to the mood disorders. The most studied amino acid tryptophan works as a precursor for serotonin, which is known to play a key role in mood regulation. Lowered serotonin levels are associated with low mood. Subjects with low mood have a heightened preference to sweet carbohydrates that increases tryptophan and serotonin concentrations in the brain. Catecholamines, dopamine, and noradrenaline are synthesized from the dietary amino acid tyrosine and involved in mood regulation. Tryptophan or tyrosine depletion lowers mood in persons with depression or those having vulnerability to depression. The dietary amino acid glutamate is a precursor for gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and acts as a neurotransmitter itself as well. Glutamate and GABA have a role in mood regulation, but the direct link between the dietary intake and the functions in the brain is still elusive. There are also other amino acids, for example, glysine, serine, lysine, methionine, and histidine that participate in brain functions, but their significance to mood is unclear. The timing and contents of a meal may affect mood and alertness via the dietary amino acids. Usually the daily recommendations for the essential amino acids are exceeded in Western countries. However, individuals with a special diet or chronic disease should take care of the good quality sources of amino acids in their diet. In the future, more studies are needed to elucidate the effects of dietary amino acids on mood.


Bipolar Disorder Major Depressive Disorder Celiac Disease Anorexia Nervosa Mood Disorder 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



aromatic amino acids


branched-chain amino acids


gamma-aminobutyric acid


large neutral amino acids


major depressive disorder




  1. Afaghi A, O’Connor H, Chow CM. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85:426–30.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Applebaum J, Bersudsky Y, Klein E. Bipolar Disord. 2007;9:884–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brambilla P, Perez J, Barale F, Schettini G, Soares JC. Mol Psychiatry. 2003;8:721–37.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cappiello A, Sernyak MJ, Malison RT, McDougle CJ, Heninger GR, Price LH. Biol Psychiatry. 1997;42:1076–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Christensen L. Clin Nutr. 2001;20:161–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cowen PJ, Parry-Billings M, Newsholme EA. J Affect Disord. 1989;16:27–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dunlop BW, Nemeroff CB. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64:327–37.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ehrlich S, Franke L, Schneider N, Salbach-Andrae H, Schott R, Craciun EM, Pfeiffer E, Uebelhack R, Lehmkuhl U. Int J Eat Disord. 2009;42:166–72.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. FAO/WHO/UNU Protein and amino acid requirements in human nutrition. WHO Technical Report Series 935, 2007.Google Scholar
  10. Fernström JD. Physiol Rev. 1983;63:484–546.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Fernström JD. J Nutr Biochem. 1990;1:508–17.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fernström MH, Fernström JD. Brain Res. 1987;401:392–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frye MA, Tsai GE, Huggins T, Coyle JT, Post RM. Biol Psychiatry. 2007;61:162–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hakkarainen R, Partonen T, Haukka J, Virtamo J, Albanes D, Lönnqvist J. Depress Anxiety. 2003;18:89–94.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hasler G, Fromm S, Carlson PJ, Luckenbaugh DA, Waldeck T, Geraci M, Roiser JP, Neumeister A, Meyers N, Charney DS, Drevets WC. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65:521–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hashimoto K, Sawa A, Iyo M. Biol Psychiatry. 2007;62:1310–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hoekstra R, Fekkes D, Loonen AJ, Pepplinkhuizen L, Tuinier S, Verhoeven WM. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2006;16:71–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hughes JH, Dunne F, Young AH. Br J Psychiatry. 2000;177:447–51.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Maes M, Verkerk R, Vandoolaeghe E, Lin A, Scharpè S. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1998;97:302–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mauri MC, Ferrara A, Boscati L, Bravin S, Zamberlan F, Alecci M, Invernizzi G. Neuropsychobiology. 1998;37:124–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McTavish SF, McPherson MH, Harmer CJ, Clark L, Sharp T, Goodwin GM, Cowen PJ. Br J Psychiatry. 2001;179:356–60.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mitani H, Shirayama Y, Yamada T, Maeda K, Ashby CR Jr, Kawahara R. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2006;30:1155–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pagoto SL, Spring B, McChargue D, Hitsman B, Smith M, Appelhans B, Hedeker D. Eat Behav. 2009;10:36–41.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Papakostas GI, Alpert JE, Fava M. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2003;5:460–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pynnönen PA, Isometsä ET, Verkasalo MA, Kähkönen SA, Sipilä I, Savilahti E, Aalberg VA. BMC Psychiatry. 2005;5:14.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rogers PJ. Proc Nutr Soc. 2001;60:135–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ruhé HG, Mason NS, Schene AH. Mol Psychiatry. 2007;12:331–59.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rosenthal NE, Genhart MJ, Caballero B, Jacobsen FM, Skwerer RG, Coursey RD, Rogers S, Spring BJ. Biol Psychiatry. 1989;25:1029–40.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Scarnà A, Gijsman HJ, McTavish SFB, Harmer CJ, Cowen PJ, Goodwin GM. Br J Psychiatry. 2003;182:210–3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Smriga M, Ghosh S, Mouneimne Y, Pellett PL, Scrimshaw NS. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2004;101:8285–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sumiyoshi T, Anil AE, Jin D, Jayathilake K, Lee M, Meltzer HY. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2004;7:1–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute for Health and Welfare, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, MoodDepression and Suicidal Behaviour UnitHelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations