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Keywords:

  • amino acids;
  • depression;
  • tryptophan;
  • tyrosine

Parker G, Brotchie H. Mood effects of the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine.

Objective:  Reflecting increased scientific interest in any nutritional contribution to the onset and treatment of mood disorders, we overview research into two neurotransmitter precursors – the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine – particularly examining whether any deficiency increases risk to depression and whether those amino acids have any antidepressant properties.

Method:  The theoretical relevance of the two amino acids was overviewed by considering published risk and intervention studies, technical papers and reviews.

Results:  There is some limited evidence, suggesting that depressed patients, especially those with a melancholic depression, have decreased tryptophan levels. Whether such findings reflect a causal contribution or are a consequence of a depressed state remains an open question. There is a small database supporting tryptophan preparations as benefitting depressed mood states. There is no clear evidence as to whether tyrosine deficiency contributes to depression, while the only randomized double-blind study examining tyrosine supplementation did not show antidepressant benefit.

Conclusion:  Acute tryptophan depletion continues to provide a research tool for investigating the relevance of serotonin to depression onset. There is limited evidence that tryptophan loading is effective as a treatment for depression through its action of increasing serotonin production. Most clinical studies are dated, involve small sample sizes and/or were not placebo controlled. The development of the new serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs seemingly signalled an end to pursuing such means of promoting increased serotonin as a treatment for depression. The evidence for tyrosine loading promoting catecholamine production as a possible treatment for depression appears even less promising, and depletion studies less informative.