Amino acids and their significance for sleep, mood and performance

Sleep, good mood and performance are directly related. Anyone who starts their day after a restful night is better able to concentrate on work and feels more balanced.


Conversely, constant fatigue leads to a drop in performance, which can lead to unhappiness over an extended period of time. The potential outcome is worry and sleeplessness, which simply generates a vicious circle.


To balance mind, body and spirit, an adequate supply of the ‘right’ nutrients is needed. New findings in the field of food supplementation stress the importance of amino acids.  We believe that they are the ‘unsung’ heroes of nutrition and are overlooked when it comes to many of our modern ailments.


Glutamine has a calming effect and counteracts symptoms of stress

The amino acid glutamine is involved in many metabolic processes. It stabilises the immune system, strengthens the intestinal cells and helps against stress, depression and anxiety.1


Glutamine stops stress

Glutamine is the most important supplier of energy to the immune and intestinal cells. If there is a deficiency in this amino acid, these cells become sluggish and they cannot function properly. Several studies show that concentrations of glutamine in the body are diminished during times of physical or psychological stress.2,3 At the same time, the number of cell-damaging free radicals increases dramatically.


This creates a chain reaction: with the decreasing glutamine content, the cells do not have the fuel to carry out their functions. The immune system is weakened and the intestinal mucosa gradually loses its protective effect. In extreme cases it can lead to “leaky gut syndrome” – the intestine “leaks” allowing foreign matter through its defensive shield and the mucous membrane into the blood system.


It is especially at times of stress, tension and physical strain that it makes sense to use a supplementation of glutamine. Glutamine functions like a spark plug in the cells. The immune and intestinal cells in particular need plenty of this amino acid as they divide and renew themselves very quickly. If enough glutamine is available, the immune and intestinal cells are stabilised, the body’s defence system and the intestinal mucosa are strengthened thereby preventing and counteracting the symptoms of stress.


Glutamine calms and strengthens the psyche

Anxiety, sleeplessness and lack of concentration are often connected to a deficiency in glutamic acid. Patients with exhaustion and cerebral disorders often exhibit a similar deficiency.


Glutamine increases the production of GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid). GABA is the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain. That means it acts like a lock keeper and inhibits signal transmissions between the nerve cells. It is like a natural sedative in the brain.2 If the body has enough glutamine available it can manufacture GABA. This has a positive impact: peace of mind, balance in stressful situations, improved concentration4 and restorative sleep. For these reasons, glutamine is also supportive in the treatment of depression.5


Glutamine improves cerebral performance

Poor memory and lack of concentration can be improved by the amino acid glutamine in combination with vitamin B3 (niacin). A proportion of the glutamine in blood is transformed into glutamic acid in the brain. Although it functions foremost as fuel, it also disposes of excessive ammonia by binding to this cellular toxin and converting it to glutamine.  Elimination of this toxin prevents negative effects on cerebral function, increases the ability to concentrate, and improves both long-term and short-term memory.6


Glutamine, ornithine and arginine detoxify the body and promote sleep

The amino acids glutamine, ornithine and arginine promote better sleep in that they ‘switch off’ the most important disturbing factor: ammonia. This cellular toxin is created in the breaking down of proteins. It can stop the energy production in the cells and severely restrict cellular respiration.


If there is too much ammonia in the body – either because of over-consumption of protein rich meats or because of improper liver function – the ammonia can end up in the brain and undermine many of its key processes. This is how high ammonia levels can lead to sleeplessness, fatigue and chronic fatigue conditions.


Through glutamine, ornithine and arginine supplementation, the detoxification of the liver is stimulated. These amino acids are necessary for the conversion of ammonia into urea. Because arginine emanates from ornithine, ornithine strengthens the effect of arginine. The result for the body is improved sleep, support for liver functions and accelerated healing of wounds and detoxification.7


In a study from 2000 it was also shown that arginine has a positive effect on the treatment of patients with dementia.8


Carnitine improves mood, performance and strengthens memory

Carnitine performs many functions in the body. It serves as a mood enhancer, supports many brain functions and makes the individual more resistant to stress.


Fatigue and exhaustion are often caused by too much stress without sufficient recovery phases in between. Scientific studies have shown that people with chronic fatigue syndrome or burnout often exhibit a carnitine deficiency.9


Carnitine makes a significant contribution to the production of energy by transporting fatty acids to the power stations (mitochondria) of the cells. Consequently, carnitine can also improve the energy supply to the brain cells. In the case of increased physical and psychological stress, a carnitine supplement could be useful. Those affected feel better and stresses, whether psychological or physical, can be coped with more easily and for a longer period. This increases stress resistance, improves performance and enhances memory.10



Vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folic acid, in combination with amino acids, boost mental fitness

Vitamins, particularly B vitamins, combined with amino acids support the mental faculties. Scientists have found indications that senior citizens with higher homocysteine levels have weaker cognitive abilities than those senior citizens of the same age with lower homocysteine levels.


Homocysteine is created during the breakdown of proteins and is toxic. Normally, enzymes break down homocysteine into harmless compounds. Because these enzymes are dependent on B vitamins and folic acid, heightened levels of homocysteine is an indication of an insufficient supply of these vitamins and amino acids.11


Scientists at the University of Bologna studied the abilities of 650 patients aged 65 and over examining cognition, reasoning, recognition and memory. The results were classified on the basis of recognised scientific tests to assess cognitive abilities. There was a clear relationship between elevated homocysteine levels and poorer test results, and the results increasingly worsened as the homocysteine level in the blood increased.12


Green leafy vegetables are a good source of the B vitamins. However, it is extremely difficult to obtain an adequate supply from food alone owing to the sensitivity of vitamins to oxygen and heat: incorrect storage, long transportation routes and vitamin-destroying preparation lead to high losses in the foods.


For example, the folic acid content of certain foods can be reduced by up to 90% as a result of incorrect preparation. Nutrition experts thus recommend that not only the elderly should supplement their diet with folic acid in combination with vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 using food supplement products. Taken in appropriate amounts, these products provide great benefits at zero risk.




1. Young, L.S., Bye, R., Scheltinga, M., Ziegler T.R., Jacobs, D.O. & Wilmore, D.W. (1993) Patients Receiving Glutamine-Supplemented Intravenous Feedings Report an Improvement in Mood, Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, Volume 17, issue 5, (pp. 422-427)

2. Hertz, L., Kvamme, E., McGeer, E.G. & Schousboe, A. (1983) Glutamine, Glutamate, and Gaba in the Central Nervous System, Alan R Liss Inc., New York

3. Bowtell, J.L., Gelly, K., Jackman, M.L., Patel, A., Simeoni, M., Rennie, M.J. (1999) Effect of oral glutamine on whole body carbohydrate storage during recovery from exhaustive exercise, Journal Of Applied Physiology (pp. 1770-1777)

4. Welbourne, T.C. (1995) Increased plasma bicarbonate and growth hormone after an oral glutamine load, The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 61, issue 5, (pp. 1058-1061)

5. Hasler, G., Van der Veen, J.W., Tumonis, T., Meyers, N., Shen, J. & Drevets, W.C. (2007) Reduced Prefrontal Glutamate/Glutamine and -Aminobutyric Acid Levels in Major Depression Determined Using Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Archives of General Psychiatry, Volume 64, issue 2, (pp. 193-200)

6. Arwert, L.I., Deijen, J.B. & Drent, M.L. (2003) Effects of an oral mixture containing glycine, glutamine and niacin on memory, GH and IGF-I secretion in middle-aged and elderly subjects, Nutritional Neuroscience, Volume 6, issue 5, (pp. 269-275)

7. Lavie,L., Hafetz, A., Luboshitzky, R. & Lavie, P. (2003) Plasma levels of nitric oxide and L-arginine in sleep apnea patients, Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, Volume 21, issue 1, (pp. 57-63)

8. Ohtsuka Y., Nakaya J. (2000) Effect of oral administration of L-arginine on senile dementia Am J Med, Vol. 108, (p. 439)

9. Evangeliou, A. & Vlassopoulos, D. (2003) Carnitine Metabolism and Deficit – When Supplementation is Necessary? Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology (pp. 211-219)

10. Rudman, D., Feller, A.G., Nagraj, H.S., Gergans, G.A., Lalitha, P.Y., Goldberg, A.F., Schlenker, R.A., Cohn, L., Rudman, I.W. & Mattson, D.E. (1990) Effects of human growth hormone, The New England Journal Of Medicine, Volume 323, issue 1, (pp. 1-6)

11. Hoffmann, A.M. (2008) Die Bedeutung von sportlicher Aktivität für den Gesundheits- und Fitnesszustand von Seniorinnen und Senioren unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Aminosäure- und Homocysteinstoffwechsels, Universität Paderborn

12. Giovanni, R., Forti, P., Maioli, F., Muscari, A., Sacchetti, L., Arnone, G., Nativio, V., Talerico, T. & Mariani, E. (2003) Homocysteine and cognitive function in healthy elderly community dwellers in Italy, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 77, issue 3, (pp. 668-673)


Also see: Vitamin B – The Mental Health Magician and Hungry for Change