Objective: l-theanine, an amino acid uniquely contained in green tea (Camellia sinensis), has been suggested to have various psychotropic effects. This study aimed to examine whether l-theanine is effective for patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) in an open-label clinical trial.
Methods: Subjects were 20 patients with MDD (four males; mean age: 41.0±14.1 years, 16 females; 42.9±12.0 years). l-theanine (250 mg/day) was added to the current medication of each participant for 8 weeks. Symptoms and cognitive functions were assessed at baseline, 4, and 8 weeks after l-theanine administration by the 21-item version of the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD-21), State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), Stroop test, and Brief Assessment of Cognition in Schizophrenia (BACS).
Results: HAMD-21 score was reduced after l-theanine administration (p=0.007). This reduction was observed in unremitted patients (HAMD-21>7; p=0.004) at baseline. Anxiety-trait scores decreased after l-theanine administration (p=0.012) in the STAI test. PSQI scores also decreased after l-theanine administration (p=0.030) in the unremitted patients at baseline. Regarding cognitive functions, response latency (p=0.001) and error rate (p=0.036) decreased in the Stroop test, and verbal memory (p=0.005) and executive function (p=0.016) were enhanced in the BACS test after l-theanine administration.
Conclusion: Our study suggests that chronic (8-week) l-theanine administration is safe and has multiple beneficial effects on depressive symptoms, anxiety, sleep disturbance and cognitive impairments in patients with MDD. However, since this is an open-label study, placebo-controlled studies are required to consolidate the effects.
Keywords: l-theanine; anxiety; cognitive function; depression; sleep.