Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that our body receives naturally through food. The brain turns tryptophan into serotonin, which is then used as a neurotransmitter to carry messages across the central nervous system. The fact that tryptophan acts as a precursor to serotonin makes it useful for a number of applications.
For example, tryptophan is often used as a dietary supplement to help with anxiety, aggression, insomnia, depression and PMS. This is because serotonin is known to act in part as a natural and mild sedative as well as a mood modifier, and many of the disorders are linked to a serotonin imbalance.
Whilst serotonin cannot be taken as a supplement by itself, tryptophan and 5-HTP are the closest you can get. By ensuring the body has enough tryptophan, you provide the building blocks it needs to produce serotonin.
Since the body cannot produce Tryptophan by itself, we need to take it up by food. This is easy, as it can be found naturally in many vegetables, meats and grains. Such examples of rich sources of tryptophan are:
- Beets, spinach, kelp, potatoes
- Mango, dates, bananas
- Oats, soybeans, wheat, rice, beans, lentils, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds
- Milk & Cheese
- Chicken and turkey meat
- Fish – cod, halibut and salmon
- Game meat – such as rabbit, pheasant, elk and quail
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. Most amino acids are used to synthesize proteins within the body, but tryptophan has a few other functions as well. As mentioned, tryptophan is a precursor to the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood, aggression, pain, memory, sleep, anxiety, eating behavior, temperature control, addictive behavior, motor skills and endocrine regulation (quite a lot that in itself makes stocking up tryptophan levels worthwhile!). What we have not covered is that tryptophan is also used by the body to create melatonin, a neurohormone that helps the body to regulate sleep patterns, as well as for the production of niacin, a B-vitamin.
Tryptophan acts as a building block for a whole array of functions within the body, and is essential to maintaining good health. Low levels of tryptophan can lead to depression and insomnia, as the body can’t produce what it needs to regulate itself. When you consider this, and that tryptophan is considered completely safe to consume, it makes for a perfect natural supplement.