Learn About Tryptophan And Its Many Benefits

Learn About Tryptophan And Its Many Benefits

WHAT IS TRYPTOPHAN?

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that our body doesn't produce, thus it must be acquired from food. It is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Sometimes called the “happy hormone”, serotonin contributes to our wellbeing and happiness. Because of that, tryptophan has a number of benefits and useful applications. If you take tryptophan, it can restore a serotonin imbalance, which is often the underlying cause of a variety of mood disorders. It works as a natural sedative and can help with anxiety, depression, PMS and sleeping troubles.

Let's examine the properties of this amino acid, learn about foods rich in tryptophan, and discover how it can benefit our health.

HOW DOES TRYPTOPHAN WORK?

Although the “happy hormone”, serotonin, cannot be taken as a supplement by itself, tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids that provides the body with the building blocks to produce it. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in our body, it regulates our mood, pain, memory, sleep and eating behaviour.

In addition to providing the foundation for our brain to be able to produce serotonin, tryptophan is also used by the body to create melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates our sleep and wake cycles. It is also an important precursor to niacin, which is a B vitamin, and essential nutrient. Niacin is used by our body to turn food into energy, and keeps our nervous system, as well as the digestive system and our skin healthy.

TRYPTOPHAN

If someone has low levels of tryptophan, this can in time lead to depression and insomnia, since the body cannot produce what it needs to regulate itself.

To sum up, there are several ways in which tryptophan provides useful benefits: it produces melatonin to help us sleep, increases the production of serotonin to improve our mood and also increases the production of other beneficial hormones. Below are some of the benefits of tryptophan in more detail.

TRYPTOPHAN AS A NATURAL SLEEPING AID

TRYPTOPHAN AS A NATURAL SLEEPING AID

Tryptophan produces melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates our circadian rhythm and sleeping patterns. Melatonin is sometimes used as a supplement itself for sleeping troubles.

In a blind randomized controlled study with 5 healthy volunteers, it had been shown that L-tryptophan increased the duration of sleep. The volunteers in the study which had been given L-tryptophan all reported drowsiness half an hour before sleep.

In another study, L-tryptophan supplements were given to volunteers with insomnia for ten consecutive nights. Five volunteers reported an increase in non-rapid-eye-movement sleep and delta wave (deep) sleep. Seven patients with insomnia that were given tryptophan reported an increase in total sleep and non R.E.M sleep.

Even small amounts of tryptophan have shown to benefit sleep and sleep quality. In yet another study, 15 insomniac patients reported better sleep after taking just 0.25g of L-tryptophan. A typical dose of tryptophan is usually ½-1 gram. This study showed that even minimal amounts of tryptophan can increase deep sleep.

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TRYPTOPHAN AS A MOOD ENHANCER

In addition to producing melatonin to help us sleep better, another big role for tryptophan is that it helps produce serotonin. An imbalance of serotonin is often at the root for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Tryptophan has shown to help there as well.

TRYPTOPHAN FOR DEPRESSION

One randomized study with 25 young adults has shown that a diet high in tryptophan improved their mood and decreased anxiety and depressive symptoms.

However, not all studies about the effectiveness of tryptophan for treating depression are conclusive. On the other hand, there is evidence that tryptophan may complement other antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and clomipramine to enhance their effects.

In one study published back in 1976, it has been found that clomipramine, which is a drug for depression, was more effective when patients were also given L-tryptophan. According to the results of the study, the combination of the two resulted in less depressive mood and lower anxiety levels, with fewer suicidal thoughts, as compared to clomipramine alone.

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TRYPTOPHAN TO REDUCE ANXIETY

In this 1991 study on the effectiveness of tryptophan, 16 people who tried to quit smoking had been given L-tryptophan and a high-carbohydrate diet. The study showed that tryptophan helped decrease withdrawal symptoms and anxiety, and that it helped the subjects in the study smoke fewer cigarettes.

Interestingly, a diet rich in tryptophan and alpha-casozepine has also shown to decrease stress, fear and anxiety in cats.

TRYPTOPHAN AS A NATURAL APPETITE REDUCER

Tryptophan has also shown to work as a natural appetite reducer. During one study with 15 healthy people who had been given L-tryptophan, it was found that those who received the supplement ate fewer carbohydrates and more protein, resulting in intake of 20% fewer calories.

In research conducted with animals, rats which had been given L-tryptophan had been observed to eat less and less frequently.

It is believed that low tryptophan levels in the brain may be one reason for increased carbohydrate cravings. From these findings one can conclude that tryptophan can help people to eat less, and to eat healthier.

TRYPTOPHAN CAN IMPROVE SYMPTOMS OF PMS

Tryptophan has been shown to be beneficial for certain symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), such as mood swings, irritability and nervousness.

In one study performed in 1999, patients that were given L-tryptophan reported beneficial effects and a significant improvement with Premenstrual Disphoria, which is a particularly severe type of PMS.

TRYPTOPHAN CAN HELP TREAT MANIA

Mania is a type of bipolar disorder with abnormal, heightened mood states and hyperactivity. In patients who suffer from mania, L-tryptophan improved the treatment with conventional drugs (chlorpromazine hydrochloride) and has shown to reduce the side effects of the drug.

Treatment with tryptophan has also proven to be significantly more beneficial for manic patients compared to conventional treatment with lithium.

TRYPTOPHAN MAY HELP WITH DEMENTIA

According to research, patients who suffer from dementia are often having significantly lower serotonin levels in the brain. In addition to that, patients with dementia had also been observed to have lower tryptophan absorption as compared to healthy people. In those patients who showed increased absorption during therapy with tryptophan, the supplement showed a marked mental improvement.

TRYPTOPHAN CAN HELP PROTECT THE EYES

Tryptophan and its metabolites, kynurenine and kynurenic acid, may be involved in the physiology of the eye. Kynurenine is the filter that protects the eyes against UV damage from the sun and other sources. According to research,tryptophan may be beneficial for eye health, since it can prevent kynurenine from degrading with age.

TRYPTOPHAN CAN IMPROVE EXERCISE PERFORMANCE

Tryptophan has shown to improve your body's performance when exercising. During a study where athletes were asked to run on a treadmill until exhaustion, those who had been given tryptophan were able to exercise for about 49.4% longer than those without the supplement.

It is also thought that tryptophan increases pain tolerance, resulting in longer exercise times.

TRYPTOPHAN CAN HELP CHILDREN GROW

One study found that tryptophan increases the production of the growth hormone. It can therefore be a helpful supplement to stimulate growth in children.

TRYPTOPHAN HELPS WITH BREASTFEEDING

Tryptophan has also shown to increase the production of prolactin, which is a protein that enables females to produce milk. This way, tryptophan can help breastfeeding mothers.

WHICH FOODS ARE GOOD SOURCES OF TRYPTOPHAN?

WHICH FOODS ARE GOOD SOURCES OF TRYPTOPHAN?

As shown above, tryptophan provides many useful benefits. However, the body cannot produce this amino acid, which means we have to obtain it from food. Fortunately, this isn’t difficult since tryptophan can be found in many foods such as meats, vegetables, fruit and grains. Let’s take a more detailed look at sources of tryptophan in the basic food groups.

Meats, in particular chicken, turkey, and certain game meats such as rabbit or pheasant are rich in tryptophan. It is also found in fish, especially in cod, halibut and salmon.

Vegetables, including potatoes, beets, spinach, but also seaweed and kelp, are rich sources of tryptophan. It is also found in fruits such as bananas, mango and dates.

Dairy and grains: eggs, milk and cheese, as well as grains like wheat, rice, beans, oats, soybeans, lentils, pumpkin seeds and chickpeas, are also very good sources of tryptophan.

IS IT SAFE TO TAKE TRYPTOPHAN? DOES IT HAVE ANY SIDE-EFFECTS?

IS IT SAFE TO TAKE TRYPTOPHAN? DOES IT HAVE ANY SIDE-EFFECTS?

Tryptophan is safe to take, especially when you obtain it from food in your diet. Potential side effects may only occur when you take a tryptophan supplement, and then usually only if you exceed the recommended dosage. On the other hand, tryptophan may have some unwanted effects if you’re taking it together with other medications, such as anti-depressants, MAO inhibitors, certain pain and migraine medications and cough syrups that contain dextromethorphan.

If you’re taking common medications for depression such as citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), or any other serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), ask your doctor whether it would be recommended to take tryptophan. The reason for this is that tryptophan as a supplement that increases serotonin production may render these medications less effective, since it has the opposite effect.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t take tryptophan supplements. Likewise, you shouldn’t take tryptophan supplements if you have liver or kidney disease. Then again, people in these risk groups are unlikely to experience any unwanted effects if they get the usual amounts of tryptophan from their diet alone.

If you’re unsure about taking a tryptophan supplement, do not self-medicate. You should always consult your doctor first, in particular if you have existing health conditions and/or are taking medications.

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DO FOODS RICH IN TRYPTOPHAN MAKE YOU SLEEPY?

It is correct that some meats, such as turkey meat are high in tryptophan. This is often given as a "scientific" explanation to why eating a large Thanksgiving meal would make people sleepy. This, however, is a myth. Tryptophan does not work like that. Tryptophan found in turkey will not cause drowsiness and sleepiness, since such an effect would require considerable higher amounts of the amino acid.

It is more likely that the feeling of drowsiness after a large meal is simply the result of eating lots of food, possibly also followed by a luscious dessert. There may be several good reasons why you would feel sleepy after a large meal, but tryptophan is not among them. The explanation is that the body sinply has a lot of work digesting such a large meal, and this is what can make people feel drowsy and sleepy.

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