So what is Tryptophan?
Also known as L-Tryptophan, is one of the 22 amino acids and is also the largest among them. It can be found in many plant and animal proteins. It is an “essential” amino acid; this means that the body can’t produce it on its own. Therefore, tryptophan should be acquired from our diet. We need Tryptophan in our body to help produce niacin and serotonin. Vitamin B3 or niacin helps the digestive system, skin, and nerves to function normally. It also plays an important role in the conversion of food to energy. Serotonin on the other hand, is the neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining mood, balance and producing healthy sleep. Therefore, a deficiency can lead to depression and other unfavourable health conditions. Trytophan can act as a nootropic, as it effectively alleviates anxiety and depression while enabling you to achieve a restorative sleep. It leaves you feeling fresh when you wake up.
How Do I Get It?
Food sources that are high in tryptophan include oats, walnuts, soybeans, eggs, and turkey. Tryptophan is fat-soluble and has a high degree of bioavailability. Deficiencies in tryptophan may be attributed from unhealthy eating habits and an unhealthy lifestyle; this leads to disturbances in mood and ability to fall asleep.
What are the Benefits that Tryptophan Provide?
Supplementation of tryptophan generally improves your sleeping patterns. This may be attributed to the release and synthesis of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter involved in maintaining healthy sleeping habits. Tryptophan maintains serotonin levels throughout the day and aids in the production and maintenance of melatonin levels at night. This allows you to relax and sleep better. Another benefit is that it has the ability to decrease appetite and reduce symptoms of anxiety (due to the release of serotonin). With low levels of tryptophan, you may be susceptible to depression and various anxiety disorders. Moreover, the niacin that tryptophan produces is used in the processing of fats and carbohydrates along with the production of several other neurotransmitters.
Uses & Effects of Tryptophan
Supplementation has been widely used as a treatment for symptoms of depression. People with depression have an imbalance of serotonin and other brain chemicals. But with added levels of tryptophan to your diet, it can significantly increase serotonin levels in the brain, thus improving symptoms of depression. On the other hand, tryptophan has also been prescribed for anxiety, sleep apnea, premenstrual syndrome, and many other problems.
How Does Tryptophan Work?
After absorbing tryptophan from food, our bodies convert it to 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), and then to serotonin, a hormone that transmits signals between nerve cells. It then causes blood vessels to narrow. As mentioned previously, changes in the serotonin levels in the brain can alter mood.
Various conditions require different tryptophan dosages and dosage intervals. It would be best to consult your doctor before starting tryptophan supplementation. However, studies have shown that adults may take 8-12 grams of tryptophan per day, with divided doses three to four times daily. As for children, it would be better to consult your doctor for appropriate dosing.
What Other Medications Should I Take Note Of When Supplementing Tryptophan?
Tryptophan should definitely not be taken with the following medications, as it may interact with them and yield negative results:
- Anti-depressants (medications for depression) – Anti-depressants can also cause an increase in serotonin levels. When these two medications are taken together, it may pose a serious risk for serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome is a condition that is caused by excessive serotonin in the brain; symptoms include shivering, anxiety, and heart problems, to name a few. Examples of anti-depressants include citalopram, desvenlafaxine, fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), amitryptiline (Elavil), and many others.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitor (medications for depression) – As mentioned previously, anti-depressants can also cause an increase in serotonin levels. When these two medications are taken together, the risks are similar to the ones mentioned above. Examples of MAOIs include selegiline, tranylcypromine (Parnate), phenelzine (Nardil), and many others.
- Sedatives or Tranquilizers (CNS Depressants) – Similar to sedatives, tryptophan also causes sleepiness and drowsiness. When these two are taken together, it may cause too much sleepiness. Examples of these sedatives include clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), phenobarbital (Donnatal), zolpidem (Ambien), and many others.
- Drugs that make you sleepy such as alcohol, muscle relaxants, and pain medication would increase Tryptophan’s sedative properties. Thus when taken with these sedative compounds, it would cause you excessive sleepiness.
Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any unusual or allergic reactions to these medicines or supplements. With regards to pregnant and nursing mothers, it is best to consult with your doctor and avoid tryptophan intake, as there aren’t adequate studies to determine its safety both to the mother and the child. Also, the presence of other medical problems may affect the use and effectiveness of this medicine. Make sure to contact your doctor if you have any other medical problems, especially:
- Achlorhydria or malabsorption (digestion problems)- May cause breathing problems in patients with some kinds of digestion problems
- Bladder Cancer- Tryptophan may increase the risk of bladder cancer
- Cataracts- Tryptophan may cause cataracts
- Diabetes Mellitus- Tryptophan may cause diabetes in people with a family history of diabetes
- Eosinophilia- Tryptophan might make this white blood cell disorder even worse
- Liver or Kidney disease- Tryptophan might make these conditions worse
There have been a number of adverse effects associated with tryptophan usage. This includes weight loss, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, nausea, and improper sexual behaviour. Other side effects are agitation, confusion, diarrhea, fever, overactive reflexes, poor coordination, restlessness, shivering, sweating, shaking, twitching, and vomiting.
Tryptophan promises to be a powerful supplement. It acts as a mood and sleep enhancer through the stimulation and release of serotonin levels in the brain. If you think that you are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or have sleep disturbances, then you might want to consult your doctor before adding it to your diet. It is important to note that you are able to perform better, both physically and mentally, when you are well rested and in a good mood!
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Parker G, Brotchie H. Mood effects of the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine: ‘Food for Thought’ III. Acta Psychiatr Scand
. 7th edition. Washington, DC. US Dept. of Health and Human Services and US Dept. of Agriculture: 2010.Dietary Guidelines for Americans – 2010