Tryptophan and Your Health
One of the essential amino acids, tryptophan cannot be produced by the body but needs to be taken in from food sources or supplements. Some of it is used for the production of the B vitamin, niacin. Niacin enhances memory, improves circulation, and helps to lower cholesterol. Tryptophan is an extremely important nutrient for mental well-being as it is a precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is used to regulate mood, pain, sleep, and appetite.
Getting enough tryptophan in the diet is, therefore, one way to increase serotonin levels in the body naturally, thereby helping to combat insomnia, depression, and mood shifts. By supporting healthy levels of this brain chemical, the benefits of tryptophan also include treating anxiety, migraines, and overeating.
A deficiency of tryptophan can lead to altered levels of serotonin levels in the brain, and thereby a lack of transmitting nerve impulses. Signs that you may need to include more food sources include depression, irritability, overeating, insomnia, poor dream recall, and trouble concentrating.
While the benefits of this amino acid are remarkable, tryptophan supplements were actually banned by the FDA since 1989 because of faulty supplements. It was eventually discovered that L-tryptophan was not responsible for causing serious illness and death, but the batch of supplements, which were contaminated. Supplements are now legal, sold as 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan), which is what the body converts tryptophan into in the body. They are sometimes recommended for curbing stress, anxiety, and depression, for treating migraines and insomnia, and for controlling overeating.
Getting this amino acid from your diet is the most efficient and natural way to ensure your serotonin levels are thriving. It is not difficult to get enough tryptophan from food sources as it is found in plentiful amounts in many types of protein. Vegetarians should be sure to consume a high amount of non-meat sources of tryptophan to ensure adequate levels.
One serving of the following foods contains more than 100 percent of your daily requirement for tryptophan:
Bananas, nuts, seeds, brown rice, and cottage cheese are all excellent vegetarian sources of this amino acid.
The benefits of tryptophan are great, and being aware of how essential and beneficial this amino acid is may really have an impact on your food choices. While getting enough of this nutrient may not be a cure for mood-related conditions, it is a natural solution that can be safely considered. As it is not difficult to get tryptophan from food sources, supplements may not be necessary for most people.
Balch, Phyllis, CNC. “Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 4th Edition.” (The Penguin Group, 2006).
Page, Linda. “Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone, 11th Edition” (Traditional Wisdom, 2003).
World’s Healthiest Foods https://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=103
The Light Party https://www.lightparty.com/Health/5-HTP.html
photo by Emilian Robert Vico
photo by Kathy Meister