Tryptophan is an amino acid that can be commonly found in protein-rich food. It is among the 10 essential amino acids that cannot be manufactured by the body and has to be outsourced from a diet. Tryptophan is converted by the body into niacin. It is also one of the substances that can break the blood-brain barrier–the brain’s way of protecting itself by screening substances that enters it. Tryptophan enters the brain and is converted into 5-HTP and eventually to serotonin.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that acts as a messenger between neurons. Serotonin level affects moods, behavior, emotions, cravings, learning capacity, sleep and more. Low levels of serotonin are associated with several disorders such as sleeping, eating, personality and learning disorders, depression and anxiety.
History of Tryptophan Supplements
Tryptophan supplements, or L-tryptophan, has been on the market for many years now and were widely used by people all over the world, including in the United States. During the summer and fall of 1989, an outbreak of a mysterious disease swept the United States. Dozens of people died and thousands of people fell seriously ill. The initial symptoms include an overproduction of white blood cells and almost incapacitating muscle pains. The disease is called Eosinophilia Myalgia Symptom (EMS).
The development of EMS was associated with tryptophan. It was observed that people who have reported the symptoms all have one thing in common–they had been taking L-tryptophan supplements. FDA issued a recall of all products containing tryptophan. After further research, they found out that it was not really tryptophan per se that caused the outbreak, but a contaminated batch from a single Japanese manufacturer. The manufacturer altered its process and shifted to genetic engineering of tryptophan. The biochemical process resulted to the production of toxic contaminants which were not immediately discovered.
Currently, tryptophan is marketed as an herbal supplement. With no standards established to regulate how the supplement is manufactured, there are still risks of contamination.
When to Take a Tryptophan Supplement
If you have Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), then your doctor may prescribe this for you. It is reported to reduce the symptoms associated with PMDD such as irritability, mood swings and more. The supplement may also be useful to people who want to stop smoking. Serotonin reduces craving.
Based on some research, tryptophan may help treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Although there is no sufficient evidence, tryptophan supplements may help with a learning disorder more commonly known as ADHD or Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder.
Most doctors also prescribe tryptophan supplements for people with sleeping disorders. It was observed to help people who suffer from insomnia and to reduce the risk of a sleep apnea–a disorder wherein an individual ceases to breath during sleep. In clinical trials, results are still inconclusive as to the efficacy of the supplement in the prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety.
Before trying out a tryptophan supplement, it is best to consult with a doctor or any registered medical provider. They are a credible source of information for anything that has to do with tryptophan supplementation.