The Role of Tryptophan in Diet

Tryptophan is one of the eight essential amino acids that your body can’t make by itself. Therefore, it must acquire the amino acid through dietary sources. Tryptophan helps your body produce serotonin, melantonin and niacin. It’s often used to treat insomnia and depression, and it can also help you lose weight. Read on to learn more about the role tryptophan plays in your body.

Is Tryptophan Safe?

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that’s not only safe, but necessary to maintain normal brain and body function. However, a 1989 outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), gave tryptophan a bad reputation when the outbreak, which killed or disabled more than 1,000 people, was traced back to a contaminated batch of L-tryptophan supplements. Tryptophan was outlawed in the US. in 1991. In 2001, the FDA began to allow manufacturers to sell tryptophan for use as a dietary supplement in the US. However, the FDA still maintains that it doesn’t know whether the 1989 cases of EMS were the result of impurities present in the tryptophan supplements or the side effect of abnormally high does of dietary tryptophan.

The Importance of Tryptophan in Your Body

Tryptophan is an essential amino acids. These amino acids are necessary because your body needs them in order to synthesize protein. Tryptophan, however, does more than just provide the building blocks for protein synthesis. It also helps your body to produce the following necessary substances:

  • Seratonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in the regulation of mood. Seratonin helps you feel calm, relaxed and well at ease.
  • Melatonin, a neurohormone that makes you feel sleepy.
  • Niacin, a B-vitamin.

Tryptophan helps maintain your body’s serotonin and melatonin levels, so low levels of tryptophan can lead to depression and insomnia. Your body can’t produce seratonin or melatonin without tryptophan, so a tryptophan deficiency could lead to severely depressed mood, changes in appetite and severe sleep problems.

Benefits of Tryptophan

Tryptophan is available as a dietary supplement and has long been used as a sleep aid and antidepressant. Many people find that tryptophan makes them sleepy, due no doubt to its ability to raise melatonin levels within the body. Many use tryptophan as an antidepressant, and clinical trials have shown that tryptophan supplements may be of particular benefit to those who are struggling with depressive disorders.

In addition to insomnia and depression, tryptophan may also be of benefit to those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and other disorders caused by low seratonin levels in the brain. It may also be useful for epileptics.

Sources of Tryptophan

Contrary to what you may have heard, turkey, while high in tryptophan, doesn’t contain appreciably higher levels of tryptophan than other types of poultry. Tryptophan is found in dairy proteins and in foods that are high in protein, like meat, nuts and legumes. Here are some foods that are high in tryptophan:

  • Chocolate
  • Mangoes
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spirulina
  • Cottage cheese
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Oats
  • Dates
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Sesame
  • Chickpeas
  • Sunflower seeds

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