What is tryptophan?
Tryptophan is one of the 10 essential amino acids that the body uses to synthesize the proteins it needs. It's well-known for its role in the production of the nervous system messengers. Especially those related to relaxation, restfulness, and sleep. Tryptophan is necessary for the production of several crucial substances in the body, including the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine). Serotonin (a melatonin precursor) plays a key role in mood and sleep patterns. Tryptophan supplements have been used for some time as antidepressants, sleep and weight-loss aids. It is important to note that tryptophan is inefficiently utilized in the body, and a large amount of tryptophan is excreted in urine.
Tryptophan has an important general role, together with the other twenty or so amino acids which have been identified, in the production of the countless thousands of proteins which form much of the body's tissue. Many of the enzymes which control the countless biochemical reactions which are vital for health are also formed from protein, as are the antibodies that fight disease. Tryptophan works as a safe and effective food remedy for insomnia and emotional problems. It is essential for blood clotting and digestive juices. It prevents early aging with regards to its effects on the eyes, hair, and teeth. It also acts as a natural painkiller. It slows down the rate of starch decomposition and thus helps prevent prevents tooth decay.
Foods high in tryptophan
Tryptophan is a normal constituent of most protein-based foods or dietary proteins. It is particularly plentiful in chocolate, oats, bananas, durians, mangoes, dried dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, sesame, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, and peanuts. It is also found in turkey at a level typical of poultry in general. Tryptophan occurs naturally in nearly all foods that contain protein, but in small amounts compared to the other essential amino acids. The following foods contain tryptophan in significant quantities: red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, soybeans and soy products, tuna, shellfish, and turkey.
If you do consider taking supplements of tryptophan, you should ensure that you continue to include a good supply of high quality protein foods in your diet. To help absorption of tryptophan it is important to injest vitamin B6 and vitamin C. 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 100 mg of B6 are required for each 2,000 mg of tryptophan.
The following foods are high in the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan:
dairy products such as cottage cheese, cheese and milk, soy products such as soy milk, tofu and soybean nuts, seafood, meats, poultry, whole grains, beans, rice, hummus, lentils, hazelnuts, peanuts, Eggs, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds.
Why is trptophan so important?
Research has shown that tryptophan or serotonin is effective for more than depression. Various forms of defective impulse control and obsessive compulsive disorders are also strongly affected by serotonin nerve activity. Suicidal behavior, compulsive gambling, irrationally dangerous thrill seeking behavior and pyromania (compulsive fire starting), have been shown to be correlated with low serotonin neural activity, combined with excessive dopaminergic or noradrenergic activity.
Tryptophan has two important functions. First, a small amount of the tryptophan we get in our diet (about 3%) is converted into niacin (vitamin B3) by the liver. This conversion can help prevent the symptoms associated with niacin deficiency when dietary intake of this vitamin is low. Second, tryptophan serves as a precursor for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps the body regulate appetite, sleep patterns, and mood. Because of its ability to raise serotonin levels, tryptophan has been used therapeutically in the treatment of a variety of conditions, most notably insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Tryptophan depletion has a negative impact on sleep. Tryptophan helps to regulate appetite and also helps to sleep better and elevate the mood.
Who needs tryptophan?
Many people find tryptophan to be a safe and reasonably effective sleep aid, probably due to its ability to increase brain levels of serotonin (a calming neurotransmitter when present in moderate levels) and/or melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone secreted by the pineal gland in response to darkness or low light levels). Clinical research has shown mixed results with respect to tryptophan's effectiveness as a sleep aid, especially in normal patients and for a growing variety of other conditions typically associated with low serotonin levels or activity in the brain such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder and seasonal affective disorder. In particular, tryptophan has been showing considerable promise as an antidepressant alone, and as an "augmenter" of antidepressant drugs.
The following conditions indicate the need for more high-tryptophan foods: depression, anxiety, irritability, impatience, impulsiveness, inability to concentrate, weight gain or unexplained weight loss, slow growth in children, overeating and/or carbohydrate cravings, poor dream recall, insomnia etc.
Sleep and tryptophan
In recent years, melatonin has gained the reputation as the natural answer to insomnia. Yet the fact that melatonin is made in the pineal gland from serotonin is frequently overlooked. Thus supplemental tryptophan may induce one’s pineal gland to naturally increase its melatonin production. Also, important sleep regulating nerve circuits in the brainstem (the raphe nuclei) use serotonin as their neurotransmitter, so it is unreasonable to expect melatonin alone to provide optimal insomnia relief. Low dose melatonin (0.5mg to 1mg) plus tryptophan (500mg to 1500mg) may prove more effective for many people with serious insomnia.
Is the consumption of warm milk before bed simply a theory or is it a scientifically proven truth? As a matter of fact, eating dairy foods before bed can improve your sleep. Dairy produce is a good source of tryptophan, which your body converts to melatonin and serotonin (both of which are thought to induce sleep). Some other foods which contain tryptophan include bananas, oats, poultry and peanuts. A light bedtime snack should consist of mostly carbohydrates with a small amount of protein. This particular combination increases the availability of tryptophan to the brain.