Tryptophan, found as a component of dietary protein, is particularly plentiful in chocolate, oats, bananas, dried dates, milk, cottage, cheese, meat, fish, turkey and peanuts.
Benefits of tryptophan
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.
The main function of tryptophan is as a building block in protein synthesis.
Tryptophan has been implicated as a possible cause of schizophrenia in people who cannot metabolize it properly. When improperly metabolized it creates a waste product in the brain which is toxic and causes hallucinations and delusions. Tryptophan has also been indicated as an aid for schizophrenic patients.
Clinical research tended to confirm tryptophan’s effectiveness as a natural sleeping pill
Tryptophan helps the anxious agitated depressive to counterbalance, restoring a sense of well-being and behavioral self-control. Van Praag’s research has shown that for many people suffering depression, combining the amino-acid tyrosine with tryptophan works much better than taking tryptophan alone
Chronic alcoholism may also have a serotonin component. Research with animals and humans has shown that alcohol initially increases serotonin nerve activity; yet chronic alcohol use impairs tryptophan entry into the brain. This chronic alcoholism may involve a vicious spiral of a brief alcohol induced increase of serotonin neural activity, with consequent sense of well being, combined with an ever worsening baseline state of serotonin nerve activity due to alcohol’s impairment of brain tryptophan transport.
Recent research has shown that the depression that frequently accompanies and even predates the movement disorders of Parkinson’s disease is primarily due to the hypo function of serotonin nerves, so tryptophan may be a useful adjunct to L-Dopa/ deprenyl treatment of Parkinson’s.
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.
Supplemental tryptophan also helps to reduce the anger and aggression.
Deficiency symptoms of tryptophan
As an essential amino acid, dietary deficiency of tryptophan may cause the symptoms characteristic of protein deficiency, which include weight loss and impaired growth in infants and children .
Deficiency of tryptophan can cause symptoms ranging from depression, PMS, anxiety, alcoholism, insomnia, violence, aggression, suicide, and compulsive gambling .
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/ noradrenergic activity.
When accompanied by dietary niacin deficiency, lack of tryptophan in the diet may also cause pellagra, the classic niacin deficiency disease that is characterized by the “4 Ds” – dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and death. This condition is very rare in the United States, however, and cannot occur simply because of a tryptophan deficiency.
Symptoms of high intake
High dietary intake of tryptophan from food sources is not known to cause any symptoms of toxicity. In addition, tryptophan has been given therapeutically, as a prescription medicine or dietary supplement, in doses exceeding five grams per day with no report of adverse effects.
However, in 1989, the use of dietary supplements containing tryptophan was blamed for the development of a serious condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), which caused severe muscle and joint pain, high fever, weakness, swelling of the arms and legs, and shortness of breath in more than a thousand people. In addition, more than 30 deaths were attributed to EMS caused by tryptophan supplements.
Daily requirement for different age groups is given below:
- Infants up to two years: 17 mg/kg
- Children 2-10 years: 12.5 mg/kg
- Males and females 10-18 years: 3.3 mg/kg
- Adults: 3.5 mg/kg
Other interesting points
Tryptophan may play a role in the prevention and/or treatment of the following health conditions: Anxiety, Depression, Headaches, Insomnia, Nightmares, Obesity, Obsessive/compulsive disorder, Pain, Premenstrual syndrome, Senile dementia, and Tourette’s syndrome
People taking the anti-depressant medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (including Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft) should consult a physician before taking any other supplement or medication that also increases the amount of, or the effect of, serotonin, in the body
Vitamin B6 is necessary for the conversion of tryptophan to both niacin and serotonin. Consequently, a dietary deficiency of vitamin B6 may result in low serotonin levels and/or impaired conversion of tryptophan to niacin.
In addition, several dietary, lifestyle, and health factors reduce the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, including cigarette smoking, high sugar intake, alcohol abuse, excessive consumption of protein, hypoglycemia and diabetes.