Wise Creative – Tryptophan

Chemical symbol for the amino acid tryptophan

Wise Creative

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is important for making proteins. The body does not make it, so it must be consumed in the diet. After we eat tryptophan, the body converts some to 5-HTP and then into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Some tryptophan is also turned into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) by the body. Because of this, tryptophan is also a food source of niacin.

L-tryptophan and D-tryptophan are the two kinds of tryptophan. The only difference between the two types is the orientation of the molecule.

You can get tryptophan from some foods or a powdered supplement.

Tryptophan-rich foods

Some foods, especially those that are high in protein, contain tryptophan. Foods that are known to have a lot of tryptophan are:

  • chicken eggs cheese
  • fish peanuts
  • pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • turkey, tofu, and soy milk

For your body to turn tryptophan into niacin, though, it needs enough iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin B2.

Tryptophan has some side effects.

Tryptophan can have plenty of health benefits, but the supplement can cause a number of unpleasant side effects in people.

Most of the time, people have problems with their stomachs.

  • heartburn
  • pain in the stomach belching
  • Illness and throwing up
  • diarrhea and not wanting to eat
  • These are some other common side effects:
  • headaches
  • Sexual problems like dry mouth

Some of the more serious side effects that should make you stop using the drug right away are:

  • drowsiness
  • lightheadedness
  • blurred vision, weak muscles, tiredness

Good for your health

The tryptophan that is naturally found in foods is good for your health in a number of ways. Most of these health benefits come from the potential increase of niacin and thus serotonin. Some of the benefits of having more serotonin are:

  • better and healthier sleep
  • relief from depression and anxiety
  • better emotional health
  • better ability to handle pain

Health dangers

Tryptophan that comes from food is usually safe, but some people have bad reactions to the supplement form.

The National Organization for Rare Disorders says that tryptophan supplements were linked to 37 deaths and over 1,500 cases of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) in the late 1980s.

This is a rare disorder that affects multiple organ systems within the body, including the skin, lungs, and muscles. It often comes on quickly and all at once. It can make people sick or even kill them. Some of the signs are:

  • pain or weakness in the muscles
  • skin rashes
  • scramping
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue

But the EMS cases were linked to a company that made tainted tryptophan supplements. Because of this, it is more likely that the health problems were caused by contamination in the supplements than by tryptophan itself.

Tryptophan can help treat the symptoms of some conditions, but it may raise your serotonin levels too much, especially if you take it with medications like:

  • tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
  • MAO inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • pain relievers like tramadol and meperidine
  • triptan medications for migraine
  • cough medicine with dextromethorphan

If you are taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), you shouldn’t increase your tryptophan without first talking to your doctor.       

The tryptophan can make serotonin levels rise, which can go against the goal of SSRIs. This group includes a number of common antidepressants, such as:

  • citalopram (Celexa)
  • fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • sertraline (Zoloft)

Try not to take tryptophan if you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Used often

Tryptophan is commonly used to treat insomnia and sleep disorders like sleep apnea. But there isn’t enough evidence to say whether this is a good use or not. To find out if tryptophan is safe to treat any of these conditions, more research needs to be done.

It has been said that tryptophan could help ease the symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Some older research suggests that tryptophan may also help people stop smoking.

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