A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.


The amino acid called tryptophan is necessary in the diet and is therefore considered to be an essential amino acid as the biochemical synthesis does not occur in the human body. The amino acid is also essential for the biochemical manufacture of the vitamin B3 (niacin) in the human body. Tryptophan is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain; this compound is an essential neurotransmitter involved in the transfer of nerve impulses from one neuron to another - it has an important role in generating normal sleep in humans. The amino acid tryptophan therefore aids in stabilizing the mood and combating persistent depression and insomnia in people. The hyperactivity affecting children is also alleviated by this amino acid. Tryptophan also alleviates stress and is considered vital for the health of the heart, it helps in controlling weight and brings about a reduction in appetite, and it also enhances the release of the human growth hormone. Supplements of the amino acid tryptophan are also considered very good for the treatment of severe headaches associated with chronic migraine. Supplements of tryptophan may also reduce some of the effects of nicotine in the brain. The formation of tryptophan in the body requires the presence of a sufficient amount of the vitamin B6 - also called pyridoxine - this vitamin is in its turn essential for serotonin formation. Coronary arterial spasms may be actuated by a deficiency of the amino acid tryptophan and the essential mineral magnesium in the body.

Good sources of dietary tryptophan are grains such as brown rice, dairy products like cottage cheese, fruits like bananas, all meats and poultry, peanuts and soy protein, dried dates. Drug stores in the United States do not sell the supplemental form of this amino acid. This is due to a report, dated November 1989, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control - CDC, came up with evidence linking supplemental L-tryptophan to a form of blood disorder called eosinophilia myalgia syndrome - EMS in short. This is a disease of the blood where patients are affected by an elevation in the white blood cell count and is often accompanied by such physical symptoms as physical fatigue, the presence of muscular aches, various respiratory ailments, problems like edema and a persistent rash. Several hundred cases of this disease were reported, with at least one confirmed death attributable to the outbreak of the disease. The sale of products containing tryptophan was affected following the CDC's study which established a link between the incidence of the blood disorder and all supplemental products that contained L-tryptophan in the state of New Mexico. Initially, the Food and Drug Administration - FDA of the US warned consumers not to take L-tryptophan supplements without further studies; it then recalled all the marketed products that had L-tryptophan as the sole or a major component in the supplement. This finding was disproved by later research that pointed out that contaminants in the supplements and not the tryptophan, were probably the causative agents for the disorder.


The variety of amino acid called tryptophan offers numerous health benefits, including improving sleep and relaxation, alleviating trivial premenstrual symptoms, lessening the craving for carbohydrates and comforting the nerves as well as providing relief from anxiety. In addition, tryptophan is essential for producing serotonin, which is among the major chemicals present in the brain and is responsible for controlling the mood of individuals. When an individual is experiencing depression, it is likely that his/ her nerve cells inside the brain are releasing lesser number of serotonin. Tryptophan augments the intensity of serotonin in our bloodstream and, thereby, enhances the anti-depressant actions of serotonin. It is important to note that tryptophan is not a stand-alone medication, but is used in conjunction with other medications for treating depression.

Besides its necessity for producing serotonin, this amino acid is also essential for making the vitamin niacin (B3). Tryptophan needs biotin, vitamin C, vitamin B6 as well as zinc to produce the enzyme necessary for converting it to serotonin. In fact, taking tryptophan supplements or 5-hydroxytryptamine (an intermittent step in the process involved in converting tryptophan into serotonin) supplements may possibly aid in enhancing the level of serotonin and assist in providing relief from the symptoms related to fibromyalgia. Tryptophan is also effective in treating depressive conditions in menopausal women and also providing relief from symptoms related to the restless leg syndrome. This amino acid is also useful in alleviating stress, regulating hyperactivity in children or abnormally active children and also augmenting the secretion of growth hormones needed to produce pyridoxine (vitamin B6).

It is believed that the brain chemical serotonin has a vital function in controlling appetite as well as weight loss. It is also believed that when an individual takes a meal containing high amounts of carbohydrates, the nerves in the brain release additional serotonin with a view to reduce craving for food and, simultaneously, enhance the mood. Tryptophan is also engaged in regulating sleep and augmenting tryptophan levels may possibly aid in regularizing the sleep patterns. It has also been detected that people who have migraine headaches possess abnormal (poor) tryptophan levels and they generally find taking tryptophan supplements to be beneficial.

Since tryptophan provides us with the body's partial requirement of vitamin B3, any shortage of this variety of amino acid may possibly also augment the chances of having a dearth of vitamin B3. Inadequate amounts of tryptophan in one's diet increase the advancement of pellagra, a disease related to deficiency of vitamins. Generally, people who, by and large, have poor protein intake may suffer from deficiency of tryptophan. It has been found that tryptophan deficiency may result in several symptoms, including insomnia or sleeplessness, depression, suicidal thoughts, craving for carbohydrates and even schizophrenia. If an individual suffering from tryptophan deficiency also has a dearth of magnesium, it may be an additional factor for suffering from spasms of the heart artery.

Usual dosage

Doctor can prescribe supplemental L-tryptophan after examination of the patient - such supplementation is usually done under strict supervision of the doctor. The supplements of L-tryptophan must be taken with a well balanced and complete B -complex vitamin formula - which has a minimum of 50 to 100 mg of the vitamins B1, B2 and B6. The dosage must be consumed following the first or last meal every day of the supplemental period. Sleep can be induced by taking 500 mg of tryptophan thirty minutes before bed time with some vitamin B6-100 mg, along with niacin amide - also at 100 mg and some chelated or citrated magnesium - 120mg to 130 mg doses. Supplements of tryptophan must be consumed with juice or water, but not with proteins. Supplements of tryptophan can also be used as a relaxant, and can be consumed between meals, at anytime during the day along with water or juice - protein or milk must not be consumed at the same time. Dosages exceeding 2000 mg - 2 grams - in one go are not recommended for any person - single doses must be small and can be repeated if necessary; however, excessive doses must not be consumed at any one time.

Side effects and cautions

While tryptophan offers several health benefits, its use also has a number of downsides. Some people taking this type of amino acid may experience dizziness, drowsiness and become less attentive. In addition, this medication may also make your mouth dry. When taken in excessive dosage, tryptophan may result in a number of unpleasant symptoms, including fever, diarrhea, vomiting, confusion, anxiety or irritation, restiveness, poor coordination, overactive impulses, sweating, trembling, shaking, twitching and uncontrollable excitement. It is advisable that you should never use l-tryptophan in conjunction with any agent that increases serotonin, for example, SSRI medicaments (like Paxil, Prozac and others) or 5-HTP.

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