Trending – Tryptophan

It’s turkey time! That means we hear more about tryptophan found naturally in turkey. In this post, we explore tryptophan.

What is tryptophan? What does it do?

Tryptophan is a naturally occurring essential amino acid. Amino acids are responsible for vital bodily processes like building proteins and synthesizing needed hormones and neurotransmitters.
Tryptophan supports critical physiological functions, including balancing nitrogen and supporting serotonin production, among other functions. Serotonin is the precursor to melatonin which aids in sleep (1,2). 


Where do we find tryptophan?

We find tryptophan naturally in many high-protein foods like milk, eggs, turkey, chicken, and more.

Does tryptophan make us tired?

Tryptophan can help support a healthy sleep cycle by supporting serotonin production, the precursor to melatonin (1). However, the amount found in food doesn’t typically disproportionately impact our wakefulness.     

Does tryptophan in turkey make us more tired?

Turkey doesn’t contain more tryptophan than other meat like chicken. So, the tired you feel after eating a large Thanksgiving meal has less to do with the turkey and more to do with the large amount of rich foods consumed in one sitting (1).

Are there tryptophan dietary supplements?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned tryptophan supplements from 1989-2005 due to a rare and dangerous side effect called eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS). The FDA allowed industries to reintroduce tryptophan supplements to the market in 2005 and there haven’t been published cases of EMS since reintroduction (12).
While you can take a dietary supplement containing tryptophan, a varied and balanced diet will provide most people with enough tryptophan to support physiological processes. 
Please note, before starting any dietary supplement, you should talk with your medical doctor.

Is tryptophan safe?

If you’re not allergic to food containing tryptophan, it’s naturally occurring and safe to consume when found in foods.
Additionally, the FDA identifies tryptophan as a safe food additive, meaning it can be added to fortified foods when added in accordance with the regulations. 
If you’re taking tryptophan as a supplement, you could experience side effects such as blurred vision, dizziness, and fatigue. An exceedingly rare side effect from taking too much tryptophan in supplement form is eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS) and requires immediate medical attention (1). As we’ve discussed in prior posts, the dose makes the poison. Too much or too little tryptophan can harm your health. Again, it’s best to talk with your medical doctor before starting any supplement so you can be certain you’re taking the correct supplement at the proper dosage.  

The good news.

Tryptophan in our Thanksgiving turkey is safe and won’t cause us to be extra sleepy. Our feasting and celebrating are most likely the cause of our post-Thanksgiving dinner naps


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