Tryptophan

Background

Tryptophan, also called L-tryptophan, is an essential amino acid that acts like a natural mood regulator, as it has the ability to help the body naturally produce and balance certain hormones. Though essential amino acids are necessary for various body functions, the body cannot produce these compounds internally. So it is essential to obtain tryptophan through the diet or dietary supplements. Tryptophan has nootropic properties and supplementing with tryptophan can help bring on natural calming effects, induce sleep, fight anxiety and depression, improve concentration and focus, and can also help burn more body fat. It can also stimulate the release of growth hormones.
5HTP (5-hyrdoxytryptophan) is an important byproduct of tryptophan and works in the brain and central nervous system to improve feelings of well-being, connection and safety. It is because of the increased production of serotonin, one of the body’s main feel-good hormones. For this reason, many people have started using Tryptophan supplements to enhance the levels of Serotonin in their brain, which may result in improved mood and better sleep patterns.[1]

Benefits

Tryptophan is very important for the production of the body’s proteins, enzymes and muscle tissue. It is also essential for the production of niacin, the synthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin and melatonin. The supplements can be used as natural relaxants to help relieve insomnia. It can also reduce anxiety and depression and has been shown to reduce the intensity of migraine headaches. Other promising indications include the relief of chronic pain, reduction of impulsivity or mania and the treatment of obsessive or compulsive disorders. It also appears to help the immune system and can reduce the risk of cardiac spasms. Tryptophan deficiencies may lead to coronary artery spasms. It is used as an essential nutrient in infant formulas and intravenous feeding. Tryptophan serves as the precursor for the synthesis of serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) and melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine).[2]
The common health benefits of Tryptophan include:

  • Improves sleep quality [3]
  • Reduces anxiety and depression [4]
  • Improves mood [5]
  • Reduces headache and migraine [6]
  • Helps improve physical performance [7]
  • Fights fatigue [8]
  • Helps manage pain tolerance [9]
  • Reduces appetite [10]
  • Helps people who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia symptoms [11]
  • May protect eye health [12]
  • Improves athletic performance [13]
  • Improves cognition [14]
  • People report that Tryptophan can help children grow, help breastfeeding and improves PMS

Tryptophan has many functions but its impact on the brain is predominantly noteworthy. Another notable key benefit of this supplement is that it may help to decrease appetite and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. This supplement may also encourage healthy sleep patterns. These benefits appear to be directly associated with the release and synthesis of Serotonin and Melatonin.

How it works

Tryptophan is considered to be a precursor to several different hormones, neurotransmitters, and other substances all over the body. While supplementing with Tryptophan, it moves through the bloodstream and helps in the production or synthesis of various proteins. It is also essential for the production of niacin, the synthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin and melatonin.
Tryptophan can work in the brain in different ways. It is broken down in the liver into the component of 5-HTP and other metabolites which travel through the bloodstream to the brain, crosse the blood-brain barrier, and enter the brain. When in the brain, the 5-HTP is converted into Serotonin. Serotonin, also known as the “happiness neurotransmitter,” works by transmitting signals between nerve cells and altering brain functions that can affect mood states and sleep. Serotonin is believed to help regulate things like appetite and mood. Again, supplementing with 5HTP which is made from tryptophan is demonstrated to lower depression symptoms.

Considerations

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is found in many foods and so it is assumed to be safe in normal quantities. However, it has several side effects which may be more noticeable when tryptophan or 5-HTP is taken along with drugs that influence serotonin levels, such as antidepressants. The side effects may include nausea, heartburn, vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea. Again, excessive dose of Tryptophan may result in agitation, confusion, fever, overactive reflexes, restlessness, shivering, sweating, shaking, twitching, dizziness, dry mouth, or headache.
During the supplementation, if you experience any of the symptoms, you are recommended to discontinue usage immediately and contact a doctor. Later, when the side effects are over, you are advised by your doctor, you can restart but with a lower dose.
It is always wise to consult a doctor or healthcare provider before starting any supplement.

Recommendations

There is no specific standard dosage range for Tryptophan. The dosage can be determined by your specific purpose or condition. Some sources show that some commonly used dosage range is between 6 and 12 grams. However, according to the University of Michigan Health Department, the following dosage range is recommended for the specific purposes: [15]

  • For sleep disorders/insomnia: 1–2 grams taken at bedtime
  • For chronic pain or migraines: 2–4 grams per day in divided doses
  • For treating PMS or PMDD: 2–4 grams daily
  • For helping alleviate depression or anxiety: 2–6 grams daily (it’s best to work with a doctor)
  • For lowering appetite and cravings: 0.5–2 grams daily

You are advised to consult your doctor or healthcare provider to determine a specific dose for you.

Sources