Tryptophan is an amino acid (L-Tryptophan), one of the building blocks of protein, but unlike some amino acids, Tryptophan is considered essential because the body cannot manufacture its own. Tryptophan plays many roles in animals and humans alike, but perhaps most importantly, it is an essential precursor to a number of neurotrans- mittters (Serotonin being one of the most important) in the brain. As such, Tryptophan is the only substance that can be converted into Serotonin. Since Serotonin, in turn is converted into Melatonin, which has been shown in several good studies to assist in sleep, Tryptophan clearly plays an instrumental role in balancing mood and sleep patterns. Tryptophan may also be of some benefit in the treatment of some psychiatric disorders.
Originally developed to treat depression in humans, Prozac, Zoloft, Praxil, and others are now being prescribed for a variety of disorders, including anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, migraine headaches, sleep disturbances, weight loss, PMS, obesity, and back pain.
All of these drugs work along the same principle. Selective reuptake inhibitors, or SRRI's as they are known, work by increasing the level of Serotonin (chemically called 5-hydroxytryptamine) by blocking its reuptake by adjoining neurons. Blocking the uptake of Serotonin thereby leaves more in the synapse to act as a neurotransmitter.
It is a fact, however, that Serotonin can also be elevated in the way nature intended, namely, by elevating Serotonin's building blocks in the diet (or "livet" as I would prefer to call it). Tryptophan occurs naturally in foods (see partial list below). In 1990,Tryptophan was removed from the human supplement market when one Japanese manufacturer sent several contaminated batches to the US. Increasing the Tryptophan - Serotonin - Melatonin levels through proper eating habits is a far superior method of balancing mood and sleep patterns than the quick fixes and side effects and possible hazards of drugs and nutrient supplementation.
The conversion of Tryptophan to Serotonin is a two-step process. First, Tryptophan is converted into 5-hydroxy L-Tryptophan, or 5-HTP, and then 5-HTP is, in turn, converted into Serotonin. This is the process by which Serotonin is produced from food. Foods highest in Tryptophan are Tofu, Most Soy products, Black-eyed Peas, Black and English Walnuts, Almonds, Sesame Seeds, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, and Gluten flour. In studies of sleep deprivation, poor eating habits appear to have a direct effect on not only the duration, but the timing of sleeping patterns.
In studies done with humans on two continents by Lehman, Braverman, and Pfeiffer, depressed patients were found to have significantly low plasma levels of Tryptophan than normal controls. By way of contrast, changes in thirty other amino acids were not significant. To list just a few potential applications, human studies have also demonstrated Tryptophan's benefits in treating Down's syndrome and aggressive behavior. Indeed, horse owners report that horses fed soy meal, which has about 5 times the level of Tryptophan as do oats, seem calmer and less aggressive than those fed oats.
The question remains, how does Tryptophan compare with SRRI's in treating clinical conditions? A study done by a team of SWISS and German psychiatric researchers comparing the Tryptophan metabolite, 5-HTP, for example, with the SRRI, Fluvoxamine, found that depression was alleviated more predictably with the 5-HTP, and while side effects are commonly reported for Fluvoxamine, the Physician's Desk Reference does not list any for 5-HTP. The researchers went on to conclude that the Tryptophan metabolite actually treats a broader range of symptoms known as "Serotonin Deficiency Syndrome," which may manifest as depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, aggression, nervousness, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and migraines... many of the same symptoms that are being treated in humans and animals with SRRI's.
Tryptophan, in addition to being a precursor to Serotonin, is also a precursor to Niacin and can be used in the treatment of Pellagra. It is really Tryptophan rather than Niacin that acts as an essential amino acid that plays a role in structural proteins and enzymes found throughout the body.
~ ~ adapted by Jon Zwayer from several articles
written by certified and clinical nutritionists.
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