The chances are you’ve been eating tryptophan regularly without even knowing! Tryptophan is widely available in a variety of foods but what exactly is it and how does it benefit you? Which vitamin does tryptophan help to synthesize? Is it true that tryptophan assists in the production of a vital neurotransmitter?
Tryptophan – More than Just Another Amino Acid
Tryptophan is one of the amino acids needed for protein syntheis in the body, and needs to be included as part of the regular diet. Tryptophan is not made in the body and is one of the so-called essential amino acids. Natural food sources of tryptophan include turkey, cottage cheese, bananas, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, brown rice, poultry, milk, yoghurt, salmon, tuna, red meat and eggs. So which vitamin does tryptophan produce?
Tryptophan is one of the so-called precursors (a substance needed to make another) of vitamin B3 in the body or niacin as it is also called. Niacin supports the normal functioning of the nervous system, as well as the maintenance of normal skin, mucous membranes and more importantly, normal psychological function as well as the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. For the successful production of niacin in the body, iron, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and B6 must also be present.
Tryptophan as a Natural Anti-Depressant?
Many of us have heard of the so-called ‘happy hormone,’ serotonin. In order for our bodies to make serotonin, tryptophan is a must. Produced in the pineal gland in the brain, digestive tract and blood platelets, serotinin helps to regulate moods and anxieties and is thought of as one of the body’s most important chemicals in relation to mood swings.
Too little serotinin is associated with lowered moods and an increase in stress levels. As a precursor of serotonin tryptophan is widely used as a natural anti-depressant and mood enhancer. Tryptophan supplements are often used to assist the moods caused by menopause and the monthly blues of menstruation.
If depression or low moods were just produced by chemical or physical conditions, then tryptophan would be a great natural solution. However, other important factors outside the realm of ‘brain chemicals’ play a contributive and important role in our wellbeing. These include experiences of loss and pain in our lives that can have a damaging mental impact on our mental health.
To Sleep or Not To Sleep
Serotonin itself is needed for the production of another valuable hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is recognised as a natural sleep aid, helping to increase sleepiness and a decrease in time taken to get to sleep. Trytophan therefore plays another essential role in the production of melatonin.
Melatonin helps to maintain the body’s sleep-wake patterns. Its production is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light, so we naturally produce more melatonin at night than during the day. Changes in our sleep/wake schedules can easily disrupt melatonin production levels, for example travel and shift work.
Not Just a Protein Making Amino Acid
Tryptophan is not just a protein-synthesizing amino acid. As well as contributing to essential protein production, tryptophan is involved in serotonin and melatonin production levels which in turn greatly enhance our well-being and chance of peaceful sleep. Tryptophan also aids normal niacin production. It is certainly one of the amino acids with multi-functions that give it that extra special place in terms of our well-being.