What is Tryptophan? Explain the sleeping amino acid

Whether you’re on the dark meat or the white meat side of the debate, if you’ve ever struggled to keep your eyes peeled as the conversation around the Thanksgiving table stretches into the late evening, you know. probably drowsiness. that can result from a large plate of roast turkey. It’s not just the fatigue caused by vacation trips or preparing a big meal – turkey is actually high in a specific amino acid called tryptophan. Foods containing tryptophan can cause drowsiness and make you feel ready for an after-meal nap.

But what exactly is tryptophan and how does it work? And is turkey the only food that contains tryptophan? Keep scrolling to learn more about the mysterious sleeping amino acid: tryptophan.

What is tryptophan?

Tryptophan molecule on white background.

Our body breaks down all the protein in food into 20 different amino acids, whether the protein comes from meat, beans, dairy, eggs, fish, vegetables, etc. These amino acids are considered to be the building blocks of proteins, which means that our bodies use amino acids to make all of the different structural and functional proteins in the body. Just like the letters of the alphabet, by stringing together different combinations of these “letters” of amino acids, our bodies are able to make the hundreds of different combinations of amino acids that make up the great variety of proteins that we need for. function.

While we often think of proteins forming structures like our muscles, they are involved in one way or another in almost every structure and function in the body, from the formation of DNA to the production of energy, through the creation of neurotransmitters and the supply of white blood cells.

Tryptophan is one of the 20 amino acids used by the human body to make proteins and perform key physiological functions. It is an essential amino acid, which means that the body cannot synthesize it; it should be consumed in the diet. Studies have found that tryptophan is involved in the production of niacin, a B vitamin, and tryptophan can be converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), a molecule used to synthesize serotonin – a neurotransmitter involved in mood and sleep – and melatonin, a hormone involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms and promoting sleep.

How does tryptophan impact sleep?

Studies have shown that increasing levels of tryptophan increases serotonin and melatonin and improve sleep. Since serotonin can reduce anxiety and melatonin can help regulate sleep-wake cycles, tryptophan consumption may promote drowsiness.

Foods rich in tryptophan

Selection of foods in tryptophan.

While turkey may be the poster child for food sources of tryptophan, there are many other foods high in tryptophan. Because tryptophan is an amino acid, most foods high in tryptophan are protein.

  • Milk
  • Poultry
  • Pork
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • groats
  • Tofu and Edamame
  • Eggs
  • Squash and pumpkin seeds
  • Peanut Butter
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lean beef

How Much Tryptophan Do You Need?

The recommended daily intake of tryptophan is 4 mg per kilogram of body weight. For example, a person weighing 85 kg (187 pounds) should aim for 340 mg of tryptophan per day.

Low levels of tryptophan have been linked to depression and bad mood, aggressive behavior, impaired learning and memory, and disturbed sleep. These results are attributed to reduced levels of serotonin and melatonin due to a shortage of 5-HTP. In other words, when tryptophan levels are low, there is not enough tryptophan available to be converted into 5-HTP, which then means that there is not enough serotonin and melatonin. produced.

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