What are the Benefits of Tryptophan?

30/03/2014 Tags: all

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Tryptophan is among the 22 amino acids that can be found in the human body. It is a vital building block for the synthesis of a variety of proteins and also functions as a precursor for many biologically important molecules. It is classed an essential amino acid as it cannot be synthesized by the body, and must be obtained in our diets through protein rich foods such as eggs, fish, soyabeans and cheese. However, the amount of tryptophan in a typical diet is barely enough to meet the body’s basic requirements, let alone provide the many benefits associated with this supplement. Deficiencies in tryptophan have shown to have a wide range of negative consequences, from weight gain, stress and mood disorders, to more serious and life threatening conditions such as pellagra at the extreme end of the scale. Considering these facts, it is no wonder that many people are turning to this dietary supplement to promote higher a higher quality of sleep, improved mood, and better overall health.


How Does Tryptophan Work?

Tryptophan’s primary role in the body is to act as a precursor molecule for a range of important neurotransmitters and hormones. This is particularly relevant in the brain where it contributes to the production of serotonin, a vital neurotransmitter responsible for memory, sleep, appetite and mood to name but a few. Serotonin may then in turn be converted into melatonin that is known to regulate sleep-wake cycles and function as a powerful anti-oxidant.

The body is also known to convert tryptophan into niacin (vitamin B3). This vitamin aids in the catabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, is involved in DNA repair and cell signalling, and can improve cardiovascular health and lower cholesterol.


What are the Benefits of Tryptophan?

One of the main benefits associated with tryptophan concerns its ability to enhance serotonin production. As mentioned earlier, this neurotransmitter has a wide range of applications within the body, and a deficiency of serotonin has been linked to problems with mood such as anxiety and depression. It therefore stands to reason that regulating serotonin levels can help to ease the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, something that can be achieved by supplementing your tryptophan intake. Tryptophan is used by many as a prescription drug and may be a more suitable natural alternative to other antidepressants, some of which come with severe side effects. However, it is also commonly used in conjunction with some types of antidepressant such as tricyclic antidepressants to help better regulate serotonin and mood levels.

Tryptophan is also helpful for weight loss. Individuals that take up weight loss diets often experience food cravings and the urge to binge eat. This is because the calorie deficits and restrictions associated with such diets may cause a drop in serotonin production. Serotonin is a natural appetite suppressant and contributes to feelings of satiety, or fullness. By using Tryptophan to enhance serotonin production, individuals will feel fuller after a meal, and are much less likely to overeat. Additionally, Niacin which is synthesized from tryptophan aids in catabolising fat and carbohydrates, leading to a greater degree of weight loss.

Another benefit of Tryptophan is that it can help improve sleep quality. It is able to do this by maintaining a relatively constant concentration of serotonin in the brain, in addition to providing an adequate amount of melatonin during the night that aids in relaxation and allows you to fall asleep with greater ease. Tryptophan is somewhat different to other precursors of serotonin such as 5-HTP as it is subject to factors that limit its rate of use. When using 5-HTP, there is little control over how elevated serotonin levels become. While this means that 5-HTP may produce more pronounced effects, it can also show more side effects when compared to tryptophan.

Tryptophan has also shown promise for a number of other therapeutic applications. It is believed to reduce inflammation associated with a type of liver diseases known as steatohepatitis. Additionally, it may be effective in negating the mood related symptoms of premenstrual dysphoria disorder, a severe form of premenstrual syndrome. Participants in this study showed a 34.5% reduction in the magnitude of negative moods when compared to a baseline.


Recommended Dosage

Like a majority of other supplements, the recommended dosage can vary greatly between individuals according to your physiology and purpose for taking the supplement. Therefore, it is important that you consult a qualified healthcare professional before using tryptophan. Most adult users, particularly those using it for depression, typically take dosages in the range of 6 to 12g in 3 to 4 equally spaced administrations throughout the day. Those under the age of 18 should consult a doctor for an ideal dosage range.


Potential Side Effects

Although tryptophan does not show any side effects when taken according to the recommended dosage and guidelines, there have been some observed side effects when concerning excessive dosages. This can include dizziness, diarrhoea, dry mouth, confusion, agitation, fever, restlessness, overactive reflexes, twitching, shaking, vomiting and headaches. If such symptoms occur, you are advised to discontinue use of the supplement immediately and begin again on a reduced dosage after symptoms have passed.