The holidays mark a special time where people come together to celebrate. Frequently these gatherings involve impressive amounts of food that leave each person feeling like they need to sleep for the next couple of days.
Tryptophan is a common element among many holiday dishes, such as turkey, that promotes a variety of healthy bodily functions, one of which being greater sleep quality. Even though tryptophan is recognized by many as the chemical in turkey that makes a person sleepy, it has much more to offer than just nice a nap after meals.
What is Tryptophan
Tryptophan or L-tryptophan is one of many essential amino acids needed for good health and proper bodily function. Amino acids are used to create the various proteins needed by the body. They are also used to create other non-essential amino acids that support various areas such as sleep, mood regulation, sexual ability, and mental wellness. Because tryptophan is a naturally occurring element found in many common foods, it is more easily absorbed and utilized by the body than many other supplements or medications that attempt to treat the same areas. In addition to the general benefits associated with being an amino acid, tryptophan influences the body through other methods as well.
How Does Tryptophan Work?
Tryptophan influences mood and health in multiple ways. One of its methods is through the production of the neurotransmitter known as serotonin. This hormone is associated with a better sense of well-being, improved mood, and calming sensations. Tryptophan promotes the release of serotonin by producing a substance known as 5-hydroxytryptophan or 5HTP. When 5HTP interacts with the brain and central nervous system, it promotes the release of serotonin, thereby improving the neurological wellness of the individual.
Unfortunately, before tryptophan is able to effectively convert into serotonin it must reach the brain by passing through the blood-brain barrier. There are at least nine different essential amino acids competing to enter the brain meaning that the one most prevalent in the blood is more likely to succeed. By increasing the intake of tryptophan, you increase its likelihood of reaching the brain and releasing the feel-good hormone that is serotonin.
Additionally, by eating tryptophan-rich foods with a carbohydrate further increases the likelihood it will reach the brain. This is because consuming carbohydrates triggers the production of insulin, which reduces the presence of amino acids excluding tryptophan.
Big Benefits of Tryptophan
Tryptophan provides many benefits that impact overall health. This amino acid influences multiple portions of the body resulting in improvement of bodily function in various areas. The following benefits are only some of the reasons tryptophan should find a place among this year’s holiday feasting.
Improved Sleep Quality
Sleep is a critical component of overall health. As a natural sedative, tryptophan supports greater sleep quality and may even reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep. Tryptophan helps combat common ailments such as sleep apnea and insomnia that can contribute to heightened stress levels, depression, muscle aches, and more. Increasing your intake of tryptophan through the diet may provide greater sleep quality but some studies have shown that supplementing with L-tryptophan may improve sleep further by decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep, decreasing teeth grinding, and improving mood the morning after.
Tryptophan also supports sleep by improving melatonin levels. Serotonin, whose levels increase with a greater prevalence of tryptophan, is converted into melatonin, which regulates your sleep cycle. Melatonin levels are typically dictated by your level of light exposure. If you are out in the sun during the day, your melatonin levels reduce, and as you remain in darkness melatonin increases. Elevated melatonin levels caused by darkness or higher tryptophan levels promote better sleep quality and regularity.
Boosts Mental Health
The calming qualities of serotonin can be increased significantly with higher levels of tryptophan. After reaching the brain, tryptophan is converted into serotonin and a supporting cast of other elements that promote the availability of other essential amino acids. This chain reaction of mood-boosting events can help protect against powerful mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and symptoms of chronic stress.
Supports Weight Loss
Tryptophan helps manage cravings and promotes mental calmness allowing one to better combat stress-eating. The boosted serotonin levels provided by tryptophan also improves metabolic function allowing for more optimized calorie usage.
Tryptophan also impacts weight management because it is a key component of Vitamin B3 or niacin. Studies have shown that those with reduced tryptophan levels generally have lower levels of Vitamin B3. This is a problem as niacin supports metabolic function and conversion of macronutrients into usable energy. Although tryptophan is an important element of niacin production, there must also be adequate amounts of Vitamin B6 and Iron present to create the metabolic boosting B3.
Where to Get Tryptophan
Tryptophan is a naturally occurring element that can be found in many common foods. Amino acids are found in proteins and if you are intent on increasing your intake of tryptophan, you should strive to get 20-30 grams of protein in each meal.
Furthermore, the types of protein should be varied in order to get the most value out of different essential amino acids.
The following foods are easy to find and provide an exceptional amount of tryptophan:
- Pasture-raised poultry
- Sesame seeds, cashews, and walnuts
- Whole grain oats, brown rice, quinoa, and corn
- Beans or legumes
- Egg whites
- Wild fish
- Organic and raw dairy products
- Grass-fed beef and lamb
Many of these foods can be easily incorporated into your daily diet in addition to holiday meals.
Taking in the Tryptophan
Tryptophan’s all-natural qualities make it an exceptionally effective way to improve various aspects of your health including sleep quality, mental health, and weight management. Because this helpful amino acid is found in many easily acquired foods it should not be challenging to increase your intake during the holiday season.
Share better health and a good nap with friends and family this holiday season by enjoying some tryptophan-rich dishes!