Tryptophan is one of the most amazing nutrients on the planet, yet it’s one so many people don’t know about. The truth is that it offers a lot of health benefits, and it can do wonders to improve your sleep quality, mood, and overall health. Below, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about tryptophan and how it can play a role in your healthy, happy life.
What is Tryptophan?
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is found in a lot of protein-rich foods. It’s not one of the nine essential amino acids required to build muscle, which is one of the reasons it doesn’t get as much attention as the other BCAAs and “Essential” amino acids. However, it is a very important non-essential amino acid, thanks to the fact that it is used to produce a molecule called 5-HTP.
The Importance of 5-HTP
5-HTP is a critical molecule for your health, simply because it is used by your body to produce melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is the “sleep hormone” responsible for regulating your internal sleep/wakefulness functions. An increase of melatonin will make you feel sleepy at night, while a decrease will make you wake up in the morning. Serotonin is another critical hormone that affects your brain, hormones, intestines, sleep habits, mood, and brain function. Thanks to the 5-HTP produced from tryptophan, your body can produce more of these two important chemicals.
How Low Tryptophan Can Lead to Depression
Studies have linked low levels of tryptophan to higher depression rates. This is due to the fact that serotonin (produced as a result of tryptophan) is an important hormone in your brain’s mood regulation. Serotonin is called the “feel good” hormone because it helps to decrease anxiety, improve a sense of wellbeing, and relax you. When your body doesn’t have enough tryptophan to produce serotonin, your anxiety and stress levels increase and you are more likely to suffer from depression.
Tryptophan and Cognitive Function
Tryptophan has also been linked to improved brain function, thanks to its ability to produce serotonin. Studies have discovered that low tryptophan levels can influence parts of your brain negatively, decreasing cognition, long-term memory, and recall. Specifically, your brain’s ability to recall memories from certain events and experiences may be impaired as a result of insufficient tryptophan in your diet. This is due to the decrease in serotonin caused by a lack of tryptophan. Serotonin also influences processes in your brain responsible for learning, so your lack of tryptophan may lead to difficulties with learning.
Low Tryptophan Impairs Sleep
Have you ever noticed that you feel sleepy after a heavy turkey dinner? This is because turkey is rich in tryptophan, and your body converts the amino acid into melatonin. Melatonin is the sleep hormone that helps your body to get drowsy and wake up at the right times. When your body doesn’t have enough of the amino acid (tryptophan) required to produce melatonin, it’s unable to regulate your sleep cycles effectively. You may find yourself struggling to get to sleep or wake up because you’re lacking the critical hormone.
Where to Get More Tryptophan
If you want to get enough of this critical amino acid in your life, the good news is that you can do so just by eating a few more of the right foods. Turkey is the best source of tryptophan, but you can find the chemical in eggs, crab, shrimp, elk, and chicken as well. Your average diet provides around 1 gram of tryptophan per day, but you can increase your tryptophan intake by eating more of the foods above.