Tryptophan - ChemicalSafetyFacts.org

Tryptophan

Tryptophan (also known as L-tryptophan), commonly found in foods that are high in protein, is one of the nine essential amino acids for the human body. By supporting nitrogen balance, tryptophan helps create serotonin. Serotonin helps to regulate anxiety, reduce depression, heal wounds and support bone health. Serotonin is produced by nerve cells and is found in the digestive system, blood platelets and throughout the central nervous system.

Uses & Benefits

As an essential amino acid, tryptophan is obtained through diet. Naturally occurring tryptophan helps produce serotonin, which has several health benefits including helping to promote better sleep, providing relief from anxiety and depression, providing increased emotional well-being and also helping to manage pain tolerance.

Tryptophan has natural sedative effects that can help you sleep better and may improve your overall health. Studies have found that tryptophan converts to calming serotonin in the brain and helps make other essential amino acids more available. This, in turn, can help control moods and lower production of stress hormones.

Tryptophan is commonly used to treat insomnia and sleep disorders, however, more research will need to be done to prove tryptophan is safe to use to treat these conditions. 

Tryptophan is naturally occurring in certain foods and is also available as an herbal supplement. However, because there are no regulated manufacturing standards for many herbal supplements, if you buy it, you may want to consider the reliability of the purchase source to minimize the risk of contamination.

Safety Information

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), L-tryptophan supplements can have side effects, with some of the most common being heartburn, stomach pain and nausea. Other adverse side effects of L-tryptophan supplements may include skin rashes, cramping and muscle pain or weakness. It is also recommended that people taking the supplements for the first time should avoid taking them before engaging in an activity that requires mental alertness.

Answering Questions

What are some foods with tryptophan?

Tryptophan is found in foods that are high in protein. Some foods known to contain tryptophan are chicken, turkey, eggs, cheese and chocolate. 

Is tryptophan the cause of drowsiness after eating turkey?

Turkey does not contain more tryptophan than other types of meat. The drowsiness experienced after your Thanksgiving meal is unlikely to result from the tryptophan in the turkey meat. The cause is more likely the large amounts of food consumed.

Is tryptophan safe?

Tryptophan that is consumed through food, whether naturally occurring or as a food additive is generally safe according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tryptophan supplements can have minor side effects such as cramping and muscle pain, or more severe side effects according to the Mayo Clinic.