Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is one of the amino acids which the body cannot manufacture itself, but most acquire from food. It is the least abundant in proteins and also easily destroyed by the liver. Tryptophan is necessary for the production of the B-vitamin niacin, which is essential for your brain to manufacture the key neurotransmitter serotonin. Scientists have linked low serotonin levels with insomnia, anxiety and depression. It helps control hyperactivity, relieves stress, suppresses the appetite and enhances the release of growth hormones.
More than forty studies have shown the effectiveness of Tryptophan for insomnia. It has been shown to enable people to fall asleep more quickly, and to increase sleep time without the hangover effect of regular sleeping pills. Studies have also found it effective for jet lag. In one study at the University of California School of Medicine, fifty one marines were flown across eight time zones. Half received tryptophan and the other half placebos. Those who got the amino acid were able to sleep more and responded better on performance tests and reaction times.
Other studies show tryptophan to have anti-anxiety effects and control aggressive behavior in some individuals. Used in combination with drug therapy, Tryptophan has helped previously unresponsive depressed patients. Another study showed it’s anti-depressant effect to be of longer duration than the popular anti-depressant drug Imipramine.
Some evidence shows that this amino acid may also be effective for people suffering from chronic pain. Sensitivity to pain is partly affected by the serotonin levels in your brain. People taking Tryptophan in addition to their standard pain medications, reported fewer painful, debilitating symptoms than when they used the pain drugs alone. Tryptophan decreases amphetamine craving in animal studies and it may also have a role in alcohol withdrawal. Preliminary studies of combined Vitamin B-6 and tryptophan show that they may reduce the severity of hyperventilation and the panic attacks it may produce.
The best food sources of Tryptophan are pineapple, turkey, chicken, yogurt, bananas and unripened cheese. Combining these foods with some carbohydrates, such as pasta, cereal or bread etc., will enable your brain to absorb the tryptophan more effectively, where it is used to manufacture serotonin.
Although Tryptophan has a long history of safe use, in December 1989 the FDA reported over 600 cases of a flu-like syndrome associated with a blood abnormality in those taking the amino acid. Although the problem was traced to a contaminated batch, Tryptophan is no longer available in supplement form. Because of potential adverse reactions, tryptophan supplements are not recommended in pregnant women, asthmatics or people with auto-immune disorders like Lupus or Scleroderma.