In this article we are going to talk about tryptophan. What is it exactly? What functions does it have in our body? How much do we need and what are the consequences if you consume too little? And what should you eat to get enough tryptophan? Finally, we are going to look at the difference between 5-HTP and tryptophan.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. Amino acids are chemical units, often referred to as the “building blocks” of proteins. All proteins are made of amino acids. The proteins in your body are made of twenty types of amino acids. Nine of these are “essential”. A substance is called essential when our body cannot make such a substance itself. We cannot make tryptophan ourselves. It must come with food.
Functions of tryptophan
The main function of tryptophan in the human body is as a component of protein.
Next, tryptophan is responsible for the synthesis of kynurenine. This substance has only been actively studied by scientists for several years. Disruptions of kynurenine metabolism can lead to accumulation of kynurenine in the brain, and this is strongly associated with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and with schizophrenia.
What has been known for a long time is that tryptophan is used by the brain to make the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is involved in many psychiatric disorders. Serotonin transfers nerve impulses from one cell to another. Tryptophan and serotonin synthesis is a subject of intense research.
As I said, tryptophan is important for the production of serotonin. And serotonin produces melatonin. That is a substance that regulates the day-night rhythm in humans. Therefore, tryptophan is believed not only to help treat depression and anxiety, but also to solve sleep problems.
Tryptophan is also important for the production of vitamin B3 (also known as niacin). Vitamin B3 is important for energy supply. In other words, vitamin B3 is used for breaking down food into energy units that human body uses for all its functions.
How much tryptophan do we need?
The recommended daily amount of tryptophan for adults is estimated to be 250 – 425 mg/day.
Consuming too few calories, dieting, excessive exercise and any kind of inflammation of the gut or liver damage can all lead to less optimal absorption of tryptophan. This in turn leads to a possible deficiency of this amino acid. If you eat enough calories in general, vary your intake of proteins and don’t suffer from gut or liver disease, chances are you’re getting enough tryptophan. However, you may benefit from trying to increase your tryptophan intake if you have signs of moodiness, irritability, fatigue, or trouble sleeping.
Foods high in tryptophan. The best (vegetarian) sources of tryptophan
Contrary to popular belief, turkey and other animals are not the best sources of tryptophan. Chocolate doesn’t contain very much tryptophan either, although that’s often said too.
The following commonly used vegetarian foods are top sources of tryptophan (data comes from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Data Central). The amount of tryptophan is stated per serving:
- 100g soybeans: 600mg tryptophan;
- 100g tofu: 235mg tryptophan;
- 100 g lentils: 220 mg tryptophan;
- 30 g pumpkin seeds: 190 mg tryptophan;
- 30 g sunflower seeds: 115 mg tryptophan;
- 30g Parmesan: 180mg tryptophan;
- 30g Mozzarella: 160mg tryptophan;
- 30g Cheddar: 160mg tryptophan;
- 30g sesame seeds: 130mg tryptophan;
- 30g chia Seeds: 125mg tryptophan.
How is 5-HTP related to Tryptophan?
5-HTP, which stands for 5-hydroxytryptophan, is made in our body from tryptophan and is a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin. We can get tryptophan through food, but we cannot get 5-HTP. However, you can take 5-HTP supplements. The idea is that taking 5-HTP increases the production of serotonin. Therefore, 5-HTP can have positive effects on a person’s mood, energy level, motivation, appetite, sleep and nervous system functioning. The results of scientific research on 5-HTP are just not consistent. But many people claim that 5-HTP helps them sleep better, have a better mood, and experience less anxiety.
5-HTP is extracted from Griffonia plant.
While this supplement is generally safe, side effects can occur. Stomach and muscle pain are the most common complaints.
A warning: 5-HTP should never be taken with antidepressants or sleeping pills!