Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays many key roles in the body. It acts as a natural mood regulator since it has the ability to help the body produce and balance certain hormones. Tryptophan is for example needed for the formation of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and that has antioxidant properties. In the body, tryptophan gets partially converted to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, and mood. It therefore plays an important neurological and physiological role.
Tryptophan deficiency can cause many physical and mental side effects. Low tryptophan levels have been associated with suppressed amounts of serotonin, melatonin, niacin and other important molecules. Moreover, increased pain sensitivity, acoustic startle and aggressive behaviors have been linked to low levels of this amino acid. Deficiency is often related to poor wake and sleep states and to an increase in anxiety and irritability.
That being said, an excess of tryptophan supplement can also cause some harmful side effects such as heartburn, stomach pain, gas, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. It can also cause headaches, lightheadedness, drowsiness, dry mouth, visual blurring, muscle weakness and sexual problems.
In sports, tryptophan may help improve physical performance and fight fatigue. It has been used by competitive athletes for many years since it is known to lower performance anxiety and help people stay motivated to reach their goals.
It is well established that without enough essential amino acids in our diets, tryptophan included, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Tryptophan, along with all of the other essential amino acids, helps the body produce the nonessential amino acids and together they play a crucial role in our overall health, quality of sleep and energy levels.
There are numerous ways to consume tryptophan and to benefit from it. Some of the best tryptophan foods include soybeans, seafood (e.g. whelk, cuttlefish, clam, octopus, crab, shrimp), fish (e.g. tuna, salmon), poultry, eggs, soy products (e.g. tofu, tempeh), dairy products (e.g. cheese), pumpkin seeds, almonds, brown rice, bananas and spirulina.
In conclusion, our tryptophan levels impact many aspects of our mental and physical health. In order to make sure that your tryptophan levels are balanced and steady, make sure to test your levels and to evaluate how you can make the right changes to rebalance your body and mind.