Considering the depression as disease caused by chemical imbalance in the brain, we can search for natural supplements taken with food to neutralize the negative impact in our body. One way to increase amount of the useful components is consuming food that contain tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, which helps you relax and can generally improve your mood and treat your insomnia. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, what means it cannot be produced in the body and needs to be taken as a part of the diet or as a dietary supplement.
Tryptophan and Serotonin
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that must be consumed with food, rather than any nonessential amino acid the human body might be able to generate with no relation to the diet. Obtained tryptophan is converted by our body into the chemical 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, which is then converted into melatonin, serotonin, and, very inefficiently, niacin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that facilitates the relay of signals between brain cells. Eating foods containing tryptophan is a way to increase serotonin in your brain naturally, which may have a positive effect not only on your mood and anxiety, but on your sleep, appetite and pain sensation as well.
Tryptophan and Depression
While regular antidepressant drugs help relieve depression by increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain and preventing its depletion, tryptophan allows to increase serotonin levels naturally. Research by Linda Booij and colleagues, reported in 2005 in "The British Journal of Psychiatry," found that acute tryptophan depletion causes a relapse into depression and depressive symptoms, such as lethargy and loss of appetite, in people with remitted depression, highlighting the importance of tryptophan for protection against depressed moods. Women need more tryptophan than men. Research in 1997 from McGill University found that men produce 52 percent more serotonin in their brains than women, with the result that women are more likely than men to suffer from depression unless their tryptophan levels are high.
What is Tryptophan used for (other than depression)?
Tryptophan is used as a natural cure for a variety of conditions, besides depression, such as anxiety, stress, low moods, poor mental health, migraine headaches, insomnia, nervousness, carbohydrate craving and other eating disorders, premenstrual tension, fibromyalgia, excessive alcohol use, other addictive states, aggression, irritability, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette's syndrome and some psychiatric disorders.
Foods Containing Tryptophan
Foods that contain tryptophan include milk, turkey, beef, cottage cheese, oats, soy, bananas, cheese, nuts, sesame seeds and peanut butter. Nuts, in particular almonds, and sesame seeds, can be sprinkled on casseroles, breakfast cereals and salads.
One disadvantage of tryptophan is that our bodies do not always absorb it efficiently, even when foods high in tryptophan, such as almonds and peanut butter, are eaten. Supplements of tryptophan are available at doses that can be readily absorbed by the brain. These supplements must be taken together with vitamin C and B-complex vitamins to support the transformation of tryptophan into serotonin. Like all supplements, tryptophan should be taken only on the recommendation of your doctor.
5HTP (5-hydroxy tryptophan) is considered by many to be more effective than tryptophan for depression. L-Tryptophan (which is the desired form) is converted to 5HTP before becoming serotonin; taking 5HTP bypasses this first step of the process. The effectiveness of 5HTP may be increased with gingko biloba, St. John's Wort, B-complex vitamins with magnesium, tyrosine, flax seed oil, and ginger. Vitamin B6 and folic acid may assist in the conversion to serotonin. An equivalent dose of 5HTP (compared to 1gm of tryptophan) is about 100 mg. Doses of 100mg tid have been used, but it may be best to start at a lower dose and slowly increase as the side-effect of nausea can occur at higher doses. Starting at a lower dose reduces the likelihood of nausea, which usually disappears in less than 2 weeks.
Side effects and precautions
Tryptophan is generally well tolerated, but there is a risk of several side effects (these are usually mild, occurring mostly at the higher doses and fading away by themselves after discontinuing Tryptophan supplementation).
Among possible side effects of Tryptophan are dryness of the mouth, nausea, stomach disturbances and drowsiness.
Make sure you know well your reaction to tryptophan before driving or any other activity demanding high alertness.
Do not take L-tryptophan in combination with other serotonin increasing drugs, such as SSRIs, MAOIs and sedatives, for abnormally high levels of serotonin are no better than its deficiency.
As with any other nutritional supplement, it is advisable to seek medical advice before taking tryptophan, as it may interact with other medications or cause adverse effects.
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