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Did you say Thanksgiving? I’ll say Tryptophan!

Why is it that the most Turkey related of all American traditions has become so intimately intertwined with such an obscure amino acid? Every year it seems that more and more people refer to Thanksgiving in a tryptophanian way, meaning that as soon as the celebration is mentioned, tryptophan is mentioned. According to Wikipedia trytophan is,

tryptophan is an essential amino acid.
This means that it cannot be synthesized by the organism and therefore
must be part of its diet. Amino acids function as building blocks in protein biosynthesis.

Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin (a neurotransmitter), melatonin (a neurohormone), and niacin. The functional group of tryptophan is indole; see that article for more on its chemical properties.

5-HTP, a form of tryptophan,
has been indicated as an aid for epilepsy and depression. It has never
been marketed in America for this purpose. The Italian ministry of
Health revised Trip-OH’s use as a drug. It is now used as an aid in
post-partum depression.

But with the technical matter aside, why is it that certain people love to throw out statements involving this essential seratonin building block? Perhaps its because of the continual myth that tryptophan makes you sleepy, according to “How Stuff Works”,


But nutritionists and other experts say that the tryptophan in turkey probably won’t trigger the body to produce more serotonin because tryptophan works best on an empty stomach. The tryptophan in a Thanksgiving turkey has to vie with all the other amino acids that the body is trying to use. So only part of the tryptophan makes it to the brain to help produce serotonin.

So in reality, tryptophan does not bring about a bout of tiredness… the sleepiness you feel after your feeding frenzy is really just good old-fashioned post-prandiel lethargy, in other words, the tiredness caused by having a full stomach. As your body works to digest the carb-heavy meal you’ve just ingested (i.e. mashed potatoes) you lose some of the alertness you normally have as your bodies energies are focused on digestion. Yet no matter what the reality behind this protein builder may be, I’m sure next year even more people will make reference to the essential amino acid through the middle weeks of November.

If you squint a whole lot, this C11H12N2O2 (tryptophan) molecule kind of looks like a turkey on the slaughter block

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One Response

  1. 100% true! It is one of the mantras in the migraineurs diet as well. The tryptophan which is a basic building block for the all important serotonin, is also a pain relieving agent. Since migraineurs are deficient in tryptophan levels, they are high on pain sensitivity. Low tryptophan means low on serotonin – this explains panic attacks, anxiety, sleep disturbances in days before the migraines.
    I have taken this up in detail, in my book , ‘Migraines For The Informed Woman’.
    My blog:http://www.migrainingjenny.wordpress.com

    Thank You and Best Regards



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