Tryptophan – All you need to know!

Tryptophan – All you need to know!

Tryptophan or L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that favors a good mood and helps the body to produce certain hormones in a natural way. Those foods that are rich in tryptophan or tryptophan dietary supplement provide relaxation, favor a restful sleep, and reduce the anxiety and depression.

What is tryptophan?

Tryptophan or L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means that our body is unable to synthesize it, which is why we need to supply it through the diet.

As it happens with the rest of amino acids, it is involved in tasks related to the synthesis of proteins, the regeneration of tissues, and the maintenance and development of the muscle mass.

However, it has a series of properties that are different from the rest: it works as a mood regulator, since it can help the organism with the production of certain hormones and neurotransmitters.

Tryptophan is a precursor of Serotonin, the hormone of wellbeing.

Unfortunately, many people still ignore the benefits of tryptophan. Here, we will inform you about the important effects of this essential amino acid.

When we take tryptophan, the organism transforms it into serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter in charge of controlling the mood. This is why the objective of a great amount of medicines that are meant to treat anxiety and depression is to protect the brain from the breakdown of serotonin, which affects mood directly. This means that an extra dose of serotonin improves the state of mind.[1]

Moreover, tryptophan also provides a restful and healthy sleep. Once the body transforms tryptophan into serotonin, a new neurotransmitter is formed, which is called melatonin. This process takes place in the photosensitive pineal gland, which is found inside the brain. Melatonin has many benefits, but it is mostly known for its ability to favor a deep sleep and to improve the sleep patterns.[2]

Our Second Brain: the Intestine

There is what is known as the “Brain-Intestine Axis” which is a bidirectional communication system that connects the nervous and gastrointestinal system. Serotonin is a common nexus between said systems. Serotonin is produced by the endocrine cells and it acts as a paracrine hormone which is attached to the platelets and transported through the blood.

Its function as a hormone is to link the two extremes of the brain-intestine axis, as well as having systemic effects such as the bone density and the metabolism. Around 95% is found in the intestinal system.

Here lies its importance of preserving the intestinal or macrobiotic flora in perfect conditions.

Metabolic pathway of Tryptophan

When our body absorbs tryptophan, it is transformed into 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), and later on into serotonin. This would be the metabolic pathway that tryptophan follows in our organism and through which we can observe its value. The changes in the serotonin levels, which sends signals between nerve cells, condition our behavior when we refer to the emotional aspect of our lives.

We tell you what is 5-HTP and how to get nutritional supplements that are rich in 5-hydroxytryptophan for our organism.

The pathway would be completed by obtaining the melatonin from the serotonin.

Therefore, as we have mentioned at the beginning, we must try to provide the most feasible sources of this amino acid in order to avoid a possible tryptophan deficit.

Kynurenine pathway

There is another way to obtain serotonin, which is known as the kynurenine pathway, which is the one that affects those people with intestinal problems, such as the leaky gut syndrome. This route reflects low levels of serotonin and melatonin, which potentially cause depressive symptoms or insomnia. In this procedure, the body transforms vitamin B3 or niacin through a process that is encouraged by the IDO enzyme.

Natural Sources of Tryptophan

Spinach (594mg)Soy (575mg)Tuna (335mg)Oat flakes (335mg)Eggs (167mg)
Pumpkin Seeds (576mg)Cheese (571mg)Chicken/Turkey (404mg)Crab (330mg)Lentils (115mg)

Tryptophan content per 100g

Which foods contain tryptophan?

Since it was launched in 2003, the website “Nutrition Data” has become one of the main webs about nutrition. Its objective is to provide nutritional information for the general public in a complete and impartial way. This website publishes information that comes from the National Nutrient Database of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as from informational leaflets from tested products.

The nutrient database lists the main food sources of tryptophan. The experts on nutrition have listed the following foods as the ones that provides more tryptophan: (in tryptophan milligrams per 200 calories):

  • Bush meat (746 mg)
  • Raw Spirulina algae (739 mg)
  • Soy protein isolate (695 mg)
  • Crunchy chicken powder (673 mg)
  • Sesame flour low in fat (659 mg)
  • Dry spirulina algae (641 mg)
  • Raw crab (607 mg)
  • Soy sauce (603 mg)
  • Chopped spinach (594 mg)
  • Atlantic halibut cooked with skin (593 mg)[33]

Even though these food sources are very rich in tryptophan, many of them also have other amino acids that could compete against tryptophan in its absorption. As we will see later on, clinical studies have proven that foods that are low in proteins and rich in carbohydrates improve the intake of tryptophan.

For this, the best way to increase the levels of tryptophan is to take a high quality tryptophan supplement.

How much tryptophan does a banana have?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is found in many dietary sources of high protein content. Bananas also have tryptophan. Tryptophan improves the mood and favors a healthy sleep in higher doses than what we normally find in foods.

Many people wonder which is the best way of taking L-Tryptophan to improve the quality of sleep, the main questions are how much and when should we take it. Moreover, we will investigate the myth of how bananas encourage sleep.

Bananas are awesome in many ways! They are not only useful for the strongest animal on the Earth, gorillas. The only problem problem is that bananas have relatively low amounts of tryptophan and we would have to eat a lot of bananas to achieve the effects of tryptophan.

According to the National Nutrient Database from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a banana has around 0.011 grams of tryptophan.[34]

According to this, we would have to eat at least 10 bananas a die in order to exceed 1 gram of tryptophan. However, bananas are an excellent food because they are rich in magnesium and potassium, which are two very important minerals for our health, which is why we should consume them frequently.

Tryptophan is an important mineral that is used to build proteins and which is transformed in several substances in the body. Tryptophan is found in foods that are rich in proteins and in bananas.

It is advisable to take approximately from 500mg to 1000mg of tryptophan in different servings throughout the day. This prevents the negative effects of a single high dose, and it will help to increase the levels of melatonin and to have a restful sleep.

Tryptophan Supplements

After seeing the main sources of tryptophan, it is also important to know that there is a possibility of finding this amino acid as supplements, which are a very comfortable way to use it for those cases that we are going to see now, since it will be easier to meet the necessary doses.

What are the uses of Tryptophan?

Including foods that are rich in tryptophan or tryptophan supplements can contribute to its calming effects, inducing a deeper sleep, improving night rest, fighting anxiety, and even coping with daily stress, apart from helping to control the appetite and, therefore, weight.

Thanks to its intake, the brain can release a certain type of substances that regulate positively the behavior of a person.

Tryptophan encourages a state of calm

Tryptophan can take us back to a calmed state…

Benefits and Properties of tryptophan

The main effects of tryptophan have been amply studied and its benefits for health are popularly known. We want to highlight the following properties:

  • Good mood:

Clinical studies have proven that tryptophan supplements encourage a positive state of mind and increase a good mood.[3]

  • It improves cognition:

The research has also proven that tryptophan improves the memory.[4]

  • Quality of sleep:

Several studies have proven that tryptophan has a positive effect on sleep by shortening the time we take to fall asleep and by prolonging the REM phase.[5]

Tryptophan favors a Healthy sleep

The maintenance of the healthy sleep cycles are a serious challenge for many people, and the healthy production of serotonin can be an important element. Tryptophan is transformed into serotonin (a neurotransmitter that promotes happiness and wellness), which it helps to encourage relaxation and, naturally, it supports the healthy sleep cycles.

Without enough serotonin, the body cannot produce melatonin, which regulates the sleep cycles, and it can lead to insomnia and waking up frequently during the night.

One of the most important benefits of tryptophan for health, which has been studied in depth, consists on the fact that it is capable of fixing sleep disorders. The clinical studies have proven that tryptophan improves the duration and quality of sleep.

A clinical study was published in 1986 about the use of tryptophan as a therapeutic supplement to treat insomnia. The authors came to the conclusion that a dose of tryptophan, between 1 and 15 grams, can induce sleep.

In the case of sleep chronic disorders you can use a lower dose repeatedly in order to improve the quality of sleep. One of the benefits of tryptophan consists on the fact that it lacks side effects and it does not create addiction, even if it is consumed during a prolonged period of time.[9]

One of the most important aspects of tryptophan to improve sleep consists on the fact that it increases the levels of melatonin. Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone”. Tryptophan is transformed into serotonin when it enters the organism. Then, the excess of serotonin is transformed into melatonin, which regulates the day/night cycle and other aspects of the pineal gland.[10]

Even the lowest doses of tryptophan, which we normally consume through our daily diet, help to improve the quality of sleep. A study carried out in 1979 found out that we just need a gram of tryptophan to improve the duration of the sleep. Even a reduced dose, 250mg, already has a positive effect in the deep-sleep face.[11]

The scientists have suggested that the use of tryptophan can improve the symptoms of sleep apnea. It was proven in a study with subjects that suffered obstructive sleep apnea, that their breathing significantly improved in those patients that took just 2.5 of tryptophan before going to bed (however, the subjects with central sleep apnea did not experience these effects). The use of tryptophan also produced a prolongation of the REM phase and a reduction of REM latency in all the subjects.[12]

How much tryptophan is necessary to sleep better?

The organism must transform tryptophan into serotonin before producing melatonin, which is the one that helps to improve sleep.[13] This means that the body uses most of the tryptophan supply to improve the mood. When we take higher doses, the serotonin excess starts to transform into melatonin. Therefore, a slightly higher dose of tryptophan is the best choice to improve the sleep.[14]

Tryptophan helps to improve the quality of sleep, but it it needs to become serotonin when it reaches the liver in order for this to happen. Tryptophan needs to overcome the brain-blood barrier to develop its effects and improve the mood.

If we consume too much tryptophan in one sitting, there is a possibility that not all the amount that is ingested goes through the blood-brain barrier, and the excess will become serotonin in the liver.

This can lead to undesired side effects, such as stomach discomfort.

Therefore, it is advisable to take an amount that goes from 500 mg to 1000 mg daily, divided in 3 different serving throughout the day. It is advisable not to exceed the maximum daily dose from 3000 to 5000mg.[15] The intake of 3 grams is more than enough to improve the mood. It is advisable to take the tryptophan just before going to sleep in order to improve the quality of sleep.

Improve the Mood

It has been well documented that the healthy levels of serotonin and tryptophan are associated to a stable mood. There are many researchers who believe that an imbalance of the serotonin levels can negatively affect the mood to the point that it can trigger a depression, problems to control wrath, a obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, panic, and other emotional problems.

Low levels of serotonin have also been related to an increase of the appetite due to the carbohydrates and sleep problems, which also increases the risk of suffering a depression and other problems related to emotional wellbeing. There are studies that reflect the use of this type of serotonin precursors to treat the attention deficit.

A group of scientists published in 2016 a report in depth about the way in which tryptophan and serotonin affect the mood and perception. The report was published in the scientific journal “Nutrients”, which is famous for its research on nutrition.

According to this study, a tryptophan deficiency has different effects on the mood. Just like tryptophan affects the cognition, it also influences the state of mind of people. Its effects can vary according to the personal or family antecedents about depression or anxiety disorders.
However, what has been truly proven is that the higher the tryptophan levels, the better the mood. Moreover, those who had been diagnosed with depression tend to undergo more mood swings that are related to the tryptophan levels.[6]

Another study that was published in 2015, carried on 59 healthy adult women, it was found out that taking tryptophan supplements daily (0.5 grams, twice a day) helps to improve the mood and the way we process our emotions. The experiment lasted 19 days and it was also discovered that the intake of tryptophan supplements one hour before going to sleep improve the mood, the intellectual ability, and the happiness of the participants.[7]

Tryptophan supplements also improve the sleep patterns. The researchers think that this is another reason why tryptophan increases the mood. The effects of the quality of sleep directly affect the mood, which is why the duration and quality of sleep is important to keep a good mood.[8]

Cognitive Support

The brain does not work properly without an optimal and effective support. If we have to perform a cognitive task (studying, meeting, elaborating a project…) after having a “bad night”, we will find ourselves with a clouded mind, and we will probably have difficulties to perform what is being expected from us.

Tryptophan provides cognitive support

This can be due to low levels of tryptophan, which is why it would be quite important to recharge them in order to improve our cognitive performance.

Tryptophan enhances the memory

Tryptophan plays a complex role in the cognitive performance. First of all, tryptophan is the chemical precursor of serotonin (5-HTP). The body transforms tryptophan into serotonin through a process that is developed in several steps by using the enzymes called “tryptophan hydroxylase” and “aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase”.[16]

The role of serotonin in cognition has been studied in depth and it has been deciphered almost completely. Now we now that low serotonin levels are related to the deterioration of the cognitive performance, which specially affects the memory. Moreover, the researchers have set to investigate the serotonin receptors in order to improve the cognitive capacity in depression and Alzheimer.[17]

Even though the relation between serotonin, tryptophan, and cognition has not been completely deciphered yet, the clinical studies have proven that tryptophan has beneficial effects for cognitive performance.

A clinical study carried out in 2003 found out that a tryptophan deficiency affects the memory and interferes in the ability to solve problems of people that have been diagnosed with a bipolar disorders and those who have a family history of depression.[18]

In a clinical study carried out in 2006, the researchers found out that tryptophan supplement have a positive effect when it comes to processing emotional responses. Strictly speaking, tryptophan improved the mood and encouraged a more positive attitude. However, these results were valid for the women who participated in the study, but not for the men.[19]

In spite of this, we can say with certainty that tryptophan plays a complex role in the human cognitive performance. We still need to carry out more studies in order to understand its effects completely.

Up until now, it has been proven that tryptophan supplements have a positive influence on the memory.[20]

Appetite Control

Maintaining a healthy production of serotonin can help to avoid anxiety attacks and cravings, which will helps us to avoid eating excessively. Going on a diet can be a torture for many people, since they have to stop eating certain foods that are rich in fats, with too much salt or sugars, and avoid eating between meals can be extremely difficult as well.

It is very important to be in a good mood in order to face the cravings for these type of foods, otherwise we will fall into the temptation.

The relation between tryptophan and weight loss

The role of tryptophan in weight loss has not been adequately studied, and the research studies provide contradictory results. Apparently, tryptophan does not reduce the weight directly. A study published in the “Journal of Studies of Obesity” in 1985 called: “Tryptophan does not contribute to weight loss in obese subjects with carbohydrates cravings” reached the following conclusion:

Tryptophan dietary supplementation does not significantly increase weight loss in obese subjects. Even though the results were not statistically significant, eight of the subjects that completed the study experienced a slight decrease of overall body weight when compared to those that were given a placebo. The average loss during six weeks was of 1.1kg for the participants that took the placebo, while the participants that were given tryptophan lost 2.3 kg.[31]

One of the main reasons why researchers think that serotonin receptors lead to weight loss lies on the fact that it contributes to block the craving for carbohydrates. Up until now, we only knew that serotonin plays a complex role in appetite control.

For example, eating a food that is rich in carbs a with a relatively low protein content, like a food that is rich in vegetables, starch, and fruits, will allow the body to produce the necessary proteins to transport the tryptophan to the brain. This can produce serotonin at the same time, which helps to control the appetite.

However, a food that is rich in proteins and low in carbs provides the body with a variety of amino acids that compete with tryptophan. As a result, the amount of tryptophan that is transported to the brain is less and less serotonin is produced as a result.[32]

This illustrates how important the role of tryptophan is to control the appetite due to its relation with serotonin.

To sum up, tryptophan is a great nutritional supplement with a variety of benefits for health that have been scientifically proven. The most important one is tat it has a positive effect on the mood and perception. These effects are much more pronounced in women and those with a family history of emotional disorders.

The studies have also proven that tryptophan helps to control the stress and it improves the quality of sleep. The effect of tryptophan on sleep is still underestimated, even though there are several studies that back up its beneficial effects.

The ability of tryptophan to improve the physical performance through the serotonin system is even less known. This is due to the fact that it improves the neuronal transmission, which helps to increase the resistance.

Even the direct effects of tryptophan supplements on body weight have not been fully tested, we do know about its properties to regulate the stress, mood, cognitive performance, sleep patterns, and physical performance, which are factors that indirectly help to lose weight.

Even less known yet is the ability of tryptophan to improve physical performance through the serotonin system. This is due to the fact that it improves the neuronal transmission, which helps to increase the resistance.

Although the direct effects of tryptophan supplement on body weight have not been completely tested, what we know is that it has properties to regulate the stress, the state of mind, cognitive performance, sleep patterns, and physical performance, which are factors that indirectly help to reduce body weight.

The L-tryptophan supplements are an excellent way to improve the state of mind and to favor a healthy sleep.

Tryptophan improves the sport performance

One of the less known properties of tryptophan is that it increases the physical and sport performance. Even though this benefit has been studied in depth in the last decades, only a few have known how to take advantage of it.

In 1988, researchers of the “International Journal of Sports Medicine” published a study about the effects of tryptophan on sport performance. Twelve healthy volunteers participated in the study. They had to run until they were exhausted in order to measure several factors.

In this study, the researchers were able to test that those participants who took tryptophan resisted a 49.4% more than the group who took the placebo. None of the physiological values, like the heartbeat, the maximum consumption of oxygen, or the pulse recovery rate were affected by the intake of tryptophan [25]

A second study published in 2015 by the “International Journal of Neuroscience” obtained similar results. Twelve healthy athletes performed a 20 minutes at a 50% of their physical performance on a ergometric bicycle. Each participant completed two rounds in a double blind and random way, so that they were given tryptophan in one and a placebo in the other. The results showed that the average distance in the last 20 minutes was 12.000 meters with the placebo, while the ones that consumed tryptophan ran almost 12.600 meters, which was a statistically significant improvement.[26]

There are theories that support that the ability of tryptophan to improve physical performance is due to the fact that people cease the physical activity, not due to muscle fatigue, but rather due to the perceived effort and a lack of neuronal impulse. It seems that the serotonin derived from tryptophan positively improves the neuronal impulse and, consequently, it increases physical performance during the exercise.[27]

The effects of tryptophan on the organism

Why Take L-Tryptophan?

Tryptophan reduces stress

Generally, the lifestyle that most of the people follow every day promotes an substantial increase of stress. The fact that we are unable to “disconnect” from our tasks can generate a negative and alarming situation if it is prolonged in time.

Many people take tryptophan to reduce the stress. This is due to the fact that a good mood will also reduce the stress.

Clinical studies have examined the effects of tryptophan in the perception of stress, both in humans and animals. The results are promising. In 1985, the first studies on the matter were published. The researchers examined the effects of tryptophan supplements on ten patients with diverse types of anxiety. The result was a significant reduction of the anxiety in all the patients.[21]

However, in this study, tryptophan was used along with a chemical agent that reduces the activity of the decarboxylase dopamine (which theoretically improves the activity of tryptophan).

In another study published in 1986 the effects of tryptophan on women with postpartum depression who generally had lower tryptophan levels and a higher cortisol level than those women who did not suffer postpartum depression.[22]

A study published in 2014 analyzed the effects of a diet rich in tryptophan on the anxiety induced by the stress of people who suffered from chronic alcoholism. It was proven that those who were “compulsive drinkers” who followed diet rich in tryptophan reduce their desire of drinking alcohol when compared to those who received a control diet. The researchers concluded that this was due to the fact that tryptophan reduces the response to stress.[23]

Surprisingly, those people who did not drink compulsively did exactly the opposite thing with a diet rich in tryptophan: they felt a higher craving for a drink with alcohol. Even though the researchers did not detect an increase of stress, the result showed how tryptophan had different effects depending on the type of behavior.

Based on this, the scientists reached the conclusion that the individual responses of each person to tryptophan were genetically predetermined. For example, a study carried out in 2015 found out that the variations in the 5-HTTLPR genotype produced different responses to stress after taking tryptophan supplements.[24]

Increase of Serotonin

A deficit will hinder our psychological and physical performance and, of course, it will be reflected in our state of mind. In fact, as we have seen, it is responsible for our serotonin levels, and low levels can produce important problems, such as depression.

The levels of serotonin can be increased by taking tryptophan or L-tryptophan.

Serotonin acts as a modulator of the functioning of other neurotransmitters, such as noradrenaline or dopamine (which are related to problems like anxiety, fear, or aggressiveness).

  • Blocks aggressiveness and anger.
  • Controls the appetite (satiety) and helps to sleep.
  • Intervenes in the regulation of the temperature of the body.
  • Intervenes in the regulation of the state of mind.
  • Influences in the sexual response.
  • Inhibits vomiting.
  • Intervenes in the control of the motor, cognitive, and perceptive activity.
  • Intervenes in the regulation of hormones (like the growth hormone for example).

It is evident that the body can only absorb a limited daily amount, as it happens with any other dietary supplement. Please, consult with your doctor in order to know the exact amount that you need.

Tryptophan reduces the anxiety and depression

Several tests have been performed with tryptophan in people several neurological disorders, like anxiety, depression, or panic, due to the essential role that serotonin plays in the human psyche and in the function of the brain.

A clinical study carried out in 2008 and published in the “International Journal of Tryptophan Research” checked all the data that had been published about the use of tryptophan for panic disorders. The authors concluded that many of these studies have helped to understand the functioning of serotonin. However, the way in which tryptophan works is quite complex.

This is due to the fact that tryptophan works in a different way for each person, depending on their particular genes. Moreover, tryptophan works in a different way in men and women.

Surprisingly, this difference reflects the chance of suffering a panic disorders since women have double chances of suffering this disorder than men do.[28]

In 2002, there was a revision of 108 individual studies that were published previously about the effects of tryptophan on depression. All these studies proved that both tryptophan and 5-HTP reduced the symptoms of depression.[29]

In 2016, a new research line of studies was published about the effects of tryptophan on depression. The authors found evidence that depression is related to a biochemical change in the metabolism of tryptophan. For example, instead of becoming serotonin, the tryptophan transforms into neurotoxins, such as quinolinic acid.

The reason why this happens is probably due to an increase in stress hormones, inflammations, and a simultaneous lack of vital substances like vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Due to the lack of nutrients, tryptophan cannot be transformed into serotonin and melatonin.[30]

In order to make sure that tryptophan can develop all its effects, it is crucial to combine it with a good multivitamin or with a specially formulated vital substance.

Recommended dose of tryptophan

In the case of tryptophan, each person will a very different dose. The requirements of this element will be greatly influenced by individual factors, such as age, weight, physical state, exercise, diet, stress, and health.

In general, tryptophan cannot be correctly supplied through food, which is why it is advisable to take it as a dietary supplement, through tablets or capsules that also avoid the digestive process and which are directly absorbed.

Healthy adults consume from 4 to 6 milligrams per kilo of body weight of tryptophan daily through the food. However, factors such as chronic stress, the diet, a lack of exercise, or any inflammatory bowel disease or hepatic damage can hinder the absorption of tryptophan by the organism, which can lead to a deficiency.

If you experience mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and sleep disorders, you may probably need to take tryptophan.

The Health Department of the University of Michigan advises, as a guideline, the following dose of L-tryptophan:[40]

  • To combat insomnia: from 1000 to 2000 mg (in low doses just before you go to sleep and in higher doses during the day)
  • To combat chronic pain or migraines: from 2000 to 4000 mg distributed throughout the day
  • To treat the PMS or PMDD: from 2000 to 4000 mg distributed throughout the day
  • To relieve depression or anxiety: from 2000 to 6000 mg distributed throughout the day
  • To reduce the appetite and cravings: 500 to 2000 mg distributed throughout the day
  • If you take more than 1000 mg (2 capsules) per day, you will have to take it in the following way: A little amount in the morning, a little more in the afternoon, and the highest dose in the evening or at night. In this way, you will achieve a better effect and a better distribution of the melatonin and serotonin throughout the day.

The clinical studies advise not to take more than 6000 mg (6 grams) of tryptophan in a single dose to improve the mood and cognition.[41] Overall, tryptophan is regarded as a safe dietary supplement.

Combinations with tryptophan

Tryptophan, as an amino acid or as a nutritional supplement, improves the mood. It can also be combined with other active ingredients since by taking tryptophan with other supplements, we can improve the benefits for health of both substances. These are some of the most advised combinations:

  • Tryptophan with vitamin B6

Tryptophan goes very well with vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is also known as a “cofactor”, which means that it helps the enzymes to work better. Vitamin B6 contributes to increase the conversion rate of tryptophan into serotonin.

The clinical studies have proven that a low level of vitamin B6 is related to a low mood. Therefore, the use of tryptophan with vitamin B6 is an excellent way to increase the serotonin levels and to provide an optimal state of mind.[35]

  • Tryptophan with melatonin

Once it is transformed into serotonin, tryptophan can be used to produce melatonin (the sleep hormone).[36] This is why tryptophan has wonderful benefits for the maintenance of healthy sleep habits.

Taking tryptophan with vitamin B6 is an excellent way of favoring a healthy sleep. Tryptophan can be also combined with melatonin to improve the quality of sleep even more. This blend combines the effects of improving the mood and stimulating sleep.

Melatonin on its own is also very effective. It can go through the blood-brain barrier quite easily, which is the previous requisite before it provides its beneficial effects.[37]

  • Tryptophan with 5-HTP

Tryptophan has to transform into 5-HTP so that the body can produce serotonin.[38]

More specifically, tryptophan undergoes the following process inside the body:

  • Tryptophan enters the organism
  • It is transformed into 5-HTP
  • Then it becomes Serotonin (the “happiness messenger” of the brain)
  • Finally, it transforms into melatonin (the sleep hormone)

If you take L-Tryptophan with 5-HTP, you have to do so responsibly, since both substances improve the mood. In general, 5-HTP works faster than L-tryptophan which, at the same time, has a longer effect but softer. Both improve the mood and the quality of sleep.

Therefore, taking tryptophan with 5-HTP is a very effective combination, since both substances improve the state of mind. In general, 5-HTP works faster than L-tryptophan which, at the same time, has a softer effect, but longer nonetheless. Both improve the mood and the quality of sleep.

  • Tryptophan with L-theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid, like tryptophan. L-theanine has a relaxing effect and it favors a healthy sleep.[39] Generally, it is taken as a relaxing supplement, while tryptophan is mostly used to improve the state of mind.

Taking tryptophan with L-theanine is an excellent combination, since it improves the mood while relaxing at the same time.

To sum up, we can say that tryptophan can be combined with a variety of substances to improve its effects, like vitamin B6, L-theanine, 5-HTP, and melatonin. Each one of this combinations have different properties and effects.

Side effects of tryptophan

Tryptophan is a natural dietary supplement that improves the mood, memory, and sleep.

Most people do not experience any side effect when they consume the recommended dose of tryptophan. However, if we exceed the recommended dose (more than 6000mg daily), we can experience some side effects. This is why it is always advised to follow the recommended dose.

When it is used in its corresponding doses, the side effects of tryptophan are quite unusual. Some of the mildest cases are stomach discomfort, flatulence, nausea, vomits, diarrhea, or appetite loss. Headaches, dizziness, and sleepiness can also happen.

In the case of an excessive consumption or the combination with medicines or even drugs can affect the serotonin pathways of the brain.

It must not be combined with antidepressants, since it can lead to a Serotonin Syndrome or an excess of this hormone in the brain. Among its symptoms: sweating, irritation, quick changes in the blood pressure, confusion, or an irregular heartbeat.

The side effects of Tryptophan

If you are already following a treatment, you should consult your doctor before taking Tryptophan.

Interactions of Tryptophan

Some interactions can occur when we consume great amounts of tryptophan with serotonin medicines, such as the SSRIs or MAOIs inhibitors. In this case, a “serotonin syndrome” may happen, which is caused by the accumulation of excessive serotonin in the brain, since tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin.

Taking tryptophan supplements increases the levels of serotonin in the brain, which has a positive effect on the state of mind and other benefits for health.[9]

However, the antidepressants and antipsychotics interact with the serotonin system and they produce an excessive increase of serotonin. Some of these substances also prevent the breakdown of serotonin. This is why it is not advisable to combine tryptophan with antidepressants or other substances that can affect the serotonin system.

The symptoms of the serotonin syndrome include nausea, nervousness, somnolence, dryness of the mouth, and excessive sweating.

Tryptophan in pregnant and lactating women

It is not advisable to take tryptophan during pregnancy. Even though tryptophan is an important nutrient for pregnant women, there is not enough evidence that confirms the inocuity of high doses of this substance during pregnancy.

High levels of tryptophan can affect fetal breathing and cause fetal stress.[42]

Even though it is not advisable to take tryptophan during pregnancy, the clinical studies have proven that tryptophan supplements can be taken safely during lactation. A study carried out in 2015 and published in the “European Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology” showed that tryptophan supplements do not increase the concentration of tryptophan in breast milk.[43]

L-Tryptophan or 5-HTP, which one is better?

Many people ask what is the difference between tryptophan and 5-HTP. Both are excellent supplements, precursors of the same neurotransmitters (serotonin and melatonin) which favor a positive state of mind and a good quality of sleep. Tryptophan is present in many foods as an amino acid. However, 5-HTP can only be taken as a dietary supplement.

Now, we will explain the differences between tryptophan and 5-HTP, their action mechanism, and which one is more effective.

Now, we are going to explain the difference between tryptophan and 5-HTP, its action mechanism and which dietary supplement is the more effective.

What is L-Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is an amino acid with important properties and benefits for health. It is found in plenty of foods, specially in those which are rich in proteins.[44]

Apart from being consumed through food, tryptophan can be taken with protein shakes or high quality nutritional supplements. Even though tryptophan is found in certain foods, it is not possible to consume enough of them to reach the level that the organism requires. Therefore, we advised the intake of high quality tryptophan nutritional supplements.

Some of the benefits of L-Tryptophan are:

  • It improves the state of mind and mood
  • It encourages a healthy sleepiness
  • It reduces the appetite and provides energy

What is 5-HTP?

5-HTP is a direct precursor molecule of serotonin. The body uses 5-HTP to produce serotonin, which is transformed into melatonin in the pineal gland. The production of melatonin depends on the light conditions, and melatonin is directly responsible for the sleep behavior.

Many people experience an extremely quick and powerful effect with 5-HTP, which consists on a modified version of tryptophan. The body transforms tryptophan into 5-HTP by using a special enzyme.[45]

Some of the benefits of 5-HTP are:

  • Remarkable improvement of the state of mind
  • Improvement of the sleep behavior
  • Provides extra energy and reduces the appetite

Comparison between L-tryptophan and 5-HTP

The differences between tryptophan and 5-HTP have been discussed for a long time. Some claim that the effect of 5-HTP on the state of mind is stronger than that of tryptophan. However, others think that tryptophan improves the quality of sleep in a more effective way.

Both tryptophan and 5-HTP must go through the blood-brain barrier to administer serotonin to the brain. However, tryptophan has to compete with other amino acids to overcome this barrier. 5-HTP goes through this process more easily and efficiently.[46]

Tryptophan has to cross the blood-brain barrier to develop its effect and improve the state of mind. The transformation of tryptophan into 5-HTP is the slowest part of the process of the serotonin conversion. This means that 5-HTP is faster when it comes to producing serotonin.[47]

The body uses L-Tryptophan in different ways to produces several compounds. Some of these compounds include the NAD / NADP proteins, tryptamine and niacin (metabolites). However, 5-HTP is only used to produce serotonin and melatonin.

The body can transform L-tryptophan and 5-HTP into serotonin, both in the liver and the brain. If tryptophan has to compete with other amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier, it is more probable that it becomes serotonin in the liver. However, the serotonin that is formed in the liver does not improve the state of mind and the mood.[48]

You have to take all this information into account before choosing between tryptophan and 5-HTP, since after a certain period of time, the body can tolerate the high power of 5-HTP. Even though it has not still been confirmed by the researchers, and theoretically, this could only happen after a prolonged use of 5-HTP.

On the other hand, L-tryptophan has milder effects but it can be used more safely and healthily for a longer period of time. Moreover, tryptophan has less chances of interacting with medicines than 5-HTP does.

Is the combination of tryptophan and 5-HTP useful?

Tryptophan can be combined with 5-HTP but it has to be combined responsibly, due to the fact that both compounds produce an increase of serotonin in the brain. Too much serotonin can produce side effects, such as nausea, somnolence, dizziness, and excessive sweating.[49]

Therefore, it is important to reduce the dose of both supplements in order to avoid any side effects. In any case, it is advisable to begin using only one of these active ingredients and add the other just if it is absolutely necessary.

Are tryptophan and 5-HTP safe?

You should consult your doctor if you are taking some medicine before using 5-HTP or tryptophan. Specially, it is important to consult your doctor if you are taking antidepressants or SSRIs. These prevent a fast decrease of serotonin in the brain, which prevents the onset of depression. Always use 5-HTP and tryptophan responsibly and only take the recommended dose for each product.

To sum up, 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan are two supplements that help to improve the state of mind and to have a healthy sleep. Once they enter the organism, both are transformed into serotonin and then into melatonin. However, the body needs to transform tryptophan into 5-HTP before it can be transformed into serotonin and then into melatonin.

Since the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin is slower, L-tryptophan is much softer than 5-HTP. Some people prefer the intense and fast effect of 5-HTP, while others choose the softer and more pleasant effect of tryptophan. There are some that combine both products to simultaneously benefit from the long term effects of L-tryptophan and from the quick action of 5-HTP.

Who can benefit from tryptophan?

  • Those who have difficulties to sleep
  • Those with a serotonin deficiency
  • Those who suffer from depression
  • Sportspeople who want to improve their physical performance and their mental resistance

In which cases should you take tryptophan?

It is advisable for the treatment of the following symptoms:

  • To compensate for a serotonin deficiency
  • To relieve sleeping problems
  • To relieve the symptoms of depression or anxiety

Studies and references about tryptophan

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  • 2. Macchi MM, Bruce JN. Human pineal physiology and functional significance of melatonin. 2004 Sep-Dic; 25 (3-4): 177-95.
  • 3. Dawn M Richard, Michael A Dawes, Charles W Mathias, Ashley Acheson, Nathalie Hill-Kapturczak y Donald M. Dougherty. L-TripL-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications. Int J Tryptophan Res. 2009; 2: 45-60.
  • 4. Ferracioli Oda E, Qawasmi A, Bloch MH. Meta-analysis: melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders. PLoS One. 2013 17 de mayo; 8 (5): e63773. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0063773. Imprimir 2013.
  • 5. Bonmati-Carrion MA et al. Protecting the melatonin rhythm through circadian healthy light exposure. Int J Mol Sci. 2014 17 de diciembre; 15 (12): 23448-500. doi: 10.3390 / ijms151223448.
  • 6. van der Veen FM, EA Evers, Deutz NE, Schmitt JA. Effects of acute tryptophan depletion on mood and facial emotion perception related brain activation and performance in healthy women with and without a family history of depression. 2007 Jan; 32 (1): 216-24. Epub 2006 4 de octubre.
  • 7. Mohajeri MH y col. Chronic treatment with a tryptophan-rich protein hydrolysate improves emotional processing, mental energy levels and reaction time in middle-aged women. Br J Nutr. 28 de enero de 2015; 113 (2): 350-65. doi: 10.1017 / S0007114514003754. Epub 2015 9 de enero.
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  • 20. Mendelsohn D, Riedel WJ, Sambeth A. Effects of acute tryptophan depletion on memory, attention and executive functions: a systematic review. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2009 Jun; 33 (6): 926-52. doi: 10.1016 / j.neubiorev.2009.03.006. Epub 2009 Mar 18.
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  • 24. Cerit H, Jans LA, Van der Does W. The effect of tryptophan on the cortisol response to social stress is modulated by the 5-HTTLPR genotype. Psiconeuroendocrinología. 2013 Feb; 38 (2): 201-8. doi: 10.1016 / j.psyneuen.2012.05.016. Epub 2012 18 de junio.
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  • 28. Eduard Maron, Jakov Shlik y David J. Nutt. Tryptophan Research in Panic Disorder. Int J Tryptophan Res. 2008; 1: 3-12.
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  • 30. Dell’Osso L, Carmassi C, Mucci F, Marazziti D. Depression, Serotonin and Tryptophan. Curr Pharm Des. 2016; 22 (8): 949-54.
  • 31. Strain GW, Strain JJ, Zumoff B. L-tryptophan does not increase weight loss in carbohydrate-craving obese subjects. Int J Obes. 375-80: 9 (6); 1985a
  • 32. Wurtman RJ, Wurtman JJ. Carbohydrate craving, obesity and brain serotonin. Apetito. 1986; 7 Suppl: 99-103.
  • 33. Foods highest in Tryptophan
  • 34. Ashley Miller Tryptophan in Bananas & Insomnia
  • 35. Hvas AM, Juul S, Bech P, Nexo E. Vitamin B6 level is associated with symptoms of depression. 2004 Nov-Dic; 73 (6): 340-3.
  • 36. Slominski A, Semak I Pisarchik A, T Sweatman, Szczesniewski A, Wortsman J. La conversión de L-triptófano a serotonina y la melatonina en las células del melanoma humano. FEBS Lett. 2002 30 de enero; 511 (1-3): 102-6.
  • 37. Dun Xian Tan. Melatonin and Brain. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2010 Sep; 8 (3): 161.
  • 38. Dra. Ananya Mandal, MD. Serotonin Biosynthesis.
  • 39. Nobre AC, Rao A, Owen GN. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008; 17 Suppl 1: 167-8.
  • 40. Information Paper on L-Tryptophan and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan. Administración de Alimentos y Medicamentos de los EE. UU., Centro para la Seguridad Alimentaria y la Nutrición Aplicada, disponible en línea, consultado el 21 de abril de 2017
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  • 42. Kristi Monson Triptófano y embarazo
  • 43. Dowlati Y et al. No effect of oral L-tryptophan or alpha-lactalbumin on total tryptophan levels in breast milk. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015 jun; 25 (6): 779-87. doi: 10.1016 / j.euroneuro.2015.03.005. Epub 2015 Mar 18.
  • 44. Natalie Butler, RD, LD. 7 Foods That Could Boost Your Serotonin: The Serotonin Diet
  • 45. Turner EH, Loftis JM, Blackwell AD. Serotonin a la carte: supplementation with the serotonin precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan. 5-hydroxytryptophan Pharmacol Ther. 2006 Mar; 109 (3): 325-38. Epub 2005 14 de julio.
  • 46. Marty Hinz, Alvin Stein y Thomas Uncini. 5-HTP efficacy and contraindications. Neuropsiquiátrico Dis Treat. 2012; 8: 323-328.
  • 47. Birdsall TC. 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Envejecimiento Med Rev. 1998 Aug; 3 (4): 271-80.
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  • 49. Jacqueline Volpi-Abadie, MD, Adam M. Kaye, y Alan David Kaye, MD. Serotonin Syndrome. Ochsner J. 2013 Invierno; 13 (4): 533-540.

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About Javier Colomer
Javier Colomer
"Knowledge Makes Stronger", Javier Colomer's motto, sets out his clearest statement of intentions expressing his knowledge and fitness experience.
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