L-Tryptophan: It can make you happy, but is it dangerous?

By | February 9, 2012

L-Tryptophan It can make you happy but is it dangerous

L-tryptophan is used for insomnia, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, facial pain, a severe form of premenstrual syndrome called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), smoking cessation, grinding teeth during sleep (bruxism), attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette’s syndrome, and to improve athletic performance.

L-tryptophan is naturally found in animal and plant proteins. L-tryptophan is considered an essential amino acid because our bodies can’t make it. It is important for the development and functioning of many organs in the body. After absorbing L-tryptophan from food, our bodies convert it to 5-HTP (5-hyrdoxytryptophan), and then to serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that transmits signals between nerve cells. It also causes blood vessels to narrow. Changes in the level of serotonin in the brain can alter mood.

via L-TRYPTOPHAN: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings – WebMD.

Eosinophilia–myalgia syndrome (EMS) is an incurable and sometimes fatal flu-like neurological condition that is believed to have been caused by ingestion of poorly produced L-tryptophan supplements.[1][2] Similar to regular eosinophilia, it causes an increase in eosinophil granulocytes in the patient’s blood.[3][4]

Eosinophilia–myalgia syndrome was first recognized after the doctors of 3 American women with mysterious symptoms talked together in 1989. However, many people became ill as long as 2–3 years before the illness was reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in November 1989. Rheumatologists experienced a large surge of new patients with mysterious symptoms during this period. It is possible that as many as 60,000 individuals became ill from using L-tryptophan. Additionally, when first marketed, 27 people died.

Some epidemiologist studies[5][6][7] traced the cause to consumption of L-tryptophan from a single Japanese manufacturer, Showa Denko.[8] The company supplied the majority of L-tryptophan to the United States under various brand names. There was evidence that new batches of L-tryptophan may have been improperly prepared. First, the specific bacterial culture used to synthesise this tryptophan had recently been genetically engineered to greatly increase tryptophan production. The increased concentrations of tryptophan in the fermentor may in turn have led to increased production of trace impurities. It is also likely that contaminants were increased because the L-Tryptophan producing bacteria were being grown in an open vat in a fertilizer factory. Second, shortcuts had been taken in the purification process to reduce costs. For example, a purification step that used charcoaladsorption to remove impurities had been modified to reduce the amount of charcoal used. It is possible that one or more of these modifications and/or the environment for manufacture allowed new or greater impurities through the purification system. More than 60 different impurities were identified in the L-tryptophan lots which had been associated with cases of EMS.

The specific impurity (or impurities) responsible for the toxic effects was never firmly established, however two compounds, EBT (1,1′-ethylidene-bis-L-tryptophan) and MTCA (1-methyl-1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-beta-carboline-3-carboxylic acid), which are close chemical relatives of L-tryptophan were implicated.[9][10][11][12]

Regardless of the origin of the toxicity, L-tryptophan was banned from sale in the US in 1991; and other countries followed suit. In February 2001, the FDA loosened the restrictions on the marketing of tryptophan (though not on importation). The supplement 5-HTP (a hydroxylated form of tryptophan and a precursor to serotonin) remains widely available. …

An alternative explanation for tryptophan associated EMS has recently been proposed.[13] Consumption of large doses of tryptophan leads to production of metabolites, some of which may interfere with normal histamine degradation. Furthermore, excessive histamine activity has been linked with blood eosinophilia and myalgia.

Just to be safe, I’d go for the natural sources:

Pumpkin seeds are a natural source of L-tryptophan, with a tryptophan content of 0.576 grams per 100 grams of dried pumpkin seeds. Roasted pumpkin seeds, with or without added salt, have a slightly lower tryptophan content.

The L-tryptophan content of an egg remains almost the same (cooked as uncooked), 0.166 grams (per 100 grams), when cooked.

Turkey is notoriously known for its tryptophan content, although in fact it contains no more L-tryptophan per 100 grams than any other meat. The popular belief that turkey at Thanksgiving causes sleepiness is a myth; sleepiness after a turkey feast is more likely due to general overeating and alcohol consumption.

L-Tryptophan also converts to Niacin, and Vitamin B-6 (5P) is necessary for the metabolism and conversion to Serotonin. The dietary sources for L-Tryptophan are cottage cheese, milk, brown ride, peanuts, meat, turkey and soy products. … Most of you mistakenly believe antidepressants create more serotonin, therefore elevating mood.  This is a a popular misunderstanding.  The fact is all SSRI antidepressants only trap serotonin between the neurons, creating a pooling effect which elevates mood. L-Tryptophan converts directly to serotonin.  In turn, it is converted in the brain into melatonin, and clearly plays a role in balancing mood and sleep patterns.


2 thoughts on “L-Tryptophan: It can make you happy, but is it dangerous?

  1. licky

    Unfortunately, food sources of Tryptophan are not nearly as helpful as the safe and effective pharmaceutical grade form found in a 500mg capsule. Here’s why:

    When eaten in food, Tryptophan has to compete with all the other amino acids also found in that food source, which are usually in larger amounts than Tryptophan, to cross the blood-brain barrier. In therapeutic dose, amino acids are always recommended to be taken on an empty stomach for this reason- greater efficacy in the attempt to replenish depleted serotonin, and the other neurotransmitters, through controlled targeted use, without another amino acid in competition.

    Foods certainly contain many important nutrients, including amino acids. But to think that eating 1/2 a cup of pumpkin seeds 3x a day, with your green eggs and ham, is going to replete a person who is diminished in the happy chemicals, is unlikely. It may help if the diet is presently SAD, the Standard American Diet- but not for those who are already health conscious and making an effort. To think that one could keep up with eating the correct amount of Tryptophan at each meal is also unlikely, besides the fact that it is not all absorbed into the brain. There will end up being deficiencies in other needed nutrients- B12, zinc, magnesium, etc.

    For instance, if you are eating all those pumpkin seeds, and not properly sprouting or soaking them to release the phytates, then you are correspondingly depleting your body of essential minerals of zinc, calcium and magnesium. Or, if you are buying store bought ‘organic’ eggs, you are already eating a depleted food source- chickens that are not truly pastured, and often fed soy which skews fat ratios towards omega 6, is less robust in A, D & Tryptophan.

    As a nutritionist, may I make a recommendation here. First, start by cutting out all sugar. Then, all white flour products. Then, all gluten, pasteurized dairy, and unfermented soy. Then, restaurant eating. Then, start buying and eating real 100% grassfed meat and eggs. Do a 2 week elimination diet and cleanse. Start on the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet for 6 months. Add back in nutrient dense foods- raw dairy, cod liver oil, fermented grains, beans, nuts, and vegetables, bone broth.

    A book that is worth the read, aroud amino acid use, mood and food, is THE MOOD CURE, by Julia Ross, of Marin, CA. Amino acids are surprisingly effective, easy to take, safe, and have helped many get, or stay off, pharmaceuticals. She has also written THE DIET CURE. Better to read the books than see her in person. Her fees are very high, and I personally found the books to be just as helpful.

  2. Francisco Gabeline

    It is commonly believed that depression is linked to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. An important chemical is serotonin as this influences mood. The amino acid tryptophan comprises one of the building blocks of DNA and is required by the body to produce serotonin. It is an essential amino acid, which means your body can not produce it and so it must be obtained through diet.;

    Current short article provided by our very own blog page

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