Tryptophan (Oral)

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid the human body uses as a precursor to many important proteins.

Overview

Tryptophan is used to produce proteins throughout the body. Although it isn't as common as others, it is still frequently metabolized as a trace amino acid. Additionally, tryptophan is often used as a precursor for essential neurotransmitters, like melatonin and serotonin. This makes tryptophan essential to our mood and sleeping patterns. The researched functionality of tryptophan has led to its use as a nutritional supplement. Those who use it as a nutritional supplement vary, but often use it for the reported psychological effects it may have.

Tryptophan is one of the rarest amino acids found in the human body. Unlike other amino acids, the body can't naturally produce more tryptophan - all tryptophan that enters the human body comes through ingestion of animals and plants. Indeed, the vast majority of animals receive tryptophan from other organisms. Many people simply aren't receiving enough of the amino acid, but recent research has suggested that nutritional supplements provide an excellent way to compensate for the lack of tryptophan. Beyond supplements, dietary sources exist as well, although they provide far less.

Although tryptophan is available as a supplement in many countries, it can also be obtained from natural sources within the diet. Eggs are often considered to be one of the most prominent sources of tryptophan, as 100 grams of egg white contains 1g of tryptophan. Other dietary sources of this amino acid are found among plants and seafood, such as cod. Dietary sources provide a generally safe way of ingesting tryptophan, but the dosage is much lower than what most people would like. However, it is important to remember that tryptophan is never produced from compounds. It always enters the body from another source in its proper form.

Besides anxiety and insomnia, one of the most popular reasons for using tryptophan is muscle development. The amino acid increases the proportion of certain proteins in the body and this has the ability to help bodybuilders and others who want to increase muscle mass. Ageing individuals may decide the drug is perfect for those who want to maintain their existing muscle and slow down further loss of muscle mass.

Tryptophan is known to increase growth hormones. A key factor in many aspects of development and ageing, growth hormones are needed throughout life for the basic functioning of the human body. This makes tryptophan perfect for those who wish to help prevent a multitude of diseases - Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, and many more can positively be reduced through the use of tryptophan.

Amino acids are basically the building blocks of life, so it shouldn't be surprising that they can produce a number of positive health outcomes. When added into a complete diet, tryptophan allows people to dramatically reduce the chances of a number of diseases while promoting optimum levels of certain biomarkers. While tryptophan is certain used primarily to treat diseases, its ability to help prevent disease is important to remember as well.

Condition(s) treated

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders

Type of medicine

  • Nutritional supplement
  • Anxiolytic
  • Antidepressant

Side effects

As an important factor in protein synthesis and neurotransmitter function, tryptophan can cause a wide array of side effects if not taken carefully. Many people report experiencing pain, nausea, and other symptoms of discomfort from excessive use. Tryptophan may also cause psychological side effects.

Sedation, headaches, and dizziness can result from the excessive production of melatonin. Tryptophan increases levels of serotonin in the body and this may result in symptoms similar to serotonin syndrome, such as excitability and aggression. Less commonly, tryptophan can result in vomiting, diarrhea, and other serious side effects.

For people with certain preexisting conditions, tryptophan may alter the symptoms experienced. Dementia patients often report an improvement in the symptoms of their condition, but the exact reason for this is unknown. Dementia is often associated with a buildup of proteins within the brain, yet tryptophan will reduce the severity of the condition.

Another major side effect of tryptophan is altered cardiovascular performance. People with enlarged hearts or hypertension may see improvements in their condition, but these results often take time to become fully realized. Cardiovascular effects are generally not experienced until at least three weeks into treatment. Any effects felt on the heart before the critical point are often caused by a placebo effect of sorts.

Dosage

The dosage of tryptophan should be taken seriously. You don't want to give someone more than a few milligrams at a time because the effects of tryptophan are delayed. Ideally, 15mg or so should be more than enough if used on a daily basis. However, this can differ based on how tryptophan is being ingested.

As a pill, tryptophan must be ingested in a cautious way, but in food there is less of a need to be cautious about how you ingest it. Ideally, tryptophan should be taken in the morning with the first meal of the day. As the day goes by, the supplement will take effect and allow the benefits to take place. Nighttime usage will likely be covered by the natural results of fatigue on the body.

Interactions

Due to the sedative effects of tryptophan, it has the potential to reduce the effects of certain medications and enhance the effects of others. Do not take tryptophan with drugs other sleeping aids or anxiety drugs. The compounded effect can cause lethargy and other unwanted side effects.

Protein synthesis may be altered by tryptophan supplements when taken with other nutritional supplements. The increase in tryptophans may lead to an decrease in other essential amino acids if taken with them. However, there appears to be no significant interaction with vitamins.

Tryptophan interacts with tyrosine to increase the production of certain vital neurotransmitters and proteins. These proteins, produced by the synergy of the two amino acids, result in greater cognitive benefits to those who take them. Higher levels of acetylcholine and glutamate, neurotransmitters involved in memory, often result from this combination. Tryptophan is known to interact with benzodiazepines and barbiturates, as well. These sleep aids will often displace tryptophan and prevent tryptophan from accumulating in the body in appreciable levels. Over time, the patient will eventually lose all of the benefits of taking tryptophan in the first place.

Warnings

The dangers of poorly handling tryptophan are quite serious. There are a number of conditions often associated with excessive use of tryptophan. The obvious sedative effects of tryptophan make using this supplement excessively a dangerous proposition. The symptoms of a toxic dose are consistent with delirium. Tryptophan overdose patients will often exhibit lethargy, memory loss, and agitation. These symptoms can be especially exacerbated if tryptophan is taken at night when the body is already exhausted.

As an amino acid, tryptophan will naturally promote the production of proteins. Excessive protein intake can damage the kidneys, the liver, and other vital organs, such as the heart. This makes tryptophan especially risky if used for a prolonged period of time at a high dosage. Patients with preexisting conditions of the kidneys and liver should consult with a doctor before deciding to take tryptophan extensively.

Although most people who use tryptophan will generally find the amino acid to be perfectly safe, there are cases of fatalities linked to it. Specifically, eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome has been linked to excessive tryptophan use. This flu-like condition produces extreme muscle pain and eventually the loss of functions vital to life. The people most at risk of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome are older patients with a history of protein related diseases. However, it sometimes affects those who do not have such risk factors.

Storage

Tryptophan is generally stable and you can store it in many conditions. It is generally best to store tryptophan in dry cool place, in order to avoid attracting bacteria or insects that might find the amino acid nutritious. Tryptophan can be stored for up to two years without any significant deterioration in quality or expiration. Tryptophan can have harmful effects on children, so it is important to store it somewhere small ones can't easily access it.

Summary

Overall, tryptophan is a fairly safe nutritional supplement with relatively rare and harmless side effects. For insomniacs and anxiety sufferers, this amino acid provides a variety of obvious benefits, without even half of the problems typically found in common prescription medications. For instance, tryptophan will not produce damage to the central nervous system or induce a manic episode.

You can receive tryptophan from a variety of sources such as seafood or eggs, but nutritional supplements are the best option for most. For the purposes of reducing anxiety and insomnia, tryptophan is perfectly capable of helping most patients, but it has other positive side effects to consider as well. Patients should take caution when using tryptophan alongside anxiety medicine or sleep aids. It can produce undesirable effects.

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Last Reviewed:
December 24, 2017
Last Updated:
April 05, 2018
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