Sleep, relaxation and decision making are all important factors in everyday life…
In some cases, they can make or break a winning performance – either in sports, or in intellectual endeavors such as chess, work, or study.
This is where L-Tryptophan comes into play. L-Tryptophan is one of the eight essential amino acids needed for cognitive support and physical health.
The research surrounding L-Tryptophan for sports nutrition and performance is still emerging. But, what we do know is that L-Tryptophan has the ability to increase our mental health. This allows for optimum recovery to take place along with improved learning capabilities.
If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, stress, or poor sleeping patterns, then you may wish to consider using L-Tryptophan. It increases serotonin levels – the feel-good chemicals in the brain which create a healthy environment for the mind to function efficiently, and beyond.
For those who train often, where levels of oxidative stress may be higher than normal, or excess fluid, vitamin, and mineral loss has been increased, the use of L-Tryptophan could be a viable option. It works with other vitamins and chemical processes within the body linked to overall mental and physical health.
About L-Tryptophan – The Mood Enhancer
You can find L-Tryptophan in many food groups, from meats, poultry, grains, and dairy.
It acts as a mood regulator, sleep enhancer, and protector against UV light. It also works as an antagonist on neurotransmitters to the central nervous system CNS.
In summary, L-Tryptophan increases dopamine, norepinephrine, and beta-endorphins. (01,02)
It doesn’t stop there, supplementing with L-Tryptophan can also modulate the endocrine system and lower cortisol levels. (03,04) Along with increasing prolactin and growth hormone. (05,06)
In other words… mothers can increase their breast milk production. Weightlifters and strength athletes can improve muscle building. And those wishing to gain a competitive mental edge will benefit from L-Tryptophan supplementation.
One thing to note about L-Tryptophan is that it competes with other amino acids. L-Tryptophan is one of the amino acids which is left behind in the digestion and synthesis of foods, being the last to be absorbed in the body.
This ‘competing’ process takes place with Competing Amino Acids CAA, where amino acids fight for first place in the body once ingested. These amino acids are: “Isoleucine, Leucine, Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, and Valine, the five large neutral amino acids typically included in the tryptophan/CAA ratio.”
How L-Tryptophan Works In The Body?
As previously discussed, L-Tryptophan is a powerful amino acid that can increase our focus, mood, relaxation, and the ability to improve overall cognitive abilities.
Once L-Tryptophan is ingested (either from foods or supplements) there are several processes that take place in the body before we can feel these benefits. These are;
- Protein synthesis
- Kynurenine Synthesis
- Serotonin synthesis
- Melatonin Synthesis
- NAD/NADP Synthesis
- Niacin Synthesis
Amino acids are there to help us repair and build new muscles, but L-Tryptophan is slightly different.
L-Tryptophan, being less important for muscles building, naturally means there are fewer amounts of L-Tryptophan in foods, to begin with.
Furthermore, as already discussed, there is competition between other amino acids and L-Tryptophan. So, while L-Tryptophan does play a role in muscle building, it’s so small that it’s not considered a viable option for muscle growth on its own. For that, the amino acid L-leucine is your best option.
Once protein synthesis has happened, the next metabolic pathway in-line is the “synthesis of kynurenine, which accounts for approximately 90% of tryptophan catabolism.” (07,08,09)
Each of these metabolites has the potential to affect other neurotransmitters; specifically kynurenic acid, which is a glutamate receptor antagonist, while quinolinic acid is a glutamate receptor agonist. (10)
In plain English? This means; kynurenine synthesis acts to stimulate, while also working against glutamate receptors.
Glutamate is found in the “nervous system and especially prominent in the human brain” helping the mind to work efficiently.
Not only that, but kynurenine is also an ultraviolet (UV) filter. This protects the retina of the eye from light (UV) damage. (11,12) As we age, this process becomes weaker, which may play a role in the development of cataracts – making L-Tryptophan important for not just those physically active, but also the aging.
An incredible 95% of mammalian serotonin is found within the gastrointestinal tract, and only 3% of dietary tryptophan is used for serotonin synthesis throughout the body. (13)
Most of L-Tryptophan is sent to the brain, where it has the most effect- such as relaxation, calming, sleep-inducing, and memory formation.
Serotonin is slightly more difficult to be synthesized from the foods we eat. Partly because there is isn’t plentiful amounts of L-Tryptophan in foods, to begin with. And secondly, our body’s sees it as less important compared to other BCAA’s for example, which build muscle and tissue repair.
Small amounts of brain serotonin from tryptophan ingestion (compared to even smaller amounts found throughout the rest of the body) still plays a major role as a neurotransmitter in psychiatric conditions and psychological processes.
In summary: L-Tryptophan, while it’s one of the least considered amino acids upon ingestion and synthesis, even small amounts can have a powerful effect on our mental state; improving the way our brain functions, from memory, mood, and the release of chemicals important for our mental health.
While its good to know that even small amounts of L-Tryptophan can have a positive effect on our mental state. it’s also worth knowing that cooking denatures many of the properties inside the food we need for optimal absorption and bioavailability.
Therefore, at times, supplementation can be a more viable option than whole foods, as supplements have the ability to get into the areas needed the most – without fear of degeneration from the digestion process.
You may have already heard of melatonin, it’s the hormone that helps us fall asleep – making us feel calm and relaxed in the process. It’s produced in the tryptophan/serotonin pathway. (14)
Melatonin is also synthesized/regulated by the blue light spectrum. This means that when darkness comes around at the end of every day, melatonin is secreted from the primal gland, thus regulating our circadian rhythms, such as our sleeping patterns. (15)
Tryptophan acts as a substrate synthesis of the coenzymes nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and NDA phosphate (NADP). (16,17,18)
These coenzymes are essential for electron transfer reactions – helping your muscles and neutrons in the mind transfer signals to move, think, and react.
You can also find these coenzymes being synthesized from not only L-Tryptophan but also niacin in vitamin B (B3).
Last but not least, L-Tryptophan can also act as a substrate of niacin synthesis through an acid pathway called kynurenine/quinolinic. Niacin is also named vitamin B3.
To learn more about B vitamins, read: How B Vitamins Increase Sport Performance
Large amounts of L-Tryptophan are needed to create niacin effectively – approximately 60mg of tryptophan is needed to create 1mg of niacin (19)
Therefore, if you wish to improve your vitamin B3 levels (niacin) you may wish to consider using a vitamin B complete formula as this will be the most efficient way at improving your vitamin B levels.
The recommended doses of L-Tryptophan is estimated between 250 mg/day and 425 mg/day. (20) This means that a dietary intake of 3.5 to 6.0 mg/kg of body weight per day can be consumed safely without side effects.
Are There Any Side Effects To Using L-Tryptophan?
When L-Tryptophan was first being manufactured for the general population around the 1980s’ there was an outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). This was from a result of a poor manufacturing process. This caused swelling, nausea, and in some cases, death.
The FDA quickly put a ban on the manufacturing and sale of all L-tryptophan production in light of this. However, in 1991 they re-opened trading and manufacturing L-Tryptophan. Since then, there haven’t been any side effects reported with L-Tryptophan supplementation.
In recent years, the advancement of supplement manufacturing and their safety has become more stringent. Which put us, the consumers, in a place of longevity and safety where supplementation is concerned.
In summary: there are no known serious side effects connected to using the recommended doses of L-Tryptophan. Minor side effects may include nausea, stomach upset, headache and heartburn.
If you do notice any side effects from using any supplement, it’s always a good idea to stop immediately and contact your health care provider.
Is L-Tyyptophan As Good As They Say?
L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that has the ability to improve sleep levels, reduce anger and anxiety, enhance cognition and learning, while at the same time, regulating our brain chemicals responsible for social learning and skill-based tasks.
As L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, we need it from our diet in order to improve our mood, and ability to perform/learn complex tasks.
However, one trick to L-Tryptophan is that it competes with the other 8 essential amino acids, meaning, your diet can greatly affect the uptake and delivery of L-Tryptophan into the brain.
Also, your gut bacteria play a key role in how well you absorb L-Tryptophan from the foods you eat. It’s been studied that only 1% of L-Tryptophan can be utilized from foods, making supplementation a more optimal solution as the bioavailability increases compared to that of food sources.
What I like about L-Tryptophan is that it acts in the same way to acetyl-l-carnitine. Meaning, it crosses the blood-brain barrier. This enables it to be absorbed quickly, reaching the areas of the brain where it’s needed the most – the areas responsible for releasing serotonin via the many syntheses that take place once L-Tryptophan is ingested.
When we take L-Tryptophan, either from foods or in supplement form, it then becomes serotonin – the feel-good relaxing neurotransmitter.
As previously mentioned, our gut health is important when it comes to the way L-Tryptophan is absorbed.
One way we can improve our absorption rate of L-Tryptophan is by improving our gut bacteria. One way to do this is eating adequate amounts of vegetables, which help to alkalize the body. If the body is too acidic, we’ll struggle to process the foods we eat efficiently.
Another way to raise our gut health is to use prebiotics. While probiotics have received great attention in recent years, it’s actually prebiotics which can have a greater effect on our gut health. Why is this?
Probiotics (while good for our gut health) can be easily destroyed in the digestive process. Prebiotics, on the other hand, have a greater ability to survive digestion – increasing their effect.
To summarise: L-Tryptophan is an important amino acid with many numerous cognitive benefits. By increasing our gut health, we can further improve our L-Tryptophan absorption rates from the foods we eat.
For even better results, using a supplement containing L-Tryptophan will further enhance the bioavailability and effectiveness of tryptophan and its many benefits.
For an effective method at increasing your relaxing brain chemicals that help to improve mood, focus, and sleep. Along with all of the associated benefits discussed in this article. Using a quality sourced and manufactured L-Tryptophan supplement is a viable option for increasing these benefits.
For any questions or queries, feel free to get in touch with me, or comment below.
(01) 5-hydroxytryptamine and the gastrointestinal tract: where next? (source)
(02) Wikipedia – Dopamine. (source)
(03) Manipulation of brain serotonin in the treatment of myoclonus. (source)
(04) The effects of glucocorticoids on the availability of L-tryptophan and tyrosine in the plasma of depressed patients. (source)
(05) Neuroendocrine effects of L-tryptophan and dexamethasone. (source)
(06) Hormonal and behavioral effects associated with intravenous L-tryptophan administration. (source)
(07) L-Tryptophan: Biochemical, nutritional and pharmacological aspects. (source)
(08) Protein quality, amino acid balance, utilization, and evaluation of diets containing amino acids as therapeutic agents. (source)
(09) Comparison of 50- and 100-g L -tryptophan depletion and loading formulations for altering 5-HT synthesis: pharmacokinetics, side effects, and mood states. (source)
(10) Tryptophan metabolism and brain function: focus on kynurenine and other indole metabolites. (source)
(11) Novel protein modification by kynurenine in human lenses. (source)
(12) Protein-bound kynurenine decreases with the progression of age-related nuclear cataract. (source)
(13) Monoamine precursors in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. (source)
(14) Melatonin and its influence on the immune system. (source)
(15) Blocking low-wavelength light prevents nocturnal melatonin suppression with no adverse effect on performance during simulated shift work. (source)
(16) The contribution of cocoa additive to cigarette smoking addiction. (source)
(17) NAD biosynthesis: identification of the tryptophan to the quinolinate pathway in bacteria. (source)
(18) Key role of an ADP − ribose – dependent transcriptional regulator of NAD metabolism for fitness and virulence of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. (source)
(19) Niacin-tryptophan relationships for evaluating niacin equivalents. (source)
(20) L-Tryptophan Doses. (source)