Tryptophan is an essential amino acid your body can not produce by itself. Therefore tryptophan needs to be supplied by food or in form of supplements. While tryptophan is present in almost all natural sources of protein, it is also the amino acid with the lowest concentration in natural proteins sources. A number of plant proteins are particularly low in tryptophan, which greatly reduces their biological value.
Your body needs tryptophan as a structural protein for building up its own protein, and as a precursor for important neurotransmitters and hormones, including the "happiness hormone" serotonin, which is responsible for a positive mood, and the "sleep hormone" melatonin.
Factors such as stress and strong physical efforts may increase the need for tryptophan, while other factors such as an insufficient protein intake or a vegetarian or vegan diet that contains primarily protein sources that are low in tryptophan may result in an insufficient tryptophan intake. Also inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases and liver damage can increase your need for tryptophan, since they can interfere with the natural absorption capacity of tryptophan. The situation gets particularly critical when several of these factors come together and an insufficient tryptophan intake is combined with a significantly increased need for tryptophan. It is difficult or even impossible to give an exact figure for the tryptophan requirement, as it can vary greatly from person to person. To make matters worse, tryptophan that is supplied via complete proteins is present in a chemically bound form and needs to be broken down to free tryptophan or di- and tripeptides that can be absorbed by your intestines.
For many important functions, such as the production of serotonin and melatonin, tryptophan must cross the blood-brain barrier in order to enter your brain, and this is only possible for tryptophan in free form. In addition, tryptophan has to compete with other free amino acids such as the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine for an uptake into your brain because the capacity of the amino acid transporters is limited. Since the BCAAs are present in the human diet in significantly higher amounts than tryptophan, this can lead to a tryptophan deficiency in your brain even if your tryptophan intake seems to be sufficient at first sight. The effects of a lack of tryptophan include symptoms such as sleep disturbances, tiredness, mood swings, food cravings, weight gain, a slow down of your metabolism and depression. These symptoms are largely due to an inadequate production of serotonin and melatonin in your brain because of an insufficient availability of tryptophan.
Serotonin is an endogenous neurotransmitter that is needed, among other things, for general well-being, regulation of appetite and regulation of a healthy sleep. There are some serotonin-containing foods, but these are useless in this regard, since serotonin itself can not cross the blood-brain barrier, but must be synthesized by using tryptophan directly in your brain. The synthesis of serotonin from tryptophan in your brain involves only two steps, so an increase in tryptophan concentrations will quite reliably lead to an increase in serotonin levels.
The primary benefits of tryptophan in terms of health and wellbeing are mainly based on an increase in brain serotonin and melatonin levels. As a result, all symptoms of a serotonin or tryptophan deficiency described in the last section can be effectively alleviated or prevented right from the start. Tryptophan is most commonly used to treat sleep disorders and can significantly improve sleep quality in most users, resulting in a more restful sleep.
Since the hormone melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle, is produced from serotonin in your brain, an increase in serotonin production by supplementing with tryptophan will result in an increase of your melatonin levels. Melatonin promotes falling asleep and extends the REM phases and slow wave sleep phases that are important for a regeneration of your body. Tryptophan is superior to pure melatonin in many cases as it naturally regulates the body's own melatonin production, which can reduce daytime fatigue.
Tryptophan is also widely used for improving mood and treating depression and anxiety. Depression is often caused by disorders of the brain metabolism that result in low serotonin levels in the human brain. In the medical field, a serotonin deficiency in depression is often treated with so-called serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which increase serotonin levels in the brain by inhibiting the degradation of serotonin. In cases of mild to moderate depression, or simply to improve general mood and well being, a natural increase in brain serotonin levels caused by tryptophan may have a desirable effect.
Many tryptophan users also report that tryptophan has a positive effect on pain perception and can lessen chronic headaches and migraines. There are several explanations for this: on the one hand, serotonin can constrict the blood vessels in your brain, which prevents so-called vascular headaches caused by an excessive dilation of the veins in your brain, and on the other hand serotonin promotes the secretion of endorphins, that are referred to as "natural painkillers" of the body. In addition, there is evidence that low serotonin levels can be a trigger for migraine and chronic headaches. Apart from this tryptophan appears to be able to relieve a widespread liver disease known as steatohepatitis and may also have a beneficial effect on other liver diseases. In addition, tryptophan may alleviate the unwanted symptoms of an irritable bowel syndrome and may support a therapy of this disease.
Serotonin is involved in the regulation of your thyroid function and low serotonin levels often result in a reduced thyroid function, which is reflected in a reduced metabolic rate and lower calorie expenditure. By increasing your serotonin levels, tryptophan can ensure an optimal metabolic rate and prevent stagnating weight and fat loss progresses during any diet. In addition, serotonin has an appetite suppressant effect and a lack of serotonin often leads to cravings for sweets and carbohydrates. Such cravings are the most common reason why calorie-reduced diets fail sooner or later. With tryptophan, you can effectively prevent such cravings and significantly improve your weight loss progress.
Since tryptophan must compete with other amino acids for an uptake into your brain via the blood-brain barrier, tryptophan supplements work best when taken some hours before or after protein-containing meals. Taking tryptophan together with carbohydrates can further improve its uptake, as insulin released in response to carbohydrates will transport other amino acids, such as the branched-chain amino acids that compete with tryptophan for an uptake into your brain, into your muscle cells and other cells of your body. Because of this more transporters for tryptophan will be available. If used to treat sleep problems, tryptophan should be taken 30 to 45 minutes before going to bed.
Recommended daily intake: take 2 capsule without chewing and with sufficient liquid