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Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is used to make proteins.

In the body, tryptophan is converted into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and sleep. It is also converted into melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm.

Tryptophan is used in the body to make another important compound called Niacin, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels in type 1 diabetes.

It’s called an essential amino acid because it cannot be produced by your body and must be obtained from dietary sources.

It is found in a variety of foods, including meats, dairy products, nuts and seeds.

While tryptophan is found in many foods, it is best absorbed when consumed in combination with carbohydrates.

Health Benefits

Science is still studying the benefits of tryptophan.

While there is general consensus on a fewer findings, there are still many areas of difference, which need to be verified by more research.

Here are some of the health benefits associated with tryptophan, on which almost all agree!

Improves mood: Helps produce serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that can improve mood and reduce stress levels.

Promotes sleep: It is often used in combination with other supplements as part of a sleep aid regimen.

Enhances cognitive function: Studies have shown that tryptophan can help boost memory and concentration.

Regulates appetite: Helps regulate hunger and satiety hormones, helping to keep cravings in check.

Improves pain tolerance: Improves your pain tolerance as it is metabolised into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls pain as well as mood.

Relief from mood disorders: It is also used to treat certain mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Side Effects

While tryptophan can help to improve mood and sleep, it can also cause some unpleasant side effects in some people.

Common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Burping

In some cases, it can also cause more serious side effects such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Muscle weakness

Also, tryptophan may interact with certain medications or health conditions, so it’s important to speak to your doctor before taking tryptophan supplements.

Tryptophan Deficiency

When your body does not get enough tryptophan, it can lead to a deficiency, which can include a range of symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Poor memory
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Growth problems in children
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Poor dream recall

In order to prevent this deficiency, it is important to consume adequate amounts of foods that are rich in this essential amino acid.


Inadequate dietary intake is one of the most common causes of tryptophan deficiency.

There other reasons include vitamin B6 deficiency, excessive sugar intake, too much alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, diabetes and hypoglycemia.

How to Increase Tryptophan Levels

Increasing your tryptophan levels can help improve your overall health, mood and sleep quality.

Here are a few tips:

  • Eat tryptophan-rich foods such as turkey, eggs, nuts and dairy products.
  • Take supplements like 5-HTP, which is a derivative of tryptophan.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake and sweet snacks.
  • Exercise regularly, as physical activity increases the body’s production of serotonin.
  • Get plenty of rest and practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation.

Foods Rich in Tryptophan

There are many foods which are rich in tryptophan. Here’s a list of some of the best sources:

  • Fish, such as salmon, tuna and halibut
  • Meats, such as turkey, chicken, beef and pork
  • Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds
  • Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Soy products, such as tofu and tempeh
  • Legumes, such as beans, lentils and peas
  • Whole grains, such as oats and quinoa
  • Fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, spinach and broccoli


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Sources: Medline Plus, Healthline, WebMD (1, 2), PubChem, NCBI (1, 2, 3), Mount Sinai (1, 2), Medical News Today, Oxford Academic, PubMed, AARM.

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