L-tryptophan

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps the body make proteins and certain brain-signaling chemicals.

Your body changes L-tryptophan into a brain chemical called serotonin. Serotonin helps control your mood and sleep.

Why do people take L-tryptophan?

You can get all the L-tryptophan that your body needs by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Supplement doses depend on the health condition you are trying to prevent or treat.

Some people take L-tryptophan supplements to try to help them sleep

Low levels of L-tryptophan have been seen in people with depression. Some claim that 1 to 3 grams of L-tryptophan daily may help improve your mood or ward off mental health disorders such as:

There is limited research to back these claims and studies show mixed results in supporting these claims.

Some women take L-tryptophan supplements to try to ease mood swings due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS), also called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). The theory is that these conditions may be linked to a problem with serotonin processing in the body, and that L-tryptophan could help that. However, there is little evidence to show this really works.

Early research in people hints that L-tryptophan supplements may be helpful for:

 

Can you get L-tryptophan naturally from foods?

L-tryptophan is found in meats such as turkey and chicken.

It is also found in:

  • Bananas
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Dried dates
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Oats
  • Pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
  • Soy
  • Tofu
  • Tree nuts, including peanuts and peanut butter

The amount of L-tryptophan in these foods is small compared to supplements.

What are the risks of taking L-tryptophan?

L-tryptophan has been linked to a dangerous, even deadly condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). The FDA recalled tryptophan supplements in 1989 after tens of thousands of people who took them became sick, and some died. EMS causes sudden and severe muscle pain, nerve damage, skin changes, and other debilitating symptoms. Doctors saw a lot fewer people with EMS after the ban. Some research suggests the sickness was due to contaminants that got into the supplements during manufacturing in a factory in Japan.

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The supplements have since been re-introduced to the U.S. market.

Side effects of L-tryptophan may include:

L-tryptophan can interfere with many different medicines. Do not take L-tryptophan if you are on antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or MAO inhibitors. Doing so may lead to a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome are:

L-tryptophan supplements should be used with caution in pregnant women.

Talk to your dotors before taking this supplement if you have scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)

Always tell your doctor about any supplements you are taking, including natural ones and those bought without a prescription. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with any medications.

Supplements are not regulated by the FDA.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carmen Patrick Mohan on May 12, 2017

Sources

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News release, National Institute of Mental Health.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine web site: "Sleep Disorders and CAM."

Allan, J.A. Arthritis and Rheumatism, November 2011.

Fernstrom J.D. The Journal of Nutrition, December 2012.

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Shannon, M.W., Borron, S.W., Burns, M.J., editors, Shannon: Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose, 4th edition, Saunders Elsevier, 2007.

Gold Standard Database: "L-tryptophan Drug Monograph."

Kemper, K.J. Pediatric Clinics of North America, December 2007.

Vigod, S. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, June 2010.

Alternative Medicine Review, 2006.

Lieberman, H.R., Tryptophan Intake in the US Adult Population Is Not Related to Liver or Kidney Function but Is Associated with Depression and Sleep Outcomes.Journal of Nutrition, December 2016.

Yurcheshen M, Seehuus M, Pigeon W. Updates on Nutraceutical Sleep Therapeutics and Investigational Research.Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015

Richard, D., Dawes, M., Mathias, C., Acheson, A., Hill-Kapturczak, N., Dougherty, D: L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications, International Journal of Tryptophan Research 2013

Sarris J, Adjunctive Nutraceuticals for Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses. Am J Psychiatry. June 2016

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