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There is a tryptophan serotonin link. Most people think of tryptophan as the sleep stuff inside turkey that makes you pass out midday Thanksgiving. Really, it’s an important essential amino acid, meaning that the body cannot produce it and it must be consumed. An amino acid is a building block of protein.
There have been mixed results as far as tryptophan alone being used as a sleep aid. There has been some effectiveness using it to treat low serotonin levels in the brain. This helps with premenstrual dysphoric disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as well as depression, the link to tryptophan serotonin.
The reason tryptophan serotonin works on depression is that tryptophan is an essential precursor to many neurotransmitters, serotonin being one of the most important. In fact, tryptophan is the only amino acid that can be converted directly into serotonin, the important tryptophan serotonin link. Serotonin subsequently can be turned into melatonin and that is the actual sleep inducer.
Tryptophan obviously plays a role in mood balancing created by brain chemistry. This is why tryptophan serotonin is of benefit to some people with psychiatric disorders. The creation of serotonin is key for many states of depression.
The reason drugs like Zoloft work is that they increase serotonin levels by blocking its reuptake by neurotransmitters. More serotonin is good. Tryptophan as a precursor of serotonin increases the production of serotonin while SRRIs like Zoloft free up more serotonin to do what it needs to do.
Tryptophan occurs naturally in many foods. The foods which contain the most are tofu, soy, black-eyed peas, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and gluten flour, also meats, especially turkey.
Source: WebMD, BlueMarble
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