Tryptophan possesses a remarkable array of applications for maintaining good health. This can be traced to the fact that Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is necessary for life and growth, so it cannot be replaced by any vitamin, mineral, herb, or prescription chemical, and it cannot be made by your own body.
As a nutritional supplement, Tryptophan does not treat or cure or prevent any disease, but any essential nutrient, such as water, has such a broad range of activity that deficiencies often are miss-diagnosed in a multitude of ways. Hence, the need for education.
Tryptophan is best known for its efficient relief of serotonin deficiency symptoms, such as common depression, common anxiety, irritable bowels, inflammation of the colon, hormonal imbalances, particularly estrogen/progesterone imbalances, premenstrual symptoms, unhealthy cravings for alcohol and carbohydrates, plus other common mental and emotional difficulties. This amino acid’s effectiveness for insomnia symptoms is quite high as well.
“I am personally using Tryptophan to relieve my insomnia, which for over two decades has been a source of health difficulty for me,” says Abram Ber, MD, of Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Tens of millions of Americans suffer from insomnia today, which was not the case when I began medical practice 25 years ago. It’s no longer just a problem of elderly people but does present itself in all age groups, most likely resulting from rising electromagnetic pollution, coupled with heavy metal poisoning [and the consumption of popular artificial sweeteners containing L-phenylalanine, a strong antagonist of L-Tryptophan].”
“Electromagnetic toxicity is getting worse because of cellular telephone towers, wireless telephones, TV satellite dishes, and other electronic devices of convenience. It’s a major epidemic in which people are unable to fall asleep or stay asleep; I call their condition “malignant insomnia.”
“L-Tryptophan is a primary nutritional support for my patients with malignant insomnia. With the brand of this amino acid that I consider most effective, I’ve witnessed absolutely no adverse effects from use of it. Of all the items I’ve dispensed for the nutritional treatment of insomnia, including melatonin, calcium, magnesium, herbs such as valerian, only this Tryptophan seems to work well because of its carefully controlled quality.”
“Melatonin fails to be a major player for relief of insomnia because of its variable side effects such as nightmares and a lingering grogginess after some fitful sleep,” continues Dr. Ber.
“The electrodermal testing I perform routinely indicates that of the 15 different components used by me against this sleep disorder, Tryptophan turns out a winner nearly every time. This food supplement brings about benefits for a minimum of one in three patients to whom I dispense it. While a 33.33% statistic of success may seem unimpressive, my wish is to avoid the several adverse side effects from prescribing sleep-producing drugs.”
“Most insomniacs need to take two capsules of 500 mg Tryptophan just before retiring. The 1000 mg-dosage works, and any higher dosage does not seem to produce any better sleep results,” states Dr. Ber.
“This is the evening amount I take myself. I have dozens of patients who purchase Tryptophan from my dispensary. Moreover, patients sometimes combine L-Tryptophan in a kind of synergistic ‘cocktail’ with melatonin, magnesium, or some other sleep–inducing nutrient.”
Insomnia Studies Using Tryptophan
A series of published clinical journal articles beginning in 1974 pointed out that the extent of sleep latency (length of time to fall asleep) could be significantly reduced by taking as little as 1000 mg of Tryptophan per day. Nine experiments conducted at the Sleep and Dream Laboratory in Boston showed that insomnia is eliminated when blood plasma levels are elevated by Tryptophan nutritional supplementation. Unlike hypnotics, this amino acid produces no distortions in sleep physiology either when it’s first administered or on long-term administration or after withdrawal. Tryptophan supports sleep best when accompanied by small doses of niacinamide (the amide of vitamin B3) and pyridoxyl 5-phosphate (vitamin B6). They tend to increase the incidence of REM or dream sleep. In fact, both Tryptophan and niacinamide metabolism are metabolically dependent on pyridoxal 5-phosphate.
Tryptophan metabolism involves a hydroxylase enzyme which also starts the conversion of tyrosine, phenylalanine, and the other amino acids to neurotransmitters. Dietary intake of Tryptophan directly influences the amount of serotonin in the plasma, brain and throughout the entire body so that neurotransmission more readily takes place.
Low dose melatonin ranging from 0.5 mg to 1 mg combined with Tryptophan taken at 500 mg to 1500 mg is known to be effective for providing relief for those with common insomnia.
Carol Van Zelst Cites Tryptophan Benefits for those with Common Mental/Emotional Disorders
The administrator of natural medicine at the Anew Skin & Wellness Center in Brookfield, Wisconsin, Carol Van Zelst, PhD, MS, FD (Functional Diagnostic Medicine), recounts how her patients benefit from taking Tryptophan for their common mental/emotional problems.
“For three years I have been using Tryptophan as a support for increasing levels of serotonin in disorders of the mind and emotions. This nutrient is useful for helping a patient overcome various illnesses connected to serotonin deficiency syndrome, such as mood swings, obsessive thoughts, insomnia, mood suppression, and nutritional deficiencies to the gut,” states Dr. Van Zelst.
“For instance, I was visited by a 28-year old woman, a music teacher, who before she consulted me had attempted suicide five times. I did specific testing of the patient’s urine, stools, and saliva to exactly determine which nutrients she was deficient in,” Dr. Van Zelst explains.
“From amino acid testing of her urine I discovered that the music teacher’s level of Tryptophan was almost nonexistent. Then, in reviewing her medications, as reported by the attending physician, I learned that this young woman had been prescribed lithium.
Now it has been well established that lithium prescribed in the presence of physiologically absent L-Tryptophan tends to increase one’s tendency to commit suicide.”
“For the patient’s safety, I did tell her about the danger she was in; thereafter, her lithium dosage was eliminated and with other nutrients, 1000 mg of L-Tryptophan was prescribed to her,” affirms Dr. Van Zelst.
“Within three weeks this woman improved remarkably. She returned to working full time, performed well in a functioning job with the local symphony orchestra, found a boyfriend, and has remained productive, happy and healthy for over two years.
“Working with Tryptophan as a main support has been a golden pursuit for me,” Dr. Van Zelst says.
“While employing Tryptophan supplementation, I recommend taking niacin, pyridoxal 5-phosphate, and glutamine to develop the patient’s normal physiological metabolism of L-Tryptophan. It’s standard procedure for me, and I see excellent responses from patients right away. Any symptoms of serotonin deficiency syndrome usually are overcome this way.”
“Also, Tryptophan with taurine and tyrosine in combination has been a godsend for helping relieve Parkinson’s symptoms. Taking Tryptophan, patients affected by neurological tremors often experience nearly total elimination of their tremors. Such results have me completely enthusiastic about the use of this amino acid,” says Dr. Carol Van Zelst.
“I have never experienced a single negative side effect from Tryptophan by any patient. For that health professional who wants to help his or her patient, this is the number one product to use.”
The Psychobiology of Serotonin Deficiency Syndrome
Being one of the most common and widespread disorders of human psychobiology in Western industrialized countries, Serotonin Deficiency Syndrome (SDS) manifests as a broad array of emotional and behavioral problems. Such problems include common depression, common anxiety, sleep disturbances obsessive compulsive actions, fear, anger, over-arousal, violence, aggression, and the inclination to commit suicide as occurred with Dr. Van Zelst’s patient. A chronic deficit of serotonin in the nerves that use it as their neurotransmitter is the root.
Dysfunctional Tryptophan metabolism or Tryptophan deficiency are the primary sources of SDS. Of all the 22 amino acids, Tryptophan is one of the eight essentials that must be obtained from food or nutritional supplements. Furthermore, Tryptophan is the essential amino acid that is most lacking in the American diet.
A person’s usual diet of animal or vegetable-based protein provides an average of just 1.25 gm per day of this essential amino acid not quite enough for many individuals suffering from sleep or mood disorders. It is the least plentiful of all 22 amino acids.
Taking Tryptophan as a nutritional supplement, it seems clear, is the most natural and effective means of increasing the brain’s serotonin production.
Should it be Tryptophan or 5-HTP?
After the tragedy of contaminated Tryptophan brought on by Showa Denko K.K. in 1989, it was believed that another precursor for serotonin might be a viable substitute for Tryptophan. The health professional community and nutrient distributors who had supplied Tryptophan temporarily turned to 5-Hyroxy Tryptophan (5-HTP) as the alternative supplement. In fact, 5-HTP has been effective supplementation for some, but according to Joan Matthews Larson, Ph.D., author of the book, Depression Free Naturally, 5-HTP has been somewhat troubling as a nutritional supplement. Because it bypasses the body’s feedback control mechanisms, some think 5-HTP may put patient’s at risk for the same heart-valve problems caused by the pharmaceutical diet drug, Fen-Phen.
As with 5-HTP, Fen-Phen also promotes uncontrolled creation of serotonin. Tryptophan, unlike 5-HTP, is an essential amino acid, which the body also uses to create proteins, vitamins (niacin), and enzymes. Tryptophan can be readily converted to 5-HTP as needed, but 5-HTP, on the other hand, cannot replace Tryptophan. Since research has shown that 5-HTP is poorly absorbed across the blood-brain barrier in patients who have ever had major depression (See Diagram 1) these individuals would more likely respond to treatment with Tryptophan than to 5-HTP.
Uncontrolled or excess serotonin levels can also be a factor in an illness related to the overabundance of serotonin, known as Serotonin Syndrome (SS). Though serotonin syndrome can occur with any substance that manipulates serotonin levels, the greatest risk for SS occurs in patients taking Mono-Amine Oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, which produce an antidepressant effect.
Thus MAO inhibitors should be strictly avoided in combination with any prescription or natural therapy such as Tryptophan. To reduce the risk of SS, other natural or pharmaceutical antidepressants should only be combined with the approval and close supervision of the patient’s health-care provider.
Experience with SSRI’s
The lead author of Healing Nutrients Within, Eric Braverman, M.D., is Medical Director of the Place for Achieving Total Health (PATH) Medical Inc., located in New York City. Dr. Braverman uses L-Tryptophan supplements for relieving serotonin deficiency syndrome and Tryptophan depletion.
“Whenever I might employ a serotonergic drug, my preferred product of choice is to substitute the nutrient, L-Tryptophan,” says Dr. Braverman. “And I succeed with the patient as indicated by blood level tests for Tryptophan. If I find an imbalance from mapping a person’s brain and do observe that the workings of its left and right sides are uncoordinated, a Tryptophan deficiency becomes recognizable as the issue. Therefore, my prescribing a serotonergic drug becomes unnecessary.”
(Please note: See Diagram 2 which shows that serotonergic drugs decrease serotonin levels in the brain over time and cause this neurotransmitter’s receptors to atrophy. In contrast, Tryptophan increases serotonin levels and enhances the number of serotonin receptors.)
As Medical Director of the Stockton Family Practice in Stockton, New Jersey, Stuart Freedenfeld, M.D., says, “For relieving common depression, common anxiety syndrome, serotonin deficiency, irritable bowel syndrome, and muscle pain, I use quite a bit of L-Tryptophan. I see excellent results from it.
“I generally start dosing at 1500 mg daily and go up to 3 grams a day or even higher. Since it is costly because of this company's high standards of quality, I try to keep the dosage down out of consideration for my patient’s pocketbook. And the reduced dose seems to do as good a job as the more elevated dosage.”
“My preference is to dispense L-Tryptophan, not for insomnia alone, but only when this condition is associated with common anxiety, depression, or some other mental dysfunction,” says Dr. Freedenfeld.
“Because there is more serotonin made in the gastrointestinal tract than in the brain, my observation is that irritable bowel syndrome responds very well to Tryptophan. It calms down the anxious and irritable bowel.”
“After visiting lots of other doctors, a 55-year-old male patient consulted me. He reported numbers of symptoms, such as loss of libido, nightmares, and a sense of being drugged from taking prescribed SSRI’s,” Dr. Freedenfeld says.
“Subsequently, my substituting Tryptophan for the patient returned him to once again feeling like his old self. My patient’s symptoms were eliminated by his taking Tryptophan instead of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.”
Naturopathic Physicians Prefer Using Tryptophan
Naturopathic physicians, Alan Christianson, Ph.D., N.D., Medical Director of Integrative Health Care in Scottsdale, Arizona and Pat Hallman, N.M.D., describe their success in using Tryptophan support with their patients.
Dr. Alan Christianson states: “Because it is exceedingly helpful for starch cravings, insomnia, common anxiety, and common depression, and for those patients with markers indicating low Tryptophan levels, I prescribe Tryptophan. My patient, Alice P., age 16, had suffered with bulimia symptoms and took lots of different antidepressants as treatment. Nothing helped. I performed an amino acid test and followed up with a separate dosing using L-Tryptophan. Four months later she exhibited a remarkable improvement. The young woman’s food binges had reduced substantially and weight was stabilized at normal for her. Such good results make it very enjoyable to utilize Tryptophan in this manner.”
Dr. Pat Hallman confirms: “Tryptophan is the precursor for serotonin, a shortage of which leads to a variety of neurotransmitter deficit disorders including symptoms of depression, insomnia, anxiety, aggression, and a lack of satiety or ‘fullness’ in over-eating disorders.”
“SSRI drugs, on the other hand, force serotonin to remain in contact with its neural receptor. Over time, receptors decrease and SSRI’s can cease to be effective. In contrast, Tryptophan brings about an increase in serotonin recirculation. It’s enjoyable to see this happen, for the patient then thrives over time.
“Many of my patients need relief from the side effects of various medications, which include anxiety, fatigue, and even seizures,” Dr. Hallman continues.
“Food avoidance is a problem with taking SSRI’s, and food cravings are troublesome with the tricyclics. Some also complain that medications that once helped no longer work. An effective dietary support for mood disorders includes Tryptophan with pyridoxal 5-phosphate, an active form of vitamin B6; niacin, and in some patients, melatonin. A few patients have commented: ‘Tryptophan doesn’t fatigue you,’ ‘Never any side effects occur,’ and ‘It worked so well, I bought some for my neighbor.’”
“I usually recommend that patients with insomnia symptoms start with one capsule an hour before bed and increase the dose if needed. This works well for most patients, but some have to experiment with other amounts and time of day. A computer programmer, for example, who drinks tea to keep alert during his late-hour shift found that swishing the L-Tryptophan powder in his mouth helped him fall asleep more quickly,” says Dr. Pat Hallman in his concluding remarks. “One patient’s wife spent a year trying different drugs for sleep without success. She finally agreed to try Tryptophan and by the fourth night was, ‘sleeping better than I have in years.’”
Tryptophan for Eating and Digestive Disorders
California naturopath, Elisa S. Lottor, Ph.D., N.D, conducts her nutrition practice at Pacifica Women’s Health Care in Los Angeles. Dr. Lottor, author of Female and Forgetful, published in 2001 by Warner Books, describes the success she experiences from using L-Tryptophan for a variety of patient’s health difficulties.
She states: “I do feel excitement using L-Tryptophan for patients with eating problems, both diminished appetite and excessive appetite, plus digestive problems including common GI problems like acid reflux and gastric ulcers. Tryptophan really works well for these conditions.
“A note just arrived from one of my eating disorder patients who is highly compulsive about watching her weight, which has been rising steadily. I put her on Tryptophan, and the woman wrote that she loves what I’ve done to help her lower and maintain her weight,” says Dr. Elisa Lotter. ● ●
Personal Experience with Benzodiazepines from Pat Hallman, NMD.
Pat Hallman, NMD, recommends that physicians “Avoid benzodiazepines. In all the years I have been personally using and prescribing natural therapies as an alternative to prescription medicines, I have heard many complaints and concerns about the side effects and withdrawal challenges of pharmaceuticals. By far the greatest outcry has been regarding the addictiveness of benzodiazepines.
While these drugs are effective in quickly relieving anxiety, the rebound that follows as patients attempt to stop using them has been described as horrendous. Many patients struggle for years, decreasing their dosages by tiny fractions per week in order to wean themselves off. Some simply give up and resign themselves to a lifetime of “benzo” addiction.
While many are helped by natural therapies in their effort to recover from prescription drug addictions, the best advice I can give is to avoid them in the first place by using natural therapies, when possible.”
Reprinted with permission Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients 911 Typer Street, Port Townsend WA 98368 360-385-6021 / www.townsendletter.com
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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