L-Tryptophan, the Better Way to Boost Well Being and Confidence.
In the world of life sciences, serotonin is one of the biggest celebrities. Tens of thousands of prescriptions are being written every day for pills that fool your body into thinking it has more serotonin than it does. There is little doubt about it, serotonin has become a goldmine for the pharmaceutical industry.
We need serotonin, it’s true. All the surveys and all the psychometric testing could not make it more clear: our country needs to calm down and get some sleep… and stop eating so much carbohydrate.
But there are two vastly different approaches to making your body think it has more serotonin. One is to mimic it. The other is to make it.
What is puzzling is that with all the articles being written about serotonin, you might think the public would be more familiar with L-tryptophan. There’s really no better, no more-natural way to make serotonin.
What exactly does serotonin do that makes it so important? Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, and neurotransmitters activate the signals that pass through neurons. In other words, neurons are a channel of communication in your body, but neurons are not all the same.
Neurons specialize in different functions. The neurons that produce serotonin from tryptophan, for example, promote feelings of well being, calm, personal security, relaxation, confidence and concentration.
However, your body also has contrary neurons that produce noradrenaline and similar, excitatory hormones. This family of hormones is associated with tension, anger, aggression, violence, fear, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, sleeplessness, and cravings of all kinds.
We may all recognize some of these symptoms. To say that our whole country is suffering from an tryptophan deficiency is more than speculation. Years of research into our eating habits, combined with the chemical analysis of blood samples from patients all over the country, reveal that of all the essential amino acids, tryptophan is most lacking.
The food charts typically show that tryptophan is found in foods that contain high protein. Some of the better sources are grains and legumes such as wheat germ and soy, dairy products such as cheese, milk, and yogurt, and meats, including turkey.
Even so, the amounts are small. In addition, many of us have food sensitivities or full-blown allergies to grains or dairy products, and many of us are not too keen on meats. So, logic would tell us that it may be of no help to have tryptophan in a food if you cannot digest the food.
To make matters worse, your body cannot make tryptophan, and nothing that has ever come out of a test tube can replace it. Your body was designed to use tryptophan - all the biochemical machinery is right there, inside your cells. This cannot be said of prescription chemicals that produce the usual zombie-like side effects you hear patients complain of.
How do the elderly benefit?
Recently, much has been written about the fact that older people tend to have tryptophan deficiency… hence, the high incidence of poor sleep and poor mood among the elderly.
What the elderly need to know is that it is important to get enough tryptophan, but you also need to take a few other nutrients along with tryptophan to ensure you get the full benefit.
How about kids?
A few years ago, young people were the ones in the news. Their eating habits may be different from those of the elderly - more junk food - a lot more junk food - but predictably kids seem to have many of the same deficiencies as the elderly. Tryptophan seems to be one of them, hence the epidemic of attention and behavior disorders.
Both of these groups would be wise to try something new.
Why not take serotonin directly? Well, the problem with taking serotonin directly is that it does not pass through your blood-brain barrier. It circulates through your body and does a great job of reducing common muscle pains, and it does a great job of keeping your intestinal tract healthy and working, but serotonin can only get to your brain disguised as one of its precursors, either tryptophan or 5-HTP.
Between the two, 5-HTP can raise serotonin levels quickly and predictably, and many people like it for that. But 5-HTP cannot replace tryptophan in any of the vast number of proteins that depend specifically on tryptophan.
The big difference here is that tryptophan is an essential amino acid, and 5-HTP is not.
To illustrate how useful this essential amino acid is, tryptophan is commonly added to baby formulas and to hospital intravenous solutions (IV’s) where it is indispensable for growth and survival. You probably do not fall into either of these two categories, but even as a healthy adult, you still need tryptophan.
Despite all advertising to the contrary, no other amino acid, vitamin, mineral, herb or chemical takes the place of tryptophan. Anything else simply masks a deficiency. This is serious. When you mask a deficiency, the deficiency becomes worse, but without your noticing. Even 5-HTP, by doing such a good job of alleviating emotional issues, can mask an tryptophan deficiency.
Many physicians, psychiatrists, and nutritionists routinely take it themselves and give L-tryptophan to their patients… and their pets, too. Professional pet handlers - the ones who feed and groom dogs for dog shows, for example - have found that tryptophan is one of the best nutrients for a dog’s coat.
Whatever their specialty, health practitioners agree that when tryptophan is deficient, a host of health conditions may begin to surface, often emotional ones first. Patients with tryptophan, zinc and vitamin B6 deficiency, for example, often experience severe inner tension, anxiety and phobias.
With Americans consuming so much protein, it might seem surprising that tryptophan could be in short supply. But lack of tryptophan is only one cause of serotonin deficiency.
As confirmed in research conducted by Richard and Judith Wurtman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there is competition among amino acids for passage through your blood-brain barrier, and high-protein diets actually interfere with tryptophan utilization by your brain.
In other words, along with the relative absence of tryptophan in our food, our choice of foods - proteins or carbohydrates - may also contribute to our lack of serotonin. According to an article in the journal, Psychosomatics, the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets so common today may be aggravating anxiety disorders, such as panic disorders, by blocking absorption of tryptophan into our brain.
Proteins are long chains of amino acids, linked end-to-end. When we eat protein, our digestive process then turns it into a soup of amino acids and small peptides.
It happens that not all amino acids behave alike, and only a few have the same size and electrical charge to compete strongly with tryptophan. These are L-phenylalanine, L-tyrosine, and the “branched-chain” amino acids that are so popular with body builders: L-isoleucine, L-leucine, and L-valine.
These are the amino acids that interfere most with tryptophan, and all of these amino acids are especially common in the muscle meats: steaks, hamburgers, chicken, etc., that Americans like best… the foods that we eat more of than anyone! The reasons we are deficient in tryptophan just keep adding up.
Let’s look closer at one of these amino acids, one that stimulates your adrenal glands, L-phenylalanine. What is never advertised and is seldom mentioned is that L-phenylalanine-containing artificial sweeteners are found in an enormous number of diet foods and beverages, and we consume them by the ton in our beverages and foods every year.
With tryptophan being the least-abundant amino acid in our diet, there’s not much tryptophan to compete against the heavy daily onslaught of zero-calorie sweeteners containing L-phenylalanine. It would be a worthy topic of research to determine if dieters who consume these artificial sweeteners actually are interfering with their ability to produce serotonin, thereby increasing their cravings for more carbohydrates.
Avoiding side effects
If you have ever been under the cloud of “mood-enhancers,” you already know some of the side effects. Dr. David Sussman, quoted in Clinical Psychiatry News, lists the short-term, most common side effects and the long-term as well, which are even more a cause for concern.
As noted by Dr. Linus Pauling, Ph.D, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, our first approach to healing should be to find the right molecule or nutrient to support health, not a masking agent. If your serotonin levels are low, the solution may be as simple as providing enough tryptophan to your brain.
The important point for our elderly and teenage family members to know - and for all the rest of us, too - is that we do have a natural, healthy alternative to prescription medications.
Be well in body, mind, and spirit! ■ ■
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