Foods containing tryptophan
Tryptophan is found in some foods, especially those rich in protein. Foods known to be rich in tryptophan include:
- pumpkin and sesame seeds
- Tofu and soybeans
However, in order to convert tryptophan into niacin, your body needs enough iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin B2.
Tryptophan side effects
Tryptophan has many health benefits, but this supplement may cause people some unpleasant side effects.
The most common are gastrointestinal side effects, including:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Loss of appetite
Other common side effects include:
- sexual dysfunction
- dry mouth
More serious side effects that require immediate discontinuation include:
- Blurred vision
- muscle weakness
Tryptophan, which occurs naturally in foods, has many health benefits. Most of these health benefits come from potential increases in niacin and serotonin. More serotonin benefits include:
- Healthier, better sleep
- Relieve depression and anxiety
- Increase emotional well-being
- Increase pain tolerance
While tryptophan is generally safe when taken through food, some people experience adverse effects from supplement form.
According to the National Organization for Rare Diseases, tryptophan supplements were linked to more than 1,500 reports of eosinophilic myalgia syndrome (EMS) and 37 deaths during an epidemic in the late 1980s.
This is a rare disease that affects multiple organ systems in the body, including the skin, lungs, and muscles. It is usually sudden and progresses rapidly. It can cause disability and possibly even death. Symptoms include:
- muscle pain or weakness
- Difficulty breathing
However, EMS cases have been traced to the manufacturer of contaminated tryptophan supplements. Therefore, medical problems may be due to contamination from the supplement rather than tryptophan itself.
Tryptophan can help treat the symptoms of certain diseases, but it may raise your serotonin levels too much, especially when combined with the following medications:
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
- MAO inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Pain relievers, such as tramadol and pethidine
- triptan migraine medications
- Cough syrup containing dextromethaphan
If you are taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), you should not increase tryptophan without consulting your doctor.
The increase in serotonin from tryptophan may contradict the purpose of SSRIs. Several common depression medications fall into this category, including:
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
It's best to err on the side of caution and avoid taking tryptophan if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.
Tryptophan is commonly used to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. However, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether this is effective. More research is needed to determine whether tryptophan can safely treat these conditions.
Tryptophan has been shown to be potentially effective in helping relieve premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Some older research suggests tryptophan may also be effective in smoking cessation.
While tryptophan supplements are available, they may have side effects in some people. Therefore, it may be safer to obtain tryptophan through foods that naturally contain it, such as meat, fish, and cheese.
Your doctor may recommend that you take a 5-HTP supplement instead of a tryptophan supplement, which is tryptophan before it is fully converted into serotonin.
If you decide to take any kind of supplement, talk to your doctor first to make sure it's safe for you.