What you Need to Know About L-Tryptophan and Depression

Given that L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, the only way to acquire it is through the diet.  L-Tryptophan is necessary for the production of 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin and niacin (vitamin B3).  5-HTP is the precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin and serotonin is the precursor of melatonin.  Serotonin is known as the “feel good” transmitter and is responsible for providing a sense of well being.  Melatonin is both a neurotransmitter and hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland that is responsible for sleeping.  Niacin or B3 is important for running biological pathways and is essential.  L-Tryptophan deficiencies bring about a wide range of symptoms that include:  depression, anxiety, a loss of well being, changes in eating habits, obesity, pain, headaches, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and insomnia to mention a few.

L-Tryptophan can be taken as a dietary supplement as well as acquired by the foods you eat.  As we age, getting enough L-Tryptophan may become difficult.  It turns out that there is an enzyme that we code for by our genomes that breaks down this essential amino acid.  Under normal conditions this is not a problem.  However, as we age this enzyme becomes more active and may possibly deplete stores.  This is devastating for the brain because L-Tryptophan is necessary to produce the feel good transmitter serotonin.  As levels of serotonin decline behavioral symptoms appear.  You may have difficulty sleeping,  mood swings,  depression and weight gain kicks in along with an increase in appetite, you may have a L-Tryptophan deficiency.

Interestingly, the breakdown of L-Tryptophan that comes with the aging process can be slowed down by taking other nutrients in that slow down this process.  It is reported that an increase in the uptake of lysine (another essential amino acid) competes with L-Tryptophan in being broken down.  The more lysine you take in the more L-Tryptophan is allowed to stick around.  This is also true with nicotinamide.  Supplementing with nicotinamide (vitamin B3) allows more L-Tryptophan to stay around.  As we age, the enzyme that breaks down L-Tryptophan becomes over active due to inflammatory responses in your body.  So, another way to decrease the activity of this enzyme is to take anti-inflammatories.  There are a number of foods you can eat or you can take supplements to combat inflammation.  Chronic inflammation is not uncommon as we age and is a major contributor to the aging process which decreases longevity.

L-Tryptophan should not be taken alone as a supplement.  It requires Vitamin B6.  Vitamin B6 is a cofactor that activates an enzyme necessary for L-Tryptophan’s conversion to the neurotransmitter serotonin.  Vitamin B3 is also required for proper usage of L-Tryptophan.

As an essential amino acid, L-Tryptophan must be taken in the diet.  It is required to make structural proteins, enzymes to run metabolic pathways, vitamins,  contractile proteins for muscle as well as neurotransmitters.  If you don’t have enough L-Tryptophan around, many systems will not work properly.  In other words, some of your metabolic pathways will be sluggish.  That’s why there are a number of symptoms involved with this deficiency.  Obviously, there will be problems with sleep, mood and anxiety but problems with the cardiovascular system as well as the immune system.  It has been reported that L-Tryptophan deficiency can lead to arterial spasms and cardiac muscle damage and this is due to a weakened immune system.  Pain mechanisms may become abnormal such that you have difficulty in tolerating any kind of pain.  Increases in the production of serotonin help you to cope with pain better.  Because L-Tryptophan deficiency causes so many problems, it has been added to infant formulas to insure an infant develops properly.  Moreover, L-Tryptophan deficiencies have been reported in children who have autistic spectrum disorders.  This suggests that they may have a problem with their L-Tryptophan pathways leading to the production of serotonin.

L-Tryptophan as an essential amino acid is important for many body/brain functions.  As a precursor to the transmitters serotonin and melatonin, it plays a major role in sleep states and your ability to feel good about yourself.  Its is necessary for protein synthesis, maintaining a healthy immune system as well as cardiovascular system.  As we age, enzymatic activity for the breakdown of L-Tryptophan increases and may deplete necessary stores.  Increasing your dietary intake of foods that have a high concentrations of L-Tryptophan or perhaps supplementation may become necessary.