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Tryptophan: The Building block for Serotonin and Melatonin

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. ‘Essential’ here means that your body cannot produce it and thus you need to get tryptophan through your diet.

Once you consume tryptophan in foods, your body can use it through a couple of different pathways. Tryptophan is an amino acid that promotes sleep and is found in small amounts in all protein foods. It is a precursor to the sleep-inducing compounds serotonin (a neurotransmitter), and melatonin (a hormone which also acts as a neurotransmitter). Serotonin is important in regulation of mood, appetite, and sleep in the central nervous system, whereas melatonin is produced in the pineal gland and is important in regulating circadian rhythms. Thus, for tryptophan to have a sedative effect, it needs to enter the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier. Additionally, since tryptophan uses the same transport system as other amino acids, it must compete against them to enter the brain.

Although eating protein foods alone is unlikely to effectively induce sleep due to their insufficient tryptophan content, eating carbohydrates and protein in the same meal makes tryptophan more available to the brain like Rice and Dal or Khichadi and Yogurt. A meal, especially one rich in carbohydrates, stimulates the release of insulin. This promotes the clearance of other amino acids from the bloodstream and facilitates the entry of tryptophan into the brain. That is why it is ideal to have both carbohydrate and protein in your evening meal or dinner.

5 key effects of Tryptophan on the wellbeing and sleep:

  1. It supports to produce healthy Serotonin levels which regulates mood and social behaviour.

  2. It helps in dealing with stress and anxiety.

  3. It helps with the production of Melatonin which regulates sleep cycle and REM stage of the sleep.

  4. It helps to decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and encourages restful sleep by inducing relaxation.

  5. It encourages emotional wellbeing and helps to control healthy weight.

Foods Rich in Tryptophan:

  • Whole grain rice

  • Meat and poultry

  • Dairy products

  • Eggs

  • Soya protein

  • Peanuts

  • Fish – Salmon, Cod, Sardines and Tuna

  • Pulses

  • Pineapple and Banana

  • Almonds, Walnuts and Cashew nuts

  • Brewer’s yeast

  • Dark Chocolate

  • Watercress and Artichokes

Start eating a meal which is the best combination of Carbohydrate and protein to enhance the effect of tryptophan on brain to induce undisturbed sleep.

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