This amino acid is required for the production of niacin (vitamin B3). It is used by the human body to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is important for normal nerve and brain function. Serotonin is important in sleep, stabilizing emotional moods, pain control, inflammation, intestinal peristalsis, amongst other things.
Tryptophan is one of several essential amino acids needed in the diet; human beings cannot synthesize it from simpler metabolites. Young adults require about 7mg of this amino acid per day per kg of body weight.
Tryptophan is important in controlling hyperactivity in children, assists in alleviating stress, and helps with weight loss and reducing appetite. It has also been found that people suffering from migraine headaches have abnormal levels of tryptophan, and in this supplementation may be helpful.
A deficiency of tryptophan may lead to depression, insomnia, schizophrenia, and carbohydrate craving. Combined with a shortage of magnesium, this deficiency may be a contributing factor to heart artery spasms. Deficiency of tryptophan in the diet enhances the progress of the vitamin-deficiency disease pellagra, which is treated by restoring nicotinic acid to the diet, usually supplemented with tryptophan.
A deficiency of tryptophan may also lead to suicidal thoughts. Those who commit suicide during the night have lower levels of melatonin than those dying in the night from other causes; tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin.
Tryptophan (or 5-HTP), the precursor of the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin, also has relaxing and calming effects. Serotonin levels are often low among people with anxiety disorders. A study found that 44% of alcoholics suffer from anxiety. You can be pretty sure that you are low on tryptophan if you have ever blacked out from drinking. It has been established that low tryptophan stores trigger blackouts.
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