What is tryptophan? Learn about the functions of tryptophan, the health benefits of this essential amino acid, and where to find it, with information on foods rich in tryptophan.
Among the different essential nutrients that we must contribute to our body from the diet every day (especially vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants), we must pay almost special attention to essential amino acids, they are fundamental, since our body he is not capable of synthesizing them (that is, producing them himself).
In total there are 10 essential amino acids, which we must contribute to our body through the nutrition that we follow daily. And what are the foods richest in them? Mainly the richest in proteins, which our body breaks down to obtain them and thus form new proteins.
Precisely tryptophan is another of the most well-known or popular essential amino acids, along with methionine or phenylalanine.
What is tryptophan?
Tryptophan is an amino acid considered essential, mainly because – as you surely know – our body is not capable of synthesizing it by itself.
Therefore, to be able to contribute it to our organism we must always do it through the diet, consuming those foods richest in tryptophan, especially whole grains, milk and eggs, as well as other foods of animal origin as for example is the case of meat and fish.
It is a fundamental essential amino acid in our diet, as it helps to produce vitamin B3 (niacin), necessary for the metabolism of fats and proteins, to improve blood vessel circulation, to control sleep and muscle activity…
That is, it consists of an essential amino acid, which means that it is only obtained through food since our body is not capable of manufacturing them or it does so in very limited quantities.
Therefore, to provide the body with the amount of tryptophan that it needs daily, it is essential to follow a varied diet, among which we find whole grains, milk and eggs.
Not surprisingly, it is common for people who follow a vegetarian diet to have a greater risk of deficiency of this essential amino acid.
Functions of tryptophan
- Serotonin regulator: One of the main functions of tryptophan is that it is a fundamental amino acid that regulates the levels of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter precursor to the hormone melatonin, which regulates the daily wake-sleep cycle.
- Important for vitamin B3: In addition, it helps the body make its own proteins, as with all essential amino acids, and is important in the formation of vitamin B3.
- Anxiolytic and antidepressant effect: In turn, tryptophan helps serotonin control appetite, exerting an anxiolytic and antidepressant effect. It helps control insulin levels, since it tends to calm our nervous system.
In any case, we could summarize the main functions of tryptophan in the following section:
- Helps produce vitamin B3.
- It has a calming effect on the nervous system.
- Reduces anxiety and depression.
- Stabilizes the mood.
- It reduces the appetite.
- Increases the release of growth hormones.
Health benefits of tryptophan
As we briefly indicated regarding the different functions of tryptophan in our body, one of its main benefits (for which tryptophan is definitely popular and better known) is its calming effect on the nervous system, a virtue that translates into helping to calm anxiety and depression, and also relieves insomnia by inducing sleep.
It also helps the proper functioning of our immune system, and in cases of migraine it can help in its medical treatment, by reducing headaches.
Tryptophan supplements are often widely used in weight loss diets, thanks to the fact that it is capable of reducing appetite, with consequent weight control.
Where to find tryptophan? The richest foods
Foods of animal origin high in tryptophan
There are many foods of animal origin that stand out for their high content of tryptophan. The following stand out:
- Fish: especially blue fish, especially salmon, sardines and mackerel.
- Dairy products: like yogurt and cheeses.
Plant-based foods high in tryptophan
- Legumes: especially lentils, chickpeas, peas, soybeans, lima beans and beans.
- Cereals: wheat, rice, oats, barley and rye.
- Nuts: peanuts (peanuts), almonds, pistachios, cashews and pine nuts.
- Fruits: banana, strawberries, avocado, papaya, mango, oranges, grapefruit, peaches, grapes, and apples.
- Vegetables and vegetables: pumpkin, arugula, watercress, spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, celery, onion, garlic, lettuce, aubergine, tomato, cucumber, carrot and endives.
- Seeds: sesame and sunflower seeds.
Consequences of tryptophan deficiency
The lack of this amino acid together with a mineral as important as magnesium can contribute to the appearance or spasms of the coronary arteries.
It can also cause mouth pain and redness of the mucous membranes of the mouth.
- People with liver and kidney problems.
- People who are taking medications for depression or tranquilizers.