High tryptophan diet for anxiety?

Tryptophan is a substance that is used by the brain to make serotonin. It can be consumed in two ways, either as a food supplement or as part of a natural diet. Foods which are rich in tryptophan include turkey, tuna, milk, and cheese. Relying supplements and diet alone might not be wise.

So, if one were to consume those sources of tryptophan would one’s serotonin levels rise up and relieve anxiety, panic attacks, and depression? Well, science is divided. Raising serotonin levels is what SSRIs like prozac and Celexa do, but they do it by stopping re-absorption not actually by increasing the amount of serotonin present. By putting the building blocks of serotonin into your body, by consuming tryptophan you are actually increasing the amount of serotonin.

Or are you?

Some people say the supplement is much better than medication, others say you can eat a high tryptophan diet to cure anxiety, still more people say a high tryptophan diet is all but useless. It is certainly true that studies have found tryptophan to be more effective with less side effects than SSRIs when treating anxiety and depression. And of course this research doesn’t penetrate the minds of too many doctors as the bug pharmaceutical companies have got the market sewn up and know what’s good for business.

Supplement Tryptophan

Supplementing tryptophan can be much easier than increasing levels through diet.

On the other hand do you need supplements? Why not get enough naturally by say drinking a pint of milk a day? Well, Some people say that tryptophan taking as part of a normal meal will not reach the brain in sufficient quantities to make a difference due to the competition of other amino acids which outnumber tryptophan. This is a little simplistic. It seems that if you eat or drink tryptophan containing foods then you may be able to raise your serotonin levels. As always it’s a minefield and your body is unique. I say drink a pint of milk a day, spread out both with meals and on an empty stomach, and see if you feel better. Here is a list of food containing tryptophan.

There seems to me a good chance that a high tryptophan diet will improve mood as long as you are not on a massively high protein diet and have some complex carbohydrates going in as well.

4 Replies to “High tryptophan diet for anxiety?”

  1. There are a number of problems with using L-Tryptophan (L-T). It may cause harm, even death, and the whole basis for using it, that it may raise brain serotonin just as antidepressants are claimed to do is based on a misunderstanding of what antidepressants actually do.

    In the late 1980s 37 people died and over 1500 were permanently disabled after consuming L-T produced by a Japanese company, Showa Denko.

    It was determined these people were affected by a contaminate in the ‘Peak’ group, most probably Peak-X, which caused Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome. This appears to be an intrinsic contaminate of L-T, and possibly also its metabolites, 5-HTP (5-OH-trp=5-HTP) and melatonin.

    The focus at the time was on a particular batch, or batches, however, while these may have been more contaminated than usual, there is evidence that Peak contaminates are intrinsic to L-Tryptophan and its metabolites.

    Reports of some 50 new cases unrelated to the 1988-9 event were still be reported to the FDA’s Special Nutritional Adverse Event Monitoring System until the system was shut down in 2002. The brands listed included: General Nutrition Corporation (GNC) Twin Labs Fedco Tishcon Corporation Tyson & Assoc Ltd Trimedia Natrol Inc

    The fact that a particular brand is not on the above list does not mean it is necessarily any safer. Ajinomoto U.S.A of Raleigh, North Carolina is the only FDA licensed L-Tryptophan importer. They distribute it to supplement manufacturers, compound pharmacies, veterinary suppliers etc, so most brands contain L-Tryp from the same source.

    The Showa Denko plant has since changed ownership, but it still produce more than 60% of the supplemental L-T available world wide and is believed to be Ajinomoto’s supplier.

    That L-T made after the 1989 incident continues to be contaminated with Peak molecules was confirmed by a 1998-9 German study.

    The FDA’s 2001 Information Paper on L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan contains more information on the current thinking about these supplements.

    There is also evidence that L-T may be involved in the formation of some cancers: http://tinyurl.com/ioo3, http://tinyurl.com/iooa.

    However, the main problem with L-T use is that despite the popular mythology, antidepressants (ADs) do not increase brain serotonin levels or synthesis, they actually decrease it, or it remains unchanged. I’m listing some the studies showing this below [1].

    Actually, this should not come as a complete surprise to most. Serotonin levels are increased within an hour or so of taking the first antidepressant, but instead of this easing anxiety levels most patients initially experience more anxiety.

    However, the greatest indication that serotonin levels in either the synapses or the brain generally is not what affects anxiety/depression is the French antidepressant Tianeptine which is a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Enhancer. That is it enhances the uptake of serotonin instead of inhibiting it as the SSRIs do. If you take both it and a SSRI at equivalent effective doses they cancel each other out. Yet Tianeptine seems to be as effective as any of the SSRIs and tends to begin working earlier.



    [1] (Note 5-HT=serotonin)

    Stenfors C, Yu H, Ross SB. (2001) “Pharmacological characterisation of
    the decrease in 5-HT synthesis in the mouse brain evoked by the
    selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor citalopram.” Naunyn
    Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol, vol 363(2):p 222-32

    Alvarez JC, Sanceaume M, Advenier C, et al. (1999)”Differential changes in brain and platelet 5-HT concentrations after steady-state achievement and repeated administration of antidepressant drugs in mice.”
    Eur Neuropsychopharmacol, vol 10(1):p 31-6

    Moret C, Briley M.
    “Ex vivo inhibitory effect of the 5-HT uptake blocker citalopram on 5-HT synthesis.”
    J Neural Transm. 1997;104(2-3):147-60.

    Zangen A, Overstreet DH, Yadid G. (1997) “High serotonin and
    5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid levels in limbic brain regions in a rat model of depression: normalization by chronic antidepressant treatment.”
    J Neurochem, vol 69(6):p 2477-83

    Trouvin JH, Gardier AM, Chanut E, et al. (1993)
    “Time course of brain serotonin metabolism after cessation of long-term fluoxetine treatment
    in the rat.”
    Life Sci, vol 52(18):p PL187-92

    Caccia S, Fracasso C, Garattini S, Guiso G, Sarati S.
    “Effects of short- and long-term administration of fluoxetine on the monoamine content of rat brain.”
    Neuropharmacology. 1992 Apr;31(4):343-7.

  2. Thank you for posting only negative potentials of L-tryptophan while ignoring positives. That’s science!

    By your reasoning, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, green onions, milk, meat, and countless other products should be banned from the market because of outbreaks of illness.

    This is pseudo-science and propaganda down to the last punctuation.

    I am not against all drugs but people need to have options. Quit polarizing a situation that needs as many possible remedies as are available.

    Are you a pharmaceutical rep, by chance?

  3. How can you think trytophan can cause all these things? lol
    Some simple logic will tell you to search google, which will show you that it is in many foods. (or simply read this blog properly) which will tell you it is completely harmless. Maybe some dodgy japanese company screwed it up (which I’m pretty sure did happen with ONE batch) but that’s about all. Easy solution, take it naturally in food!

  4. However, in primate research, the amount of tryptophan that actually made it to the brain was dependent upon protein intake. Reducing the amount of protein consumed by monkeys resulted in lower levels of tryptophan making it to the brain. This implies that a diet high in carbs may not raise serotonin levels as effectively as some researchers suggest.

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