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Biochemistry 202: Tryptophan and 5HTP


TRP, tryptophan, is the aa that is commonly known to be in high concentrations in Thanksgiving turkey, and thus to cause us to feel like taking a nap after the feast. The wikipedia article argues that it is unlikely that this aa in turkey is actually causing that effect, and gives an assortment of alternative theories. But what I found interesting is that tryptophan is a precursor of seratonin, melatonin and niacin, and is also found in psilocybin (in psychedelic mushrooms) and LSD.

A Japanese lab genetically modified a batch of bacteria to produce large quantities of tryptophan in the late 1980's. It was in demand as an antidepressant and sleep aid. Because of a mistake in their production another bacterial product was present in the resulting supplement, and it sickened a lot of people (killed some too). The FDA, in its infinite wisdom, banned L-tryptophan in March 1990. FOUR DAYS later prozac was released onto the market. Tryptan is the prescription version of tryptophan which has remained on the market. Tryptophan is available without prescription through veterinary suppliers.

The FDA had to relax its ruling on tryptophan in 2001. The product now most widely available in health food stores is a metabolite of tryptophan known as 5HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). It readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. I'm going to try it. N = 1. Recent studies suggest that tryptophan supplementation could benefit those suffering from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) which is what I will get from the lack of sun in Oregon. Tryptophan is Mercola's favorite supplement for depression, though he has a host of other recommendations too. Here's what he had to say about tryptophan in 1998: http://www.mercola.com/1998/archive/tryptophan_and_depression.htm.

Tryptophan's functional group is an indole, which is a two-ring structure including a 6-membered benzene ring linked to a 5-membered pyrrole ring (containing a nitrogen). It's the only one of the 20 common amino acids that has a double ring. Indole is the stink in shit--and tar. In smaller amounts it has a flowery odor and is present in orange blossoms.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning we cannot synthesize it and must consume it in our diets. Some foods containing substantial amounts of TRP include: oats, bananas, dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, sesame, spirulina....and LOTS more. Many Americans are deficient because there is no tryptophan in corn, and many of our meat and dairy animals are corn fed, so they are tryptophan deficient. Grass fed animals are much better sources.

Dosing equivalency (for a serotonin deficiency) is 50mg 5HTP or 500 mg tryptophan a day.

TRYPTOPHAN
--Tryptophan is hard to find in drugstores these days, and costs more than 5HTP.
--Use www.biochemicals.com (BIOS) for tryptophan.
--use (instead of 5HTP) for pregnant women, small children, malnourished people, alcoholics, people with high cortisol
--niacin source

5HTP
--cheaper, easier to get, better purity
--take in afternoon, evening
--In MOST people (80%) it facilitates sleep because it converts to melatonin.
--5HTP can cause GI trouble in some people
--stimulates cortisol production-->sleep problems in individuals w/ high cortisol
--cortisol alone can cause sleep problems so suspect high cortisol if 5HPT doesn't induce sleep
--pt taking this should also take tyrosine (in the am) esp if they have allergies or migraines

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