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Tryptophan Deficiency


The main function of tryptophan is as a building block in protein synthesis (helps the body produce its own proteins). Dietary deficiency of tryptophan may cause the symptoms characteristic of protein deficiency; chronic sinus congestion/allergies, watery eyes, edema, muscle cramps (especially at night), TMJ pain, bleeding gums and fatigue after exercise.

Tryptophan helps the anxious agitated depressive to counterbalance, restoring a sense of well-being and behavioral self-control. Because of its ability to raise serotonin levels, tryptophan has been used therapeutically in the treatment of a variety of conditions, most notably insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Research has shown that for many people suffering depression, combining the amino-acid tyrosine, the precursor to dopamine, with tryptophan works much better than taking tryptophan alone.

Efficient tryptophan metabolism requires an adequate amount of vitamin B6 and magnesium. When improperly metabolized it creates a waste product in the brain which is toxic and can cause hallucinations and delusions.

Also, research suggests that tryptophan competes with 5 other amino acids for active transport across the blood brain barrier. So increasing protein overall, actually decreases tryptophan levels because the tryptophan is outcompeted by the other amino acids. All meats contain the amino acid tryptophan, but they also contain much higher amounts of the competing amino acids. Therefore, foods that have a net effect of increasing tryptophan are: goji berries, cacao (chocolate), oats, dried dates, spirulina, chlorella, pumpkin seeds, almonds and bee pollen.

Tryptophan is converted to serotonin in the brain. Melatonin is converted from serotonin after chemical reactions in the pineal gland.  Vitamin B6 is involved in the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin.  However, to synthesize serotonin, the body needs in addition to tryptophan, omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B6.  As neurotransmitters, serotonin helps the body regulate appetite and mood while low levels of melatonin are associated with insomnia, osteoporosis and breast cancer.

Honey creates a spike in insulin, which drives tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier. It is then converted into serotonin, which in darkness is converted in to melatonin in the pineal gland in our brain. The result is that as nighttime approaches, you have more melatonin to tell your body “ok, it’s time to sleep now.”   Tart cherries are incredibly rich in melatonin.

About 3% of dietary tryptophan can be converted into niacin (vitamin B3) by the liver. This conversion can help prevent the symptoms associated with niacin deficiency when dietary intake of this vitamin is low. Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin that participates in more than 50 metabolic functions, all of which are important in the release of energy from carbohydrates.  

Niacin works closely with vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, and biotin to break the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in food.   It also aids in the production of hydrochloric acid, needed for proper digestion. Additionally, vitamin B3 facilitates the body’s ability to eliminate toxins.  It also helps the body make various sex and stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands and other parts of the body.  Niacin is effective in improving circulation and reducing cholesterol levels in the blood.

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant in any way to diagnose, treat or interfere with prescribed medical care.
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