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Tryptophan: Definition, Uses And Tryptophan Foods

Tryptophan plays an essential role in your sleep cycles, stress regulation and mood.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid  that can be found in foods such as chocolate, but it is also sold as food supplements. Among other benefits, it is attributed with mood-regulating and relaxing properties, and it also supports restful sleep.

The following article will present what tryptophan is, its uses, properties and benefits, as well as the foods high in tryptophan, this essential amino acid associated with sleep, stress and mood.

What is tryptophan?

Tryptophan is a type of amino acid essential for human nutrition. It is also indentified by its symbols Trp or W.

It is one of the 20 amino acids found in the human genetic code and it belongs to the nonpolar or hydrophobic group. Since it is an essential amino acid, it is mainly found in foods high in protein.

It is closely related to serotonin, as it is necessary for the correct release of this neurotransmitter in your body. Serotonin plays an important role in regulating sleep, mood and the feeling of well-being. 

The lack of tryptophan in your body is thought to lead to anxiety, insomnia and psychological stress.

The relationship between L-tryptophan and vitamin B6 and magnesium

In order to correctly metabolise tryptophan, your body needs to have the right levels of two components: vitamin B6 and magnesium.

There are nutritional supplements based on L-tryptophan, vitamin B6 and magnesium, as well as melatonin, which increase the levels of this essential amino acid. They help to:

  • Improve rest and the natural circadian rhythm

  • Stimulate the synthesis of serotonin

  • Improve sleep quality

  • Strengthen the immune system

  • Neuromuscular recovery. 


Tryptophan supplements are recommended when you areexperiencing stress, fatigue or lack of concentration, as well as insomnia or jet lag.

Even though it is just a food supplement, you should consult your family doctor about it and follow their prescription. They usually recommend 2 tablets per day, one with lunch and one with supper.

Where to buy tryptophan?

These food supplements can be found in health stores, supermarkets and nutrition centres. Also, on Amazon you can find several products of different brands and formats, as well as customers’ reviews about tryptophan. Check out all the tryptophan supplements offered by Amazon here.

Properties and health benefits

Like any other amino acid, tryptophan takes part in the production of proteins. It is related to the synthesis and production of serotonin  and it also stimulates melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. Next, we will explain some of its main benefits.

1. Improves sleep quality

This substance involved in the production of proteins is essential for the pineal gland to secrete melatonin. Since it helps the secretion of both melatonin and serotonin, it improves sleep quality and naturally regulates sleep-wake cycles.

As a food supplement, it supports restful sleep in those people with sleep problems. 

Improves sleep quality
Tryptophan improves sleep quality and regulates sleep-wake cycles.

2. Reduces anxiety

The calming effect of serotonin works as a natural anxiolytic for the body. Likewise, tryptophan regulates the tension released during stressful periods,  as well as decreases irritability.

3. Helps synthesise vitamins

It takes part in the synthesis of vitamin B3 or niacin. In fact, every 60 milligrams of tryptophan in your diet helps your body produce 1 milligram of niacin.

This vitamin is related to the elimination of toxic chemicals from your body and the production of sex and stress hormones.

4. Regulates your mood

In some cases, it has been noted that tryptophan has an antidepressant effect due to the release of serotonin. This is why it is considered a natural mood regulator.

However, as it is highlighted in the side effects section, under no circumstances should you take it along with antidepressants or anxiolytics without the consent of a health professional.

5. Helps control your appetite

It is usually very useful for obesity problems that are related to anxiety, since tryptophan helps serotonin control appetite. For this reason, it is indirectly associated with weight loss and usually prescribed as a food supplement in some diets.

Foods with tryptophan

As mentioned before, since it is an essential amino acid, it can only be found in food or other nutritional supplements.  High-protein foods are the main source of this substance.

Among the main tryptophan foods, there are  cocoa, eggs, milk, nuts and lean meat. Other foods that contain it are some seeds, such as sesame, spirulina algae, or sunflower and pumpkin seeds. 

People who do not include these foods in a balanced diet on a regular basis have a higher risk of developing tryptophan deficiency, as well as experience higher levels of stress.

Likewise, to metabolise it easier, it is important to include foods rich in magnesium and vitamin B6.

Foods with tryptophan
How to increase serotonin? Eating foods high in tryptophan is an option.

Side effects

Tryptophan supplements are usually safe but, sometimes, they can cause side effects if the appropriate recommendations are not followed. The main side effects that have been observed are:

  • Drowsiness

  • Light-headedness 

  • Headache 

  • Dry mouth

  • Nausea.

It is not recommended to take them when working around heavy machinery or performing activities that require you to be alert.

If you consume them excessively, it may lead to eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, which is associated with intense muscle pain, fatigue, rash and baldness, among other symptoms.

Moreover, a tryptophan overdose may cause serotonin syndrome, which includes confusion, hallucinations, diarrhoea and/or muscle spasms.

Since they are not drugs, they do not need to be prescribed. For this reason, Healthy Way Mag recommends you to consult a doctor before taking any tryptophan supplement, especially if you have health problems. Also, you should buy these products from reputable manufacturers.


These supplements should not be taken by anyone with liver or kidney disease, or with eosinophilia and fibromyalgia.

Besides, they are not recommended for pregnant women, women who are breast-feeding, or people who follow a psychiatric treatment including psychoactive drugs.

Check out the original article: Triptófano: qué es, para qué sirve y en qué alimentos se encuentra at


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Radwanski, E.R., & Last, R.L. (1995). You have access Tryptophan biosynthesis and metabolism: biochemical and molecular genetics. The Plant Cell, 7(7): 921-934. doi:

Turner, E.H., Loftis, J.M., & Blackwell, A.D. (2006). Serotonin a la carte: supplementation with the serotonin precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan». Pharmacol. Ther. 109(3): 325-38. doi: