How Tryptophan Can Boost Serotonin and Alleviate Stress


Sleepless nights, anxieties, and depression have been associated with deficient levels of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. These vital brain chemicals control and adjust the way our minds operate and experience the world around us. Keeping the body supplied with the materials it needs to create these biological compounds is the best way to avoid conditions of deficiency.

In the following sections, we will examine the essential amino acid tryptophan and learn more about the vital role it plays in balancing the mind and nourishing the body.

food on woodWhat is Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid the body obtains from its food sources. Essential nutrients, like tryptophan, are not synthesized in the human body but are still important to vital biological processes, hence labeled “essential”.

Tryptophan plays an essential role in the body. It’s important for anabolic processes that build muscle mass, bone density, and create new cells. Tryptophan also functions as a precursor, or base material, from which neurotransmitters can be constructed. The most important of these neurotransmitters produced from tryptophan is serotonin.

Tryptophan also plays a role in the production of niacin, better known as vitamin B3. Niacin works to keep energy levels high, aids in digestion, and keeps skin healthy. Without tryptophan, synthesis of this vital nutrient is hampered.

Benefits of Tryptophan

Today, biohackers are seeking out cutting edge compounds that can greatly enhance their performance. By understanding the important role of tryptophan in the body, many opportunities for greater health can be explored and enhanced.  

Serotonin Production

The production and regulation of serotonin is critical to balancing the mood, storing and acquiring information, balancing the sleep-wake cycles, regulating the digestion and more. Serotonin exists primarily in the digestive system and in the blood while a smaller quantity is at work in the central nervous system and brain.

Serotonin can’t pass through the blood-brain barrier so serotonin found in food sources can’t be put to work supporting brain activity. All the serotonin needed for the brain must be produced within the brain and this requires plenty of tryptophan as found in food sources.1

Treatment of Anxiety

The term “anxiety disorder” encompasses a broad range of conditions characterized by inordinate levels of stress, worry, and fear. Tryptophan’s direct condition to this condition is based on its capacity to modulate serotonin activities in the body.2

Stress and anxiety are characterized by upset feelings which are the result of increased neurotransmitter productions and activities. After this cascade of brain chemicals has subsided, the body is exhausted. Time is needed to restore raw materials for the brain to function optimally.

Studies have shown that tryptophan in the diet is an important part of warding off the effects of anxiety. Its effects are so great that it has been labeled to have anxiolytic, or antianxiety, effects.3

young woman eating berriesAntidepressant

Depression has a wide range of causes and can affect just about every aspect of life. Long-term consequences of this condition include dementia and other degenerative conditions. While there is no one cure-all solution, improving dietary intake to improve the production of brain chemicals has been found effective in ameliorating the symptoms of depressive conditions.

Tryptophan not only improves the functions of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin but also allows for better rest at night. Sleep plays a big role in balancing the effects of depression and anxiety.4

Improved Memory

Keeping the memory centers of the brain in optimal conditions is essential to maintaining cognitive function throughout a lifetime. A healthy diet replete with tryptophan has proven to protect these vital information centers. This vital amino acid plays an important role in maintaining memory and improving the function of working memory.

The working memory allows the brain to access and apply information pertinent to a task. Active studies have found that a lack of tryptophan in the diet can lead to loss of memory and reduced cognitive function.5  

woman sleeping goodImproved Sleep

Serotonin is most active during the waking cycles. At this time it modulates brain activity, improves the mood, and regulates the biological process. It is managed by the circadian clock and when the evening shadows begin to lengthen, it is transformed into melatonin. This neurotransmitter is also known as the sleepy molecule.

The relationship between serotonin and melatonin is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep. It begins in the morning when any remaining melatonin can result in a morning fog. A brisk walk in the sunshine can help overcome this and begin a strong production of serotonin.

Serotonin production throughout the day will lead to plenty of melatonin at night which will allow an optimal sleep cycle. Tryptophan plays an important role in this process and can greatly improve the sleep cycle.6

Reduce Aggression in Pets

Tryptophan has shown promise in modulating the demeanor of household pets. In some animal companions, the territorial instinct is higher than average. This can result in unmitigated verbal and behavioral aggression. Supplements containing l-tryptophan has shown promise in reducing this hostility and instilling an amicable nature.7

Tryptophan Deficiencies

Just as the body will greatly benefit from a healthy intake of dietary tryptophan, it will also suffer if this intake is disrupted. Tryptophan deficiency is fairly uncommon because there are so many healthy and popular foods that contain this important nutrient.

Nevertheless, when it does strike it affects conditions of neurological malfunction and emotional upset ranging from moderate to severe. Some of the most common conditions associated with a long-term tryptophan deficiency include:

  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Insomnia
  • Schizophrenia

Tryptophan also plays an important role in the way another important nutrient is made available in the body. Too little tryptophan can mean the body also is not getting enough niacin. Pellagra is a condition of severe niacin deficiency and can also come from insufficient tryptophan.8

Tryptophan Sources

With so many dietary sources of this essential amino acid, there are plentiful options for getting a regular tryptophan intake. Some of the most abundant tryptophan supplies are found in:

  • Pumpkins seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Cheese
  • Lean meats (pork, lamb, and beef)
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Raw oats
  • Beans
  • Eggs

Risks and Precautions

L-tryptophan is the amino acid in supplement form. It has been found possibly unsafe by the medical community. Supplementation with L-tryptophan has been connected to a list of highly unpleasant side-effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Belching
  • Gas
  • Digestive Issues
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness

Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome is a disorder that causes swelling and pain in various areas of the body. Supplementation with tryptophan has been linked to cases and deaths from this debilitating neurological disease.  

Too little is known about how supplementing with tryptophan will affect pregnant mothers or developing infants. It is best to be on the cautious side and avoid supplementation to be sure. Speak to your medical provider for more information on the risks of this supplement.9

Final Notes on Tryptophan

As you can see, supplementation is only a good idea under very rare conditions and with medical advisement. The best way to ensure an adequate supply of this healthy nutrient is through the daily diet. This can be enhanced by supporting tryptophan-rich foods with a side of healthy carbs. This allows for increased levels of tryptophan to be sent to the brain where it can bolster serotonin levels.  

Photo credits: fizkes/, DeanDrobot/, EkaterinaMarkelova/

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By Krista Burton

Krista is an aromatherapy enthusiast who enjoys writing and researching about all the new aromatherapy trends. When she’s not busy writing and researching you can find her dreaming about being on the beach.

Favorite MONQ blend: Ocean

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The above information relates to studies of specific individual essential oil ingredients, some of which are used in the essential oil blends for various MONQ diffusers. Please note, however, that while individual ingredients may have been shown to exhibit certain independent effects when used alone, the specific blends of ingredients contained in MONQ diffusers have not been tested. No specific claims are being made that use of any MONQ diffusers will lead to any of the effects discussed above.  Additionally, please note that MONQ diffusers have not been reviewed or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. MONQ diffusers are not intended to be used in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, prevention, or treatment of any disease or medical condition. If you have a health condition or concern, please consult a physician or your alternative health care provider prior to using MONQ diffusers. MONQ blends should not be inhaled into the lungs.

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