Tryptophan: More Than Just a Thanksgiving Myth

Explore the essential role of tryptophan in our health in this detailed blog post. Learn about its impact on serotonin production, sleep, immune function, and debunking the Thanksgiving sleep myth.

Welcome to our latest blog post, where we uncover the truths about tryptophan, an essential amino acid that has gained fame, particularly around Thanksgiving, for its supposed sleep-inducing properties. Let's dive into what tryptophan really is, its functions in the body, and its actual effects on our health and wellbeing.

What is Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids, meaning it can't be produced by our bodies and must be obtained through our diet. It's found in various foods, including turkey, chicken, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs. Beyond its popular association with sleepiness post-Thanksgiving meals, tryptophan plays several crucial roles in the body.

The Roles of Tryptophan

Precursor to Serotonin

One of the most important functions of tryptophan is its role as a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, and appetite. Serotonin itself is a precursor to melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating our sleep-wake cycle (Richard, D. M., et al., 2009).

Niacin Synthesis

Tryptophan is also involved in the synthesis of niacin (Vitamin B3), essential for converting food into energy, maintaining healthy skin, and supporting nervous system function (Silber, B. Y., & Schmitt, J. A. J., 2010).

Immune System Function

Tryptophan plays a role in immune system regulation. It's involved in the production of kynurenines, compounds that help regulate immune responses and inflammation.

Debunking the Thanksgiving Myth

Contrary to popular belief, the drowsiness people often experience after a Thanksgiving meal is more likely due to the large quantity of food consumed, particularly carbohydrates, rather than tryptophan alone. While tryptophan does lead to serotonin and melatonin production, the amount in turkey isn't significantly higher than in other common meats.

Tryptophan in Diet and Supplements

Dietary Sources

To maintain adequate levels of tryptophan, a balanced diet including foods like turkey, chicken, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs is recommended.


Tryptophan supplements are available and often marketed for their potential to improve mood, sleep, and cognitive functions. However, it's important to approach supplementation cautiously and consult a healthcare provider.

Conclusion: A Vital Amino Acid

Tryptophan is a key player in our body's functioning, contributing to mood regulation, sleep, immune function, and more. Its role extends far beyond the Thanksgiving table and is a vital component of our overall health.

References for Further Reading

  1. Richard, D. M., et al. (2009). "L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications." International Journal of Tryptophan Research.
  2. Silber, B. Y., & Schmitt, J. A. J. (2010). "Effects of tryptophan loading on human cognition, mood, and sleep." Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.
  3. Jenkins TA, Nguyen JC, Polglaze KE, Bertrand PP. Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients. 2016 Jan 20;8(1):56. doi: 10.3390/nu8010056. PMID: 26805875; PMCID: PMC4728667.

By understanding tryptophan's true role in our bodies, we can better appreciate this essential amino acid and its contribution to our health and wellbeing. Remember, while the Thanksgiving myth might be fun, tryptophan's story is much richer and more complex.

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