Tryptophan is one of my favorite supplements. It is rare to find something that helps such a large percentage of people with a very strong and pronounced effect. Most of the specifics I discuss on the blog generally help a small number of sufferers and require a long supplementation, for example, omega 3, which is admittedly one of the most effective remedies against anxiety and depression, but you have to wait so long for the effects and they are so slow that quite a few people get discouraged or don’t notice the improvement, as it’s hard to see such a slow process.
The specifics discussed here stand out from the rest. As a rule, those using it reacted with delight. In literally a few days, problems with insomnia, neurotic symptoms or depression disappeared, people gained a new will to live. In my case, its application led – among other things – to the creation of this blog. Something I had been putting off for over a year due to lack of time and motivation suddenly seemed like a very simple thing.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. The human body can’t make it, so we have to supply an adequate amount in food. Its most interesting property is that it is an essential component for the production of serotonin, a substance responsible for a state of contentment, regulating sleep and – in general – essential for well-being. When tryptophan is in short supply, serotonin is in short supply. What does modern medicine do then? It stuffs people with heavy psychotropics so that they don’t feel this decline, or it uses substances that are designed to increase serotonin levels by – inaccurately, but figuratively – stopping it from escaping. Since such action alters its levels throughout the body, this will result in too much of it in some parts of the body, and too little in others. Everything starts to go crazy, and as a result there are quite unpleasant side effects, among them suicides, so frequent that it threatened to withdraw these drugs.
The drug companies reacted to this the way one usually reacts in such situations: they manipulated the research. What dumber people think is that if something is proven according to the principles of evidence-based medicine, it is true. Nothing could be further from the truth, as can be seen in the example of SSRIs.
94% of published clinical trials have given positive results, the drugs work. Hurray, let’s prescribe them to patients! However, if you look a little closer, when a study gave a negative result, it simply wasn’t published. It’s that simple. If you include the unpublished clinical trials, the drugs were effective in 51% of cases, that is, the effect was quite similar to placebo. Of course, they do work in some way, and anyone who has taken them can attest to that. Such low effectiveness comes not so much from studies where there was no effect, but rather from those cases where side effects were observed that outweighed the positives. For example, much higher rates of suicide. Or permanent addiction.
Ways to “twist” clinical trials so as to get the right result are many, and in fact should be the subject of a separate entry. I will only highlight a few of them. It can be the already discussed not publishing those that do not produce a satisfactory result (given enough resources, one can thus prove that tap water cures cancer). The criteria for “success” can be changed, as has been done in the past with flu vaccine tests. If vaccination caused more people to contract test-detectable flu, maybe there were fewer missed days at work? Or perhaps lower antibiotic use for complications? Finally, one can establish a biased placebo.
The above – somewhat offtopic – paragraphs were intended to shed some light on my point of view: why I believe that one should fill in the missing “raw material” and let the body regulate everything on its own, instead of administering psychotropics, since they are not as safe as the clinical trial results that are planted under our noses suggest. However, let’s return to tryptophan. There are two rather interesting stories associated with it.
The first concerns gelatin. At one time, the world went crazy for another “miracle diet” (a miracle if you survive). Someone came up with the idea that eating almost exclusively protein would make you lose weight. This is true in a way – a bit on the same principle as heroin addicts are not too obese. Such diets work, but at the same time they devastate the body. In this case, however, the ingenuity of the creators has passed all limits. They used one of the cheapest sources of protein, gelatin. It is completely devoid of tryptophan, instead it contains a lot of other amino acids, so it led to a deficiency of tryptophan very quickly. Lots of people paid for it with serious damage to their health, there were also quite a few fatalities if I remember right.
The second is much more grim. Once upon a time, a factory in Japan (by the way, the corporation that led to this has already had several such stunts on its conscience, including mercury poisoning) introduced a new technology for manufacturing supplements. No one knows what really happened there, why it worked so strongly and “effectively,” nevertheless, by the time it was realized that the culprit was tryptophan coming from one particular production line in one factory, at least 37 people had died and more than 1,500 had become seriously ill, a very large proportion of them disabled for life. Since then there have been no more illnesses, so it can be assumed that the supplement is now perfectly safe, nevertheless I would be careful with it. I am an ardent supporter of various “inventions”, for example, I recently bought betaine from a horse nutrition store, but in this case I would be more carefully.
As a result of the scandal, they banned the sale of tryptophan in the US, and later this ban was softened somewhat, nevertheless there are still problems with availability. It is still under discussion whether such strong restrictions were somehow lobbied by companies producing a “competitive” specification, i.e. prozac, which was then taking the market by storm. It is not for me to judge how much truth there is in this.
It is not known why some people are deficient in this amino acid in the body. There are several theories here. One says that absorption in the digestive system is blocked by a poor diet, or more specifically, paradoxically, by an excess of protein. It supposedly “blocks” absorption by clogging metabolic pathways. This is hard to believe, as the use of protein supplements increases its levels. Another says there is increased loss in the body due to inflammation, explaining its escape in conditions characterized by high oxidative stress. Still another about the effect of the ratio of proteins to carbohydrates on changing the concentration of this amino acid in the blood, and thus on the amount delivered to the brain.
Without knowing what is responsible for the decrease, we can’t tell whether supplementation helps by compensating for the deficiency, or perhaps by “flooding” the body with an excess of the amino acid and forcing serotonin production. For obvious reasons, the former scenario would be much more beneficial.
Several groups of patients deserve special attention here, for example, up to 80% of people with chronic fatigue syndrome have below-normal levels of this amino acid.
AIDS patients have half as much of it as healthy people (one wonders why there are no clinical trials with supplementing this cheap and unpatentable amino acid in patients, but load them up with therapies costing the taxpayer tens of thousands a year…).
Levels are also reduced in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Needless to say, its levels were also significantly lower in patients with depression.
What do clinical trials say about it? This is where it starts to get really interesting.
It is one of the best remedies for insomnia. Its main advantages are the absence of side effects such as impaired responsiveness (that is, after tryptophan you can drive, for example), as well as the absence of the phenomenon of tolerance (you won’t need to increase doses after a month or even a year of use).
It can be assumed that it is an irreplaceable (literally) means of permanently and effectively treating depression. Unfortunately, “treating” this disease with psychotropics is too good a business to be allowed into clinical trials, so admittedly, we know that low levels of serotonin cause depression, we also know that low levels of tryptophan cause a decrease in serotonin levels, and we also know that depressed patients are very deficient in tryptophan, but no research is being done on supplementing it. It’s better to give patients psychotropics, giving patent-guaranteed profits.
The addictive potential of cigarettes is comparable to heroin or cocaine. By the way, I know people who got off opioids but are unable to quit smoking. And in this case our superhero is helpful, adding it to traditional therapies made them much more effective.
Premenstrual syndrome is also related to serotonin. Tryptophan has proven to be an effective remedy against the dysphoria that accompanies PMS, a disorder that involves exaggerating problems and making a ruckus “out of nothing.”
In conclusion, tryptophan seems to be a miracle cure for any mood disorder, depression or lack of motivation, especially when accompanied by chronic conditions, during which there is increased consumption. Doses up to 2 grams per day should have no side effects; higher doses, may cause daytime drowsiness. It should not be supplemented at the same time as high-protein meals.