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tryptophan for anxiety

Tryptophan for Anxiety: What to Know

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Tryptophan for anxiety can be a powerful way to use supplements to improve your mental health. Some of our favorite tryptophan supplements include:

Below we’ll cover what to know about tryptophan, also known as L-tryptophan, and how it can improve not only symptoms of anxiety but also promote relaxation for better quality sleep and benefit your overall sense of mental well-being.

What is Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that produces and maintains your body’s muscles, enzymes, proteins, and neurotransmitters. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. Your body can’t produce essential amino acids, so you have to get them from your diet.

Your body uses tryptophan to make both serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin regulates mood, pain, sleep, and appetite. Melatonin regulates your sleep-wake cycle.

Your liver can also use tryptophan to produce niacin. Niacin is also known as vitamin B3; your body needs it for DNA production and energy metabolism.

Tryptophan is found in food sources like egg whites, cheese, chicken, and turkey. You can also use a supplement like the ones linked above.

Tryptophan Benefits

Tryptophan is sometimes described as a natural regulator of mood since it balances hormones naturally along with helping the body produce them.

One of the byproducts of tryptophan is 5-HTP, which boosts your feelings of well-being, safety, and connection in your brain and central nervous system. 5-HTP can do this by increasing your natural production of serotonin.

Serotonin is a calming and feel-good hormone. This hormone transmits signals between our nerve cells that change our brain function, affecting sleep and mood.

If you supplement with 5-HTP, which is made from tryptophan, it may reduce symptoms of depression as effectively as prescription medicines.

There’s a lot of research currently going into amino acid therapy. Amino acids are increasingly being found to benefit depression, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disorders, and sexual dysfunction.

The benefit of amino acid therapies is that you may be able to deal with symptoms and health conditions in a natural way.

Specific benefits of tryptophan include:

  • Tryptophan can have sedative effects, helping you sleep better. When you get enough quality sleep, it improves your overall health. Not getting enough quality sleep is a significant risk factor for various conditions, including weight gain, depression, and reduced concentration. A new 2022 study found that supplementing with tryptophan can help you get to sleep faster and get better sleep.
  • If you are low on tryptophan, it can increase headaches and migraines and worsen the pain. Tryptophan depletion can also cause more nausea if you suffer from migraines. When your brain’s synthesis of serotonin increases, it appears to be a natural way to alleviate migraine and headache symptoms, including pain, indigestion, and light sensitivity. In one study, people who took in around one gram of tryptophan a day reduced the likelihood of developing a migraine by almost 60%.
  • Having adequate levels of tryptophan can boost your memory by enhancing brain serotonin. Enhanced brain serotonin has been shown to improve cognitive performance, and decreasing levels impair cognition.
  • Getting adequate tryptophan may help with ADHD symptoms because it affects serotonin and dopamine synthesis. Decreased concentrations of not only tryptophan but other amino acids like phenylalanine and tyrosine in the blood may have a link with ADHD symptoms.
  • Tryptophan may be beneficial if you deal with symptoms of PMS, since it can help serotonin levels and may help balance your hormones. An old study from 1999 found that there was a 34.5% reduction in symptoms of PMS and related dysphoria when participants were given tryptophan, compared to 10.4% with a placebo. If you’re dealing with PMS symptoms, it could take two to three cycles to see the effects of tryptophan.

Tryptophan for Anxiety

Tryptophan for anxiety relief seems to occur because of the effects of the amino acid on serotonin synthesis. Along with helping the brain synthesize more serotonin, tryptophan might also increase overall central nervous system levels.

If you’re going to supplement with tryptophan for anxiety, combining it with a 5-HTP supplement might be best. That helps ensure that both are better able to penetrate your blood-brain barrier, plus 5-HTP is an intermediate step in synthesizing serotonin.

Along with specifically being beneficial for anxiety, tryptophan can be a powerful mood enhancer as a precursor to serotonin. Tryptophan can boost your mood because of its impact on not just serotonin but prolactin and growth hormone.

How to Use Tryptophan for Anxiety

If you want to supplement with tryptophan, as mentioned above, you might stack it with 5-HTP to improve the effects. One type of 5-HTP that I use and like is:

If you take just tryptophan by itself, then it might be used in your body besides the production of serotonin and melatonin. For example, it could be used for niacin production.

If you specifically are taking tryptophan for anxiety, mood, or cognition, that’s when you should especially consider using it with 5-HTP.

If you’re going to take tryptophan for anxiety, mood, or depression, then doses of up to five grams have been reported in studies. Most people use a dose of around two milligrams.

Is Tryptophan Safe?

Since tryptophan is an amino acid and naturally occurs in many foods, it is considered safe as long as you don’t overdo it.  

Estimates show that a typical diet might include about a gram of tryptophan a day, but again, some supplements with up to five grams daily.

The side effects have been studied for decades, and very few are reported. For the most part, at very high doses, the only side effects reported are dizziness and nausea.

You do have to be careful if you’re taking drugs that also influence your serotonin levels, like antidepressants. If you combine too many things that increase your serotonin activity, you’re at risk for serotonin syndrome.

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can include agitation, tremors, sweating, and delirium.

If you’re taking anything that affects your serotonin levels, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor before supplementing with tryptophan for anxiety or other conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the people’s most common questions about using tryptophan for anxiety.

How much L-tryptophan should I take for anxiety?

Although not always controlled, many studies use doses of L-tryptophan between three and six grams daily for anxiety.

Which is better, tryptophan or 5-HTP?

When comparing tryptophan and 5-HTP, you might consider pairing them or stacking them rather than thinking of which is better. This can help prevent the tryptophan from being used for other bodily processes. Instead, the tryptophan and 5-HTP can work together, more effectively crossing the blood-brain barrier and synthesizing serotonin.

Who should not take tryptophan?

If you take other medications or supplements that could increase your serotonin levels, you should speak to a healthcare provider before you try tryptophan. Otherwise, you could be at risk of serotonin syndrome.

Whenever you’re thinking of trying a new supplement, it’s always a good idea to speak to a healthcare provider.

When is the best time to take tryptophan?

You may have to experiment to find the best time to take tryptophan for you. Since it can help with insomnia and quality of sleep, taking it before bed can be helpful for you, as long as you don’t find it stimulating. Some people also take it in divided doses throughout the day.

Final Thoughts—Tryptophan for Anxiety

Tryptophan for anxiety can be a powerful natural remedy, especially when stacked with 5-HTP. Tryptophan is an essential part of our brain’s process to synthesize serotonin. In addition to helping reduce symptoms of anxiety, tryptophan might also help your sleep quality, depression symptoms, and your overall mood.

In research, low tryptophan levels appear to be related to cognitive problems, low mood, depression, and other issues.

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