9 Health Benefits of Tryptophan and Its Sources

Evidence Based Article 📄
This article has been based on relevant and up-to-date scientific studies. Our writers are unbiased and objective and present the facts as they are known. Numbers in brackets within the article refer to sources included in the reference list at the end of the article.

One of the essential amino acids, tryptophan contributes to your overall well-being.

However, it can’t be naturally produced by your body, so it’s crucial to include foods rich in tryptophan into your weekly diet.

Tryptophan supplementation is very common too, but is it as effective as natural sources? Read on to find out all the truth about health benefits of tryptophan, its sources, and possible side effects.

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What’s tryptophan?

There are eight essential amino acids your body needs for a better function and tryptophan is one of them. Since it’s not stored in the body for long periods, tryptophan has the lowest concentration in the body than all other seven amino acids. Yet, unlike other amino acids, you need a small amount of it to ward off a deficiency.

Tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) in the brain, stimulating the serotonin production. The absorption of tryptophan into the brain is greatly influenced by your meal plan, though. If it’s high in carbs and low in protein, this diet releases insulin that speeds up the absorption of tryptophan and therefore, boosts the serotonin level.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) compete with the absorption of tryptophan into the brain. The diet high in protein (high BCAAs) causes less tryptophan to get into the brain, lowering the serotonin levels. That’s why diets high in protein should contain more tryptophan to reduce the effect from the BCAAs.

L-tryptophan, which is widely added to sports food and supplement, is the natural version of the amino acid. It’s a building block of a protein in the body. L-tryptophan supplementation can help fix many health woes.

9 Health benefits of tryptophan

Supplying your body with enough tryptophan will help you:

1.Sleep better

Tryptophan stimulates the melatonin production in the brain (pineal gland), immune cells, the retina, and the gut. Melatonin aids in proper circadian rhythm regulation and helps to improve your sleep patterns. If you have serious sleep disorders, your doctor may recommend you l-tryptophan supplementation.

A study that involved 7 people with insomnia found that L-tryptophan supplementation improved their total sleep by 28%. It also reduced early-morning wakefulness by about 37 minutes. The average ½ – 1 gram daily intake of tryptophan promotes deep sleep and prevents from waking up in the middle of the night.

2.Fight anxiety and depression

Tryptophan plays a critical role in serotonin production. The decreased serotonin levels have been linked to anxiety and depression while the high levels ward off mood swings and digestion woes. Tryptophan can also be converted into tryptamine that acts as both an inhibitor and activator of serotonin. Depressed and anxious people tend to have issues creating serotonin from L-tryptophan, which is why you should decide of the supplements with your doctor.

3.Lose weight

A number of studies have proven that tryptophan supplementation helps to reduce appetite, which means you’re going to experience less food cravings. A research that involved 15 healthy adults demonstrated that those who received L-tryptophan supplementation consumed 19-20% less calories and more protein than carbs than people who ate their regular meals. The low tryptophan levels and its absorption into the brain might also be linked to intense carbohydrate cravings.

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Moreover, L-tryptophan is essential for the synthesis of vitamin B3 (niacin), which is vital for the conversion of macronutrients in your diet (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) into useable energy that maintains the healthy metabolism. Vitamin B3 is also needed for cognitive functions and the synthesis of enzymes and neurotransmitters that control your appetite.

4.Treat PMS symptoms

The tryptophan breakdown via the kynurenine pathway might be affected by the phase of your menstrual cycle. Moreover, it can indirectly affect the production of serotonin too. After consuming tryptophan in a moderate amount, kynurenine was 40% lower in the follicular phase and higher during the luteal phase. Shortly, tryptophan supplementation can help women to handle irritability, tension, and mood swings. Regular consumption of the foods rich in tryptophan can also help to relieve the symptoms of PMS.

5.Protect your eyes

90% of tryptophan is converted into kynurenine in the body. It’s the UV filter that helps to protect the eyes from harmful effects of UV rays. As we age, this protection weakens, leading to fluorescence and discoloration of the eyes. Poor protection or a complete loss of it can increase the risk of cataracts.

6.Relieve dementia symptoms

A pilot study of 24 volunteers who suffered from dementia found that the amount of serotonin in the brain was significantly decreased in these people compared to healthy individuals. Moreover, dementia patients had a lowered absorption of tryptophan. Tryptophan supplementation helped these people improve absorption of tryptophan, boost mental health, and relieve dementia symptoms.

7.Boost exercise performance

Tryptophan also helps to increase the levels of hormones, such as prolactin, beta-endorphin, and growth hormone. In a scientific review, 20 volunteers took tryptophan supplements regularly and experienced a substantial raise in beta-endorphin level.  This is a neurotransmitter/hormone released in response to physical processes like pain.

Another study of 12 athletes showed that L-tryptophan supplementation led to their total workout time increase by 49.4%. The researchers suppose that it might be thanks to the high pain tolerance L-tryptophan helps to build.

8.Overcome addictions

If you’re trying to quit smoking, you can ease and speed up the process by increasing your tryptophan consumption. Supplementing with a combo of calming, soothing, and anxiety-banishing herbs and amino acids, such as 5HTP and L-tryptophan, has been known to help people with addictions by stimulating the melatonin and serotonin production.

9.Relieve a chronic headache and migraine

Studies have shown that tryptophan deficiency worsens pain associated with migraines and tension headaches. Additionally, low tryptophan levels can cause sleep problems and aggravated nausea in people suffering from chronic headaches. The raised brain synthesis of serotonin offers a natural relief for many types of headaches, including migraine symptoms like indigestion, sensitivity to light, etc.

A study done by the Murdoch University School of Psychology, Australia, found that 5 to 8 hours after having a drink with a whole array of 19 various amino acids, including tryptophan, the migraine symptoms were significantly relieved.

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9+ Best food sources of tryptophan

Before you turn to supplements, consider adding high tryptophan foods into your weekly diet. Sometimes, it’s enough to ensure you get enough of this amino acid. With a variety of foods high in tryptophan, even vegans can boost their amino acid intake naturally. Here are some of the best food sources of tryptophan.


Soybeans and other soya foods are a great source of quality protein as well as calcium, vitamin K, magnesium, fiber, and iron. They’re also high in tryptophan. For instance a cup of roasted soybeans provides the body with 191% of recommended daily intake of tryptophan. Boiled soybeans contain 24% of RDI, tempeh 19% of RDI, fried tofu 27% of RDI, and stir-fried sprouted soybeans 30% of RDI.

2.Wheat products

Unless you’re gluten intolerant, wheat products can be a great source of natural tryptophan. Wheat itself contains about 0.011 grams in one ounce. Whole-wheat pita bread contains 0.149 grams in 100g serving. Toasted whole-wheat bread contains 0.134 grams per serving. You may also enjoy whole-wheat pasta and cereal to boost your tryptophan intake.

3.Seeds and nuts

High in powerful antioxidants and diverse nutrients, pumpkin seeds are considered a rich source of tryptophan. Just 28 grams (one ounce) of the seeds contain 58% of RDI of tryptophan. Chia seeds are another excellent source, providing 44% of RDI. Other seeds and nuts high in tryptophan are flaxseeds (30% of RDI), sunflower seeds (35% of RDI), sesame seeds (39% of RDI), almonds (21% of RDI), cashew (24% of RDI), pistachios (29% of RDI), and hazelnuts (19% of RDI) per ounce.

4.Chicken and turkey

If you’re a meat eater, than you probably know that tryptophan is found abundantly in turkey and chicken. There are 144% of RDI in 100 grams of chicken and up to 100% of RDI in 100 grams of turkey. Unlike vegan sources of tryptophan, chicken and turkey make you feel sluggish and drowsy rather than healthy and energized.


Surprised? No wonder. The most underrated source of tryptophan out there, cheese can meet your recommended daily intake of this amino acid in just 50 grams. For instance, low fat mozzarella contains 204% of RDI in 100 grams, cheddar and parmesan 56% of RDI in 28 grams (one ounce), and Swiss cheese 40% per ounce. In fact, no matter what kind of cheese you prefer, it still has some tryptophan in it.


100 grams of cooked tuna provides your body with 120% of RDI of tryptophan. If you don’t like tuna, consider eating salmon (98% of RDI), halibut (102% of RDI), mackerel (88% of RDI), and others.

7.Lentils and beans

One cup of cooked white beans contains about 74% of the recommended daily amount of tryptophan. Black, navy, and pink beans contain 65% of RDI, kidney and pinto beans 66% of RDI, and cranberry beans 70% of RDI. Lentils are chock-full of tryptophan too, supplying the body with 57% of RDI in one cup.

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8.Oats and buckwheat

One cup of cooked buckwheat – that’s often ignored – contains whopping 116% of RDI of tryptophan. Have a bowl of buckwheat for dinner for better sleep or use it in your pre-workout salad for more energy. Oatmeal is a great alternative, if you can’t find buckwheat. There are 113% of RDI in one cup.


Whether you eat a scrambled, hard-boiled, fried, or poached egg, or omelet, you can be sure your body gets at least 30% of the recommended daily amount of tryptophan. Since eggs can cause bloating, don’t use them as a sleep promoter.

Other great food sources of tryptophan are spirulina, mushrooms, potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, banana, and yogurt.

Is tryptophan supplementation safe?

Some researchers believe that taking purified tryptophan through a supplement might be a more efficient way to boost serotonin levels if compared to consuming foods rich in tryptophan. They suppose it’s because of how the amino acid transport system of the body works. Since a lot of protein-rich foods make tryptophan have plenty of competition when it goes for its uptake within the brain, you may not get the desired result.

If you’re struggling with addictions, insomnia or mood disorders, supplementing with tryptophan can be a great way to directly raise the serotonin levels. Before taking any supplement, consult your doctor. Many 5HTP supplements have serious side effects, even if you take a small dose. Diarrhea, nausea, lightheadedness, drowsiness, dry mouth, and headaches are the possible side effects.

If you take a tryptophan supplement with antidepressants or sedatives, you might increase your risk of serotonin syndrome. The symptoms of this condition are dilated pupils, hyperreflexia, hallucinations, high blood pressure, tachycardia, diarrhea, shivering, tremors, muscle rigidity and spasm, irritability, disorientation, confusion, seizures, and even coma.

Pregnant women and people with liver disease should stay away from tryptophan supplements at any cost. As you can see, it’s safer to consume foods high in tryptophan on a regular basis than undergo a supplementation once or twice per year.

How much tryptophan is needed per day?

The World Health Organization recommends consuming 3.5 milligrams of tryptophan per kilogram of weight. The University of Michigan Health Department suggests their own dosages. For instance, they recommend taking 1-2 grams of tryptophan before going to bed to fight insomnia or 2-6 grams daily to reduce anxiety and depression. But there are many factors to consider before determining the right dosage for you.

To sum up, tryptophan is an essential amino acid that you should consume regularly – better from the food sources to avoid side effects. It will help you improve your quality of sleep, reduce anxiety and depression, boost your mood, and alleviate different types of headaches, including migraines. Plus, it can help you with recovery from an addiction or just maintaining a healthy weight.