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Post by Dominique Skinner:

It’s nearly Christmas and in the last week the run up usually involves organising the one thing that needs to stay fresh, food. More specifically, the Christmas dinner: the hated sprout, the humble roast potatoes and for most families the star of the show is the turkey! And guess what? 1.11% of turkey is tryptophan.




The Molecule

Tryptophan is an amino acid. This is a molecule that contains both a carboxyl (-COOH) and amino (-NH₂) group, its main job is to code for the building of proteins. It is essential for the normal functioning of our bodies, but is something that we cannot make ourselves and therefore we must digest it. Tryptophan is important for the synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of happiness. It is also important for the production of vitamin B3, deficiency of B3 can cause the disease Pellagra which is known for the symptoms; diarrhoea, dermatitis and dementia. Not so great, so we shall thank Tryptophan for being a remedy on this front.


However, tryptophan has unfortunately made it onto the naughty list as well. In the US they now connect the consumption of turkey meat with drowsiness. The increased uptake of tryptophan indirectly causes sleepiness by producing melatonin. On the other hand, suspicion of carbohydrates has also been noted as they often accompany meat in a meal.

Christmas balance

Now, I wouldn’t dare suggest that you lay off the meat and potatoes this Christmas because other foods have high levels of tryptophan, including egg white, soybeans and cod. You see the purpose of this post isn’t for you to change your dietary habits but instead to be one molecule smarter and firm in the knowledge that most things are a balance in life, just like the science of our bodies and our world. Both good and bad, naughty and nice, you don’t want too much or too little this Christmas.