Does tryptophan cause inflammation? (6+ factors)

In this article, we will discuss whether tryptophan causes inflammation or not. We will also explore the relationship between tryptophan and inflammation, what research suggests on this, other factors that may contribute to inflammation while taking tryptophan, potential health implications of tryptophan-induced inflammation and managing strategies to reduce it.

Does tryptophan cause inflammation? 

Tryptophan does not typically cause inflammation in its natural form. However, the series of processes through which tryptophan is metabolized may influence its effects on inflammation. (2)

Tryptophan is a crucial amino acid. Your body can’t make it on its own so you must ensure to add it to your daily diet so that its adequate levels are matched and you do not suffer its deficiency. Tryptophan does some important jobs in your body as it helps protein buildup that helps in the repairing and healing of the body tissues. It is also a precursor of serotonin, a crucial neurotransmitter that regulates your mood and reduces feelings of sadness and anxiety. (2)

Inflammation can be referred to as the body’s natural response when any foreign particle like a virus, bacteria or other irritant enters your body or when an injury occurs. It is a complex process that activates your immune system and removes harmful pathogens to promote healing. However, chronic or excessive inflammation can be harmful as it may contribute to further tissue damage and various long-term health problems. (1)

If you have concerns about inflammation or specific health conditions regarding the use of tryptophan, it is advisable to consult your healthcare provider.

How does tryptophan cause inflammation?

The relationship between tryptophan and inflammation is complex and still under research. However, it is believed that tryptophan, an essential amino acid is not a direct source of inflammation. It is a precursor of serotonin which plays several important roles in various physiological processes of the body. (2)

Tryptophan is broken down into its metabolites through a process which is called the kynurenine pathway. One of these metabolites produced is kynurenine which helps the immune system by further breaking down into downstream products. (3)

There are some specific conditions, especially when the body is under inflammation and the immune system is activated to tackle it, the activity of enzymes which are involved in this pathway can be altered. Due to the altered activity of these enzymes, certain pro-inflammatory metabolites such as quinolinic acid and kynurenic acid are overly produced. These metabolites can influence immune responses and inflammation. (3)

There is a special enzyme called indoleamine 2,3 deoxygenase (IDO), when your body is fighting off germs or dealing with other immune response challenges this enzyme gets activated and helps convert tryptophan into kynurenine. In this way, sometimes too much conversion may lead to lesser availability of tryptophan for serotonin synthesis and may cause chronic inflammation. (3)

What does research suggest?

According to a research study, scientists conducted a clinical trial on COVID-19 and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients to determine the role of tryptophan on immune responses. (4)

This study looks at how our body’s protective barrier called the epithelial barrier, works in COVID-19 and IBD as these two conditions have similar symptoms and both involve the epithelial barrier becoming more sensitive and causing an immune response. The researchers used a method called multi-omics to study different aspects of our cells. (4)

They found out that there’s a pathway in our body related to tryptophan that seems to play a crucial role in controlling how our genes are read, how our immune cells work and how our metabolism functions. This pathway became very active in both COVID-19 and Chron’s disease (a type of IBD). This study showed the involvement of tryptophan in inflammatory conditions. (4)

What factors may contribute to inflammation while taking tryptophan?

Various factors may contribute to inflammation or influence how the body responds to tryptophan either from dietary sources or supplements. Here are some factors to consider: (2)

  • Dosage: High doses of L-tryptophan supplements may lead to increased levels of tryptophan metabolites, some of which could exert an immune-modulating effect. So excessive intake should be avoided.
  • Interaction with medications: Tryptophan supplements can interact with certain medications, especially those that affect serotonin levels, like antidepressants such as Citalopram, Lexapro etc or other medications that influence serotonin. It may lead to serotonin syndrome which is a serious condition and triggers immune responses.
  • Metabolism and enzyme activity: Tryptophan goes through a series of metabolic processes and the enzymes involved in this process can influence immune-modulating properties of certain metabolites.
  • Pre-existing inflammatory conditions: If someone has any inflammatory condition like infections, autoimmune disorders or chronic inflammatory diseases, then tryptophan metabolism can be altered, potentially impacting immune responses.
  • Gut microbiota: The bacteria present in the gut may play an important role in tryptophan metabolism and the imbalance or alterations in bacterial composition can contribute to inflammation.
  • Oxidate stress: When your body is under oxidative stress, which may occur due to the imbalances between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, this may lead to inflammation.
  • Individual sensitivity: People may react differently to dietary or supplemental tryptophans and some may be more sensitive to adverse reactions like inflammation.

What are the potential health implications of tryptophan-induced inflammation? 

The health implications may vary depending on individual factors. Here are some considerations you must be aware of: (5)

Exacerbation of existing conditions: 

If an individual has any pre-existing inflammatory condition like AIDS, tryptophan-induced inflammation might exacerbate its symptoms and contribute to disease progression.

Impact on mood and mental health:

Tryptophan serves as a precursor to make serotonin which is an important chemical that helps in improving your mood and boosts motivation. Alterations in its levels accompanied by inflammation can negatively influence mood and mental health.

Gastrointestinal issues:

Tryptophan metabolism is closely linked to the gut and inflammations in your gastrointestinal tract may lead to various digestive issues including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Serotonin syndrome:

If you consume tryptophan in high amounts or take supplements with other medications that can increase serotonin levels, this may lead to the excessive buildup of serotonin in your body and influence immune responses chronically. Its symptoms include high fever, confusion, seizures etc.

What are the managing strategies to reduce tryptophan-induced inflammation?

Here are some general strategies that might help you manage inflammation caused by tryptophan: (6)

  • Moderate tryptophan intake. If you’re on supplements, stick to the recommended dose, don’t over-consume and keep the supplement period short.
  • Focus on a balanced and nutritious diet rich in tryptophan content rather than solely relying on supplemental sources.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory activity so try to add this to your diet. Salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Incorporate probiotics in your diet, it greatly supports your gut health and a healthy gut microbiota can positively influence inflammation.
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption as it may contribute to inflammation.
  • Stay hydrated as it is essential for overall health. Water helps in various body functions and also reduces inflammation.
  • Practice techniques to manage your stress like yoga or meditation, as chronic stress can contribute to inflammation.

In my opinion, if you have any concerns regarding inflammation or you’re planning to take tryptophan supplements or you’re experiencing any of the above aforementioned symptoms of tryptophan-induced inflammation, it’s recommended to consult your doctor.

Try to be vigilant and keep an eye on how your body is reacting to tryptophan supplements or if you’re allergic to any food containing tryptophan in high amounts. Its advisable to intake tryptophan in moderation as excess of everything can be harmful.

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