Does tryptophan cause migraines? (5+ factors)

In this article, we will explore whether tryptophan causes migraines. Furthermore, we will discuss the link between tryptophan and migraine, the impact of tryptophan-rich diets or supplements, contributing factors, and what to do if migraine persists. 

Does tryptophan cause migraines?

Tryptophan does not cause migraines. When a person has lower levels of tryptophan than needed, they may experience symptoms of migraine, nausea, or dizziness. Hence, it is important to maintain sufficient tryptophan levels to have normal body functions (1). 

Tryptophan is an amino acid which is a precursor of serotonin and is also involved in the synthesis of other compounds such as melatonin, niacin, and others. Tryptophan is not synthesized by the human body but it is an essential component required for various biological processes. Therefore, tryptophan has to be taken through tryptophan-rich foods or supplements (2). 

What is the link between tryptophan and migraines?

The link between tryptophan and migraine has been studied in a few research studies. These studies suggested that when enough tryptophan is not consumed through diet or supplements, its depletion may cause migraines in some people. People taking 0.84 to 1.06gm of tryptophan per day may have a 60% lower chance of getting migraines.

On the other hand, people who consume less than 0.56gm per day may have increased chances of experiencing migraines. Therefore, sufficient tryptophan levels may reduce the risk of migraines (3). The low levels of tryptophan may cause various disorders including migraines. A deficiency of tryptophan may not directly trigger migraine but may worsen its symptoms.

Tryptophan is involved in the synthesis of certain compounds such as serotonin, melatonin, niacin, and others. This relationship between serotonin and other compounds with tryptophan is believed to be the reason behind the worsening of migraine symptoms (1).

What is the impact of tryptophan-rich diets or supplements on migraines?

The impact of increasing tryptophan-rich diet or through supplements may alleviate migraine symptoms in some individuals. Tryptophan-rich foods may include eggs, turkey, chicken, bread, cheese, lentils, nuts, flaxseeds, etc (4). 

Tryptophan supplements can also be used to overcome the deficiency as per individual needs. The usual adult dose of tryptophan supplement is 60mg taken for 3 months. However, your healthcare provider will determine the appropriate dose according to your condition (5). 

What are the contributing factors to migraine?

The contributing factors to migraines may include the following: 

  • If you have a family history of migraines or headaches, you may have a higher chance of experiencing them. 
  • Exposure to noise pollution or strong odours might serve as a triggering factor for migraines. 
  • Sleep disturbances, stress, or depression may also cause migraines in some individuals. 
  • Changes in brain chemicals such as serotonin might also be involved in migraine development. 
  • Hormonal changes such as during the menstrual cycle, menopause etc., may trigger migraines. 
  • Side effects of certain antidepressants such as Pristiq, Lexapro, etc.

What to do if tryptophan-associated migraines persist?

If tryptophan-associated migraines persist, you should consult your healthcare provider. They may evaluate your current symptoms, family, and medical history. They may suggest you tryptophan supplements or tryptophan-rich diets to manage the deficiency. 

If you are taking a tryptophan-rich diet along with supplements, your doctor will make sure you are not getting tryptophan more than needed, as increased levels may pose adverse effects (4). Your doctor may also prescribe you some medicines that will help to manage or prevent migraines such as Celexa, or Abilify

In my opinion, tryptophan does not cause migraines, however, its depletion may worsen the symptoms of migraines. If you experience migraine due to tryptophan deficiency, your doctor may suggest consuming a tryptophan-rich diet or supplements, which may help you to prevent and treat migraines. 

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