Does tryptophan help with anxiety? (5 precautions)

In this article, we will explore whether Tryptophan helps with anxiety. Furthermore, we will also discuss the related research findings, tryptophan-rich foods, their role in treating anxiety, side effects, precautions, and what to do if tryptophan does not help your anxiety. 

Does tryptophan help with anxiety?

Yes, tryptophan helps with anxiety. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is present in food and is also used as a supplement to treat depression, anxiety, or insomnia. Tryptophan is associated with the production of serotonin and melatonin in the body.

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain plays a significant role in the body to regulate sleep, mood, appetite, emotions, or the body’s response to stress. Tryptophan is considered an essential component of the human diet due to its strong association with serotonin and melatonin (1). 

What does research suggest about tryptophan and anxiety?

According to research studies, tryptophan when given in low to medium doses as a supplement, may help to treat the symptoms of stress and anxiety. However, when tryptophan is given at higher doses, may pose some adverse effects and worsen the anxiety in some individuals (2). 

Another study indicated that when people with anxiety and depression took tryptophan-rich foods in their diet, they felt less anxious and their moods were improved compared to those taking less tryptophan through diet. 

This study suggested that tryptophan has a direct influence on serotonin which is responsible for regulating mood. However, higher doses of tryptophan when used in combination with other medications may cause some adverse effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, or also an increased risk of a rare but life-threatening condition known as serotonin syndrome (3).

Which foods rich in tryptophan can be used for anxiety relief?

The foods rich in tryptophan which can provide relief from anxiety may include oats, cheese, milk, bananas, tuna fish, bread, turkey, chicken, chocolate, and peanuts etc. Tryptophan is not synthesized in the human body, therefore it has to be taken from diet or supplements. 

If you are taking a tryptophan-rich diet for anxiety relief, along with tryptophan supplements, your healthcare provider will make sure you are not getting tryptophan more than needed, as increased levels may pose adverse effects (4).

The usual adult dose of tryptophan is 60mg taken for 3 months. However, your doctor will determine the most suitable dose for you depending on your specific needs (5). 

What role does tryptophan play in treating anxiety?

Tryptophan plays a significant role in treating anxiety. Tryptophan is metabolized in the body and converted to serotonin. Increased levels of tryptophan even when consumed through diet only, may also increase serotonin synthesis. 

When serotonin is increased in the brain regions, it enhances the mood and ultimately helps to alleviate the anxiety symptoms. Low levels of serotonin may lead to disruption of cognitive functions and cause depressed mood and anxiety. Therefore, sustained levels of tryptophan either through diet or supplements, are necessary for the synthesis of serotonin (6,7).  

What side effects can tryptophan cause when used for anxiety? 

Tryptophan when used for anxiety as a supplement may cause some side effects including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Headaches (5)

If you experience any of these side effects and they persist or become bothersome, please reach out to your healthcare provider.

What precautions should be taken while using tryptophan for anxiety?

The precautions that should be considered while taking tryptophan supplements for anxiety may include:

  • Tryptophan supplements can be taken for 3 months, as safety is not determined for its use for more than this duration.
  • Only take tryptophan supplements after consultation with your healthcare provider. 
  • Inform your healthcare provider if you are using any other medications. 
  • Tell your doctor if you have any underlying medical condition or a family history. 
  • Avoid using tryptophan supplements during pregnancy or breastfeeding as there is not enough safety data on its use during these conditions (5). 

What to do if tryptophan does not help your anxiety?

If tryptophan supplements do not help your anxiety, please consult your healthcare provider. They may prescribe you effective antidepressants which best suit your needs, such as Celexa, Effexor, Paxil, Luvox, or others. 

In my opinion, tryptophan can help with anxiety as it is metabolized to serotonin when consumed through diet or supplements. Serotonin regulates mood, emotions, and many other functions in the human body. 

The lower levels of tryptophan may increase the anxiety symptoms; however, higher levels may cause side effects. Therefore, your doctor will determine your tryptophan dose and duration, because moderate levels of tryptophan are needed for normal cognitive functions. 

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