Does tryptophan need to be taken with food? (3+benefits)

In this article, we will discuss whether tryptophan can be taken with food or not. We will further discuss the absorption of tryptophan, the benefits and potential side effects of taking tryptophan with and without food, which substances to avoid while taking tryptophan and its best food sources.

Does tryptophan need to be taken with food?

Yes, tryptophan supplements can be taken with food. Taking tryptophan with a meal that is rich in carbohydrates may enhance its absorption, as tryptophan tends to compete with other amino acids for entry into the brain and carbohydrates can increase its availability. (1,2)

Tryptophan is considered to be an essential amino acid, that you must intake either through your diet or through supplements, as your body can’t make it on its own. The two main types of tryptophan supplements are L-tryptophan and 5-HTP. Both of these supplements can be available to you as over-the-counter medications. (1)

However, it’s important to remember that you must avoid taking L-tryptophan with protein-rich food because when you consume food high in protein content, the amino acids present in these foods can compete with L-tryptophan for entry into the brain and this competition may potentially result in less tryptophan absorption in the brain. So it’s better to take it with a carbohydrate-rich meal to increase the absorption process. (2,3)

If you’re planning to start tryptophan supplements, it’s recommended to first consult your doctor. You must follow the instructions that are prescribed on the supplement label or as directed by your healthcare provider. 

How does food affect tryptophan absorption in your body? 

The absorption of tryptophan can be influenced by the presence of other amino acids in your diet. as they enter into the brain by the same transport system. Here are some key factors to keep in mind regarding how food can affect tryptophan absorption: (2,3)

Competition with other amino acids: The absorption of tryptophan is greatly influenced by the composition of amino acids in your food, which competes with it for entry into the blood-brain barrier. 

Protein-rich meals: If you consume protein-rich meals with your supplement, the large neutral amino acids (LNAAs) present in this meal will limit your tryptophan absorption in the brain. This is because the transport system favours the uptake of LNAAs such as leucine, isoleucine and valine. 

Carbohydrates and insulin release: If you consume carbohydrates, it will help in the release of insulin which helps reduce the amount of competing amino acids in your bloodstream. This results in a higher ratio of tryptophan and facilitates its entry and absorption in the brain. 

Dietary tryptophan content: The overall amount of tryptophan present in your diet can also influence its absorption. 

It’s important to remember that responses of individuals to dietary tryptophan or its supplements can vary and their overall dietary pattern plays a crucial role in influencing these processes. 

What are the benefits of taking tryptophan with food? 

Taking tryptophan supplements with food can offer several potential benefits, including: (4)

  • Enhanced absorption: Consuming tryptophan with food, especially rich in carbohydrates may enhance its absorption. Insulin release is stimulated by carbohydrates which helps reduce the concentration of other competing amino acids and facilitates tryptophan entry.


  • Balanced nutrition: Taking tryptophan supplements with a meal ensures that you’re incorporating it with a balanced diet. This will support your overall nutritional intake. 


  • Minimize gastric discomfort: If you take tryptophan supplements on an empty stomach, you might experience mild to moderate gastrointestinal issues including, diarrhoea. Taking them with food might reduce the risk of GIT-related side effects. 


  • Sustained release: By taking these supplements with a meal, there might be a sustained release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. This may have positive effects on your mood and sleep.

What are the potential side effects of taking tryptophan with food?

Tryptophan is usually considered safe when taken with food and side effects may be rare depending on variations in individual’s responses. Here are some potential side effects of this supplement: (5)

Gastrointestinal discomfort: 

Some people may experience gastric discomfort when taking tryptophan with food. These include nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea which are usually temporary and go away on their own.


Allergic reactions: 

Allergic reactions are rare but they might occur with tryptophan supplements. The symptoms may include rashes, swelling and itching on your skin and severe dizziness or difficulty in breathing. 


Serotonin syndrome: 

Extremely high doses of tryptophan or taking them with other medications that increase serotonin levels might lead to a rare but life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. This condition can cause symptoms like hallucinations, fast heartbeat, fever, confusion, restlessness, muscle stiffness and seizures.  

Keep in mind that these side effects are more common with high doses of tryptophan and dietary tryptophan which you take from natural food sources is usually well-tolerated. 

What supplements you should avoid while taking tryptophan? 

If you’re taking tryptophan supplements, be aware of all the potential interactions with certain medications or food substances. Here are some considerations: (4,5)

Serotonergic medications: Avoid combining tryptophan supplements with medications that may alter your serotonin levels such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Luvox or citalopram, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) or other antidepressants. 

Alcohol: Avoid drinking excessive alcohol when you’re on tryptophan supplements. Alcohol can influence serotonin levels and negatively interact with tryptophan. 

Sedatives or sleep medications: Tryptophan supplements might have a mild sedative effect, so combining them with other substances that cause drowsiness may enhance these effects. 

Other amino acid supplements: As mentioned earlier in the article, tryptophan may compete with other amino acids for absorption. Taking other amino acid supplements at the same time may reduce tryptophan’s absorption. 

High protein meals: Avoid consuming tryptophan supplements with food that are rich in protein, as they may interfere with its absorption in the brain. 

As a pharmacist, I would suggest you prefer healthy dietary sources rich in tryptophan rather than being solely dependent on supplements. Make sure you keep in touch with your doctor or nutritionist regarding any concerns and monitor the therapeutic and ADRs profile from time to time.

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