L-tryptophan is one of the eight essential amino acids, one of the building blocks of protein. I have found it an extremely helpful sleep aid in my practice for all sorts of sleep problems, including the sleep disorders of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, for grief reactions, and for PMS and for menopause. It can also be used as part of a treatment programme for migraines and eating disorders.
It also has a useful role in treating depression, either by itself or in combination with antidepressant drugs like prozac where it counters the insomnia side effect and prevents the need for increasing the dosage.
In November 1989, the FDA recalled all tryptophan from the health food stores due to a serious illness induced by one contaminated batch of L-tryptophan. The illness and subsequent fatalities were solely caused by the contaminant. Uncontaminated L-tryptophan was never allowed back in the market in the U.S. Some American doctors believe that the banning of tryptophan helped pave the way for the domination of the market by the new antidepressants like prozac, zoloft and paxil.
The same thing may be happening right now in Canada as another very useful sleep aid, melatonin is removed from the market. Melatonin is a cheap and effective sleep aid in doses of .1mg to 6mg per night.
Currently in Canada, all prescription tryptophan is manufactured by one company, ICN Canada, whose product has never been associated with any problem. The cost is about $1.00 per 1,000mg tablet. Pure tryptophan without any fillers is also available from specialized pharmacies for people with allergies.
The usual dosage ranges from 500mg to 4,000mg at night one before bedtime with a carbohydrate snack. My usual recommended dosage is 2,000mg at bedtime. It is best not to take tryptophan with protein as it competes with tryptophan for absorption, but it can be taken with a carbohydrate snack. Combined with vitamin-B-6 and magnesium, there is an enhanced effect. It should be combined with niacinamide for chronic pain or depression.
Tryptophan should not be taken by people who have hepatitis or other liver disease or by pregnant women.
In the U.S. tryptophan is available by prescription from compounding pharmacists. An alternative to tryptophan known as 5-hydroxy-tryptophan or 5-HTP (50mg of 5-hydroxy-tryptophan equals 500mg tryptophan) is available without a prescription. In the body, tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP and ultimately to serotonin. Well known naturopathic doctor and educator Dr. Michael Murray has written a book on the many uses of 5-HTP called The Natural Way to Overcome Depression, Obesity and Insomnia (Bantam, 1998).
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