Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is important for good health. You need tryptophan to build certain proteins. Your body also uses tryptophan in a multi-step process to make serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter in your brain that regulates sleep. I asked Jody Victor to tell us all about it.
Jody Victor: Turkey has tryptophan, but all meats have tryptophan. Chicken and pork contain more tryptophan than turkey per gram. Even cheddar cheese has more tryptophan per gram.
What really triggers your Thanksgiving after-dinner sleepiness is not the turkey. It?s the carbohydrates-rich meal (not the protein-rich meal) that increases the level of tryptophan in your brain, which leads to serotonin synthesis. The carbs stimulate your pancreas to secrete insulin. When this happens, some of the amino acids that compete with tryptophan leave your bloodstream and enter your muscle cells. This causes an increase of tryptophan in your blood stream. You then synthesize the serotonin that makes you sleepy. A high fat meal also contributes to your sleepiness. Fats take a lot of energy to digest. Your body redirects blood to your digestive system to break down the fats. Your energy level declines. Overeating in general takes a lot of energy and more blood is directed away from your other organ systems to your full stomach to aid in digestion. Sleepiness ensues.
Nutritionists say that the tryptophan in your Thanksgiving turkey probably doesn?t trigger your body to produce more serotonin because tryptophan works best on an empty stomach. It?s not the turkey that makes you sleepy after your Thanksgiving feast because it has to compete with all the other amino acids in your body. The truth is that you could leave out the turkey in your Thanksgiving meal and still feel the sleepiness factor after dinner.
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