Tryptophan / turkey
The L-Tryptophan Effect
As the holiday season comes around again, you will hear many stories centered around how eating your annual turkey feast will make you drowsy due to tryptophan in the turkey. While it makes a good story and a plausible excuse for a nice afternoon nap, it's not the turkey that’s making you nod off.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. It is a component of many plant and animal proteins and a part our normal diet that people will get from various sources. It is a starting material for serotonin from which our brains make serotonin, which is then used to settle you down and make you sleepy. Tryptophan also helps in the production of niacin (vitamin B3).
Foods that are considered good sources of tryptophan are poultry, beef, fish, dairy products, barley, brown rice, peanuts, and soybeans.
To be clear, L-tryptophan, in substantial amounts, is a natural sedative. It is normally found in your holiday turkey meat. Therefore, many people believe this is why everyone is asleep on the couch after a Thanksgiving feast.
Still, is it the tryptophan in turkey that makes you sleepy after eating a big Thanksgiving turkey dinner?
If you're looking for that famous sedative effect, it's not likely that you'll get it from eating that Butterball. L-tryptophan won’t affect the brain as much unless you take it on an empty stomach with no protein present. Also, the levels found in a turkey dinner are may be too low to have such an effect. So when you hear about the annual turkey feast causing everyone to take those after-meal naps, ignore the hype and don’t blame post holiday meal sleepiness on the turkey dinner. That's just an urban myth, not the reality. The trypophan isn't to blame for the sudden drowsiness that hits right after the meal when the football games come on, and the dishes are waiting!
The ensuing sloth is more likely due to the combination of overeating and drinking alcohol. Not just turkey, but also ham, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, cranberries, sweet potatoes, peas, stuffing, carrots, bread, pies, and whipped cream, - all of which have the effect of pulling the oxygen in your blood away from your brain to help your digestive tract do its work, along with the sugar/insulin effect.
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