First of all, what is tryptophan and what is so special about it? Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps our body make melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is responsible for our good night sleep, while serotonin regulates our appetite, mood and pain. Moreover, our liver can also use tryptophan to produce vitamin B3, which is needed for our energy levels and DNA production. As our body can’t produce tryptophan by itself, we need to eat enough food containing it (f.e. turkey, chicken and oats). On the top of that, to be able to do its job, tryptophan needs a healthy working environment, which is our gut microbiota. According to a recent study, if these two conditions are not fullfilled, our health is undermined, especially while aging.
The study found that with age, just 8 weeks of a low-tryptophan diet lacking in tryptophan, made the gut microbiota less protective and increased inflammation in the whole body of the aged mice. It turned out that lack of tryptophan resulted in some unhealthy changes in the huge amount of specific bacteria in the gut microbiota and higher levels of systemic inflammation. The last one is a cause of various chronic diseases related to our dysregulated gut health, declined brain health and a compromised immune system.
The researchers also investigated whether the appropriate amounts of tryptophan in the diet afterwards could solve the health problems caused by the lack of tryptophan. They concluded that some of the unhealthy changes could be resolved in just a few days. However, they also found that some of the changes were irreversible such as the composition of the bacteria that utilize tryptophan. It means that even if you start eating food with more tryptophan, your body may not use tryptophan correctly. That is why it is always better to have enough tryptophan in your diet to let your gut microbiota work optimally, rather than try to correct the damage.
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