Tryptophan can help treat obesity, depression, and insomnia

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



Tryptophan can help treat obesity, depression, and insomnia



APRIL 05, 2008 – As a natural result of normal aging, tryptophan and serotonin levels began to diminish in older individuals. This is important because common complaints of older individuals are the inability to sleep soundly, depression, anxiety, and increased appetite that includes carbohydrate cravings that lead to excessive weight gain.

The amino acid tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin in the brain. It is a challenge to get an adequate supply of this vital amino acid from the average American diet. Tryptophan is one of eight essential amino acids that cannot be made in the body and therefore must be obtained from food or supplements.

The problem is that as we age we produce an enzyme that breaks down tryptophan leaving our bodies depleted. Without tryptophan supplementation, most older individuals will suffer from inadequate tryptophan levels and inadequate serotonin levels.

L-trypotophan converts into serotonin, in the brain. Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter that helps to control mood and appetite. This brain biochemical promotes restful sleep, well-being, and satiety.

When serotonin levels are low, people can experience depression, anxiety, insomnia and the urge to overeat. Studies show that low levels of tryptophan lead to insomnia. It is has also been shown that raising tryptophan levels may decrease cravings and binge eating- especially carbohydrates, and help people lose weight.

Tryptophan has been researched for sleep disorders for 30 years. Improvement of sleep has been noted at doses of 1000 mg to 2500 mg at bedtime.

Women with bulimia nervosa and recovering alcoholic patients were found to have severely depleted L-tryptophan levels. For clinical depression, 5-HTP (hydroxytryptophan) showed significant clinical response at doses 50 – 300 mg three times daily.

A daily dose of 6,000 mg of L-tryptophan significantly decreased mood swings, tension, and irritability in women with premenstrual syndrome. Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle may negatively affect the availability of tryptophan for conversion into serotonin.

Obese patients who received tryptophan 750 mg by mouth twice a day had significant weight loss, compared with a placebo group. The study showed why obese people often have uncontrollable appetites – they have too little tryptophan in relation to other amino acids in their blood.

By restoring serotonin to optimal levels, aging people can return to the neurotransmitter balance they had during youth. Those tormented with weight gain or insomnia could encounter substantial improvement by using tryptophan to optimize their serotonin levels.



Pamela Egan, FNP-C, CDE is a board certified Adult & Family Nurse Practitioner, Certified Diabetes Educator & Clinical Specialist in Mental Health. She practices in Women’s Health with Kathy Posey, MD & can be reached at 985-867-1700 or > Health Articles > Health and Wellness