Thanksgiving Turkey: The Natural Anti-Depressant
Happy Thanksgiving Next week, President Obama will issue a pardon to another fortunate turkey while most of us partake in the yearly ritual of gorging ourselves on succulent turkey meat. Afterwards, a satisfied, sleepy feeling will hit us like a ton of sheep. Some believe that turkey dinner makes people sleepy because it contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid. In fact, some people actually take a supplement containing L-tryptophan to treat insomnia, anxiety and depression. What is the big deal about tryptophan anyway?
Because tryptophan is an essential amino acid, this particular amino acid is not produced naturally in the human body and must be included in the diet of everyone. Fortunately, many foods naturally contain tryptophan like turkey. But, how often do you eat turkey? Once yearly consumption of an essential amino acid cannot possibly be enough to meet the demands of a human body; however, other foods contain tryptophan too. Do you eat elk?? No?!? Well, elk does contain the highest amount of tryptophan. Do you eat buffalo?? No? Geez, where does your tryptophan come from? Chicken and cheese is probably your main source of tryptophan. But you really eat enough chicken and cheese to get enough tryptophan? Hmmmm, I wonder.
What might happen if you did not get enough tryptophan? Because tryptophan is essential for the creation of serotonin, a key messenger in the nervous system, then theoretically many things can go wrong if there is not enough tryptophan being converted into serotonin. Insomnia might be more likely. Anxiety and/or depression could also be more likely if you do not have enough serotonin being made from tryptophan. If you do not get enough tryptophan in your diet, then you could experience a serotonin deficiency syndrome. The existence of such a deficiency syndrome is weak but that has not stopped the marketing of L-tryptophan in little pills. And the effectiveness of these little pills on mood and insomnia has not been proven either.
So, what about Mr. Turkey? Maybe you should ignore the Presidential pardon and eat more turkey? Eating turkey is certainly much cheaper than buying pills. And why take supplements like fish oil or tryptophan anyway? You can get all the nutrients you need in healthy foods without taking a bunch of supplements; besides good food tastes better than little pills. Because tryptophan is essential and elk or buffalo meat is not going to be the next big food fad, you should probably eat turkey more often than once per year. So, dig in and enjoy your tryptophan.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.