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What is Tryptophan, Its Sources and Why Is It Important for Human Body?

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Tryptophan is an essential amino acid required for the proper growth of infants and the production as well as maintenance of the proteins, enzymes, muscles, and neurotransmitters in the body. It cannot be formed by the body and has to be derived from a nutritious diet. It comprises of an α-carboxylic acid group, α-amino group, and a side chain indole, which makes it a polar molecule with a non-polar aromatic beta carbon substituent.

Tryptophan is also a predecessor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, vitamin B3, and the hormone melatonin and is encoded by the codon UGG. It is labelled as a healthy food that is used in treating insomnia, depression, premenstrual syndrome, stress, and behavioural disorders.

Tryptophan should be in the diet as a kind of protein containing amino acids as it cannot be made by humans or animals. Bacteria and plants form tryptophan from shikimic acid or anthranilate. Tryptophanase can catalyse its production via a condensation reaction between L-serine and indole to make amino acids. However, it is not efficient as indole has extremely poor solubility in water.

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The substance's production involves steps as follows: pyrophosphate is derived as a by-product of condensation of anthranilate and phosphoribosylpyrophosphate (PRPP). Indole-3-glycerol phosphate is obtained when the ribose component's ring is broken, exposed to reductive decarboxylation, and later made into indole. In the last step, tryptophan synthase catalyses the transformation of amino acid serine and indole into tryptophan.

It is used by the body to produce melatonin, which is responsible for sleep cycle regulation, and serotonin, which helps regulate sleep, appetite, mood, and pain. The liver can use the component in order to produce niacin (vitamin B3), essential for energy metabolism and DNA production.

This crucial amino acid is required for various purposes, such as balancing nitrogen in adults and growth in newborns. As tryptophan gets transformed into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which is further converted into serotonin, the neurotransmitter, it is stated that tryptophan or 5-HTP consumption can improve the symptoms of depression by boosting serotonin levels in the brain.

It is marketed as an over the counter in the United States, as a dietary supplement to be consumed as an anxiolytic, antidepressant, and sleep aid in the UK and also as a prescription drug in some countries of the European Union to treat a severe case of depression. According to evidence, blood tryptophan levels are improbable to see a change due to diet; however, the intake of purified tryptophan increases levels of serotonin in the brain, while eating tryptophan-rich food doesn't.

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Tryptophan has two main variations known as L-tryptophan and D-tryptophan, with the only difference in the molecule's orientation. In the terms, the "l" stands for "levo", and the "d" stands for "dextro". Despite the similarity in their chemical composition, the alterations in orientation can have an impact on metabolism, potency, and body distribution. L-tryptophan breaks down slower than D-tryptophan, so it is the prioritised supplement and is also present in most food items.

The nutrient is present in most foods that contain protein or dietary protein. Foods that are rich in nutrients include oats, chocolate, milk, cottage cheese, dried dates, yoghurt, eggs, poultry, red meat, fish, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, sesame, almonds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, buckwheat, and peanuts. The deficiency of tryptophan is linked with increased pain, sensitiveness, motor activity, acoustic startle, and aggression in people. The deficit can lead to a rise in anxiousness and irritability in people and can trigger aggression.

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