Have you been in a situation where tryptophan doesn’t work, then it does work, and then sometimes it doesn’t work as expected? There is a reasonable explanation as to why it may not work initially – too much or too little was used. The variable results and the need to switch between lower and higher doses on an ongoing basis can happen but it’s not very pronounced unless there is a specific reason. In this blog I cover some of these reasons – hormone shifts, dietary factors and parasites/other digestive issues.
I’m writing this blog in response to a question that was posted on one of my speaker pages on the Anxiety Summit: Gut-Brain Axis. This is the actual question:
I tried to use tryptophan the first time (whole capsule) and got really high. Some time later I tried again, but used 1/4 of a capsule and had a good result. A few weeks later 1/4 of the capsule didn’t work at night. So I went up to half a capsule. And that’s where I am now. But some nights (very rare) I can only get good results from a whole capsule. I use it along with the same amount of GABA. Is that a normal reaction for tryptophan?
I don’t know what brand of tryptophan she was using but assume 500mg was her starting dose and she now shifts between 125 mg (¼ capsule) and 250 mg (½ capsule) with variable results.
It’s not unusual for someone to not feel great on 500 mg if that dose is too much for their unique needs. She did the right thing by lowering her dose. It’s also reasonable that someone may find 500 mg as an initial dose isn’t enough to reduce symptoms.
The variable results and the need to switch between 125 mg and 250 mg can happen but it’s not very pronounced unless there is a specific reason. Some of these reasons include hormone shifts, dietary factors, parasites/other digestive issues, thyroid issues, low lithium, product quality and environmental factors. More on all this below.
Hormone shifts/more serotonin is needed in the luteal phase
I have my clients track when the variability happens, with female clients documenting their cycles. Some women need more serotonin support in the luteal phase i.e. after ovulation and right up to before their periods. Some may even need additional tryptophan for the first few days of their periods too.
Write about tryptophan working well in the luteal phase in this blog – Tryptophan for PMS: premenstrual dysphoria, mood swings, tension, and irritability
In a study published in 1999, A placebo-controlled clinical trial of L-tryptophan in premenstrual dysphoria, tryptophan was found to reduce symptoms of PMS when used in the luteal phase or second half of the cycle (i.e. after ovulation):
37 patients with premenstrual dysphoric disorder were treated with L-tryptophan 6 g per day, and 34 were given placebo. The treatments were administered under double-blind conditions for 17 days, from the time of ovulation to the third day of menstruation, during three consecutive menstrual cycles.
They looked at dysphoria, which is defined as a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life, plus mood swings, tension (and anxiety), and irritability and they found a 34.5% reduction of symptoms with tryptophan compared to 10.4% with placebo.
The paper concludes: “that these results suggest that increasing serotonin synthesis during the late luteal phase of the menstrual cycle has a beneficial effect in patients with premenstrual dysphoric disorder.”
It’s a small study but the results are powerful and it’s something I see clinically with my clients. The one big difference is that I typically have clients using tryptophan throughout the month.
But if you are seeing tryptophan work and then not work at similar times each month this is something to consider and track. And then if need be, increase and decrease tryptophan accordingly (and track again).
Dietary factors – collagen, gluten, sugar, wine and coffee
There are other factors to consider too and dietary impacts is one. For example, collagen leads to a higher need for tryptophan in susceptible individuals (due to it’s serotonin-lowering effects – I blog about this here)
Another dietary factor is accidental gluten exposure in susceptible individuals or a newly discovered gluten issue
High sugar intake, alcohol and/or caffeine consumption may also be a factor – contributing to added stress for the adrenals and depletions in zinc and the B vitamins. This can contribute to lowered serotonin and a need for a higher dose of tryptophan.
Now imagine if it’s just before her period and she adds collagen to her diet and she also eats out and gets zapped by gluten. Triple whammy for this woman!
And she goes to a party and happens to indulge in cocktails or wine, and then goes on a binge at the dessert table, followed by a few cups of coffee (or even one dessert and one cup of coffee).
A food-mood log really helps you figure things out. And then, if need be, increase and decrease tryptophan accordingly. And track again and address the dietary issues.
Parasites and other gut issues
If she has a very pronounced shift in symptoms for 4-5 days around a full moon each month – more severe insomnia, more anxious, more depressed – I would want to check for parasites.
I would also want to check for other digestion issues like dysbiosis, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), candida and liver health as they may all be factors. With SIBO and candida, dietary slip-ups may make symptoms worse right after the slip-up, for example increased bloating making sleep and anxiety worse.
Using tryptophan sublingually/opened on the tongue may bypass some of the digestive/liver issues until they are resolved.
As mentioned above, if need be, increase and decrease tryptophan accordingly. And track again and address the underlying issues.
Other factors to rule out – thyroid, lithium, environmental factors and the product
Two other underlying root causes we always want to rule out when we see variable results using tryptophan (and any of the amino acids) are Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (because we can have variable thyroid results – sometimes hypo/low and sometimes hyper/high) and low levels of lithium (because this can affect the results we see with all the amino acids).
And we always check environmental factors like mold, EMFs and outside stresses. And look for infections like Lyme disease or EBV. If the basics are not unearthing the solution we continue to dig deeper and do a full functional medicine workup. And adjust the tryptophan as needed.
And finally the quality of the product is key. I find Lidtke Tryptophan to be better than many other brands. I’ve also had many clients switch to Lidtke tryptophan and see better results and often need a lower dose.
Resources if you are new to using tryptophan and the amino acids as supplements
If you are new to using the amino acids tryptophan/5-HTP and the other amino acids as supplements, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see the low serotonin symptoms here) and a brief overview here, Anxiety and targeted individual amino acid supplements: a summary.
If you suspect low serotonin or low levels of any of the neurotransmitters and do not yet have my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings, I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in and using amino acids so you are knowledgeable. And be sure to share it with the team you or your loved one is working with.
The book doesn’t include product names (per the publisher’s request) so this blog, The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements, lists the amino acid products that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
I always appreciate good questions like this and hope this feedback has helped her and you too if you’ve experienced something like this (or if you do in the future). In case you’re wondering, this question was posted after someone tuned into my interview, “GABA & Tryptophan: Gut-Anxiety Connections” on the Anxiety Summit 5: Gut-Brain Axis.
Have you had a variable response to tryptophan (or 5-HTP) and can you relate to any of this?
What did you figure out to be the reason?
Feel free to ask your questions here too.