Naomi asked these questions about tryptophan timing, using it in the morning and her PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) symptoms of anxiety, depression and bad sleep:
I heard your talk on the Biology of Trauma summit, thank you it was great. When’s the best time to take tryptophan? I want to try it for PMDD depression & anxiety along with accompanied bad/little sleep.
I’ve read it needs to be taken on an empty stomach. If I take it in the mornings will it make me drowsy for the day? I struggle with having an empty stomach in the evenings as I often need to eat something close to bedtime to have the energy to sleep through.
I thanked Naomi for her kind words and shared that tryptophan is best used mid-afternoon and evening when serotonin levels take a downwards dip. And tryptophan (and the other amino acids) must always be taken on an empty stomach/away from protein. I also shared how she may want to experiment with also using 5-HTP at various times in the day and in different combinations (more on that below).
Regarding the evening dose, tryptophan can be used between dinner and a bedtime snack if a snack is necessary for blood sugar stability (for improving sleep).
I shared this blog as an additional resource for her – 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).
I’ve seen both tryptophan and 5-HTP improve symptoms in 2-3 cycles (often in conjunction with GABA) and other steps I outline in the above blog. I don’t typically have clients only use it after ovulation but this is one way a trial could be approached.
Using a combination of tryptophan and 5-HTP
Regarding Naomi’s question about taking tryptophan in the morning and her concern about it making her drowsy during the day, this is my feedback about possibly experimenting with also using 5-HTP at various times in the day and in different combinations:
- Many folks do not need serotonin support earlier in the day since it goes down at the end of the day but there are some women who do
- If you are someone who does need serotonin support earlier in the day, you may do very well with tryptophan i.e. it may not make you sleepy
- If you are someone who does need serotonin support earlier in the day, you may find that tryptophan does make you sleepy and you do better with 5-HTP earlier in the day. In this case, you would use 5-HTP in the morning (as needed, possibly on waking and/or mid-morning) and tryptophan in the afternoon and evening.
And just to add to the mix of variations, keep in mind that some folks do better on 5-HTP (at any time of the day) and some folks with high cortisol find 5-HTP too stimulating.
The way to figure out which amino acid and which combination works best for you is to do a trial of the various combinations and keep a careful log of your responses.
I really do recommend my book when you are new to the amino acids
I also reminded her that when you are new to the amino acids I really do recommend my book “The Antianxiety Food Solution” so you understand exactly how to use them. There is an entire chapter on the amino acids.
I also cover other anxiety nutrition solutions like gluten/sugar/caffeine removal (all important for anxiety, depression and sleep), blood sugar control (often a factor in not being able to sleep through the night and daytime anxiety), gut health (affects mood and can also affect sleep), pyroluria (the zinc, vitamin B6 and evening primrose oil are key for hormone health). I reminded her that it’s the amino acids and diet we must work on.
If you’ve been reading my blog posts and following me for awhile, you know I speak on many summits. I see these interviews as a great introduction for folks new to the amino acids but cannot possibly cover everything in 45-60 minutes.
Additional information on PMDD and low serotonin
Here is additional information on PMDD and low serotonin – Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: Epidemiology and Treatment:
It is possible that women with PMDD are more sensitive to [the] effects of estrogens on serotonergic function. Women with PMDD or PMS exhibit specific serotonin abnormalities that are particularly apparent in the late luteal phase [or second half of the cycle] when estrogen levels have declined. These include a deficiency in whole blood serotonin, blunted serotonin production in response to l-tryptophan challenge and, and aggravated premenstrual symptoms during tryptophan depletion.
Be aware that the authors recommend antidepressants as the first-line treatment for PMDD and unfortunately do not mention using tryptophan, GABA or a dietary approach.
I always use this approach when serotonin is low
Keep in mind that this discussion about tryptophan and 5-HTP timing and combinations is not necessarily only applicable for PMDD or PMS but can be used across the board when serotonin support is needed. I always use this approach when serotonin is low i.e. someone has worry-type ruminating anxiety, depression, afternoon and evening cravings, irritability, anger issues.
Resources if you are new to using the amino acids as supplements
If you are new to using the amino acids tryptophan/5-HTP or GABA as supplements, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see all the low serotonin symptoms here) and a brief overview here, Anxiety and targeted individual amino acid supplements: a summary.
As I mentioned above, 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.
Have you (or a loved one) been diagnosed with PMDD, PMS or have low serotonin symptoms?
Has tryptophan or 5-HTP helped and what combination and what timing has worked best for you?
Feel free to post any questions here too.